How to Start a Website: a Small Business Guide

Posted by Pete Molinero on January 3rd, 2013

Over the years I've talked to a lot of small business owners that have, for one reason or another, decided that it's "finally time to start a web site" for their business. Often these business owners aren't sure where to start. This guide will answer a few of the questions that I commonly hear, as well as introduce a few of the key ideas that every business owner should consider when they are getting ready to launch a website.

Define your web site's purpose

You may have heard people talk about this concept in fancier terms such as "determining your website target audience" or "creating a website strategy." In fact, there are varying levels of "planning" that a business can do for its website, and complicated strategies are not always the best solution--particularly for a small business. Most of the small businesses that I've spoken with do not know how to create a strategy for their web site, or for that matter, even care much about it. They just want a simple web site for their business; something that can get their feet wet in the waters of the web.

In actuality, it's okay if you don't want to get into complicated plans, but you do need to at least answer this question for yourself: "What do I want my website to do for me?"

Figuring out exactly what you want will help best identify how to open a web site. Consider a few of the following purposes:

  • I would simply like to provide information for people that search for my business on the web
  • I would like to sell my products via my website
  • I would like to offer additional services on the web (pre-ordering, etc.)

Hire a web designer who can offer input

Usually, small business owners do not know much about the process of starting a website, so it's imperative that you, as a small business owner, hire a web designer who knows what they are doing. This is true even if you are looking only for a simple, one page website. There is a difference between a good web site and a bad web site.

In other words, your friend's son may know how to put a web page on the internet, but the website they create probably will not help you.

You should hire someone who can offer some feedback on your ideas--someone who knows the web and can tell you what you should do based on what you've decided the purpose of your web site is. In the end, it will also be much less stressful to hire a person who can confidently walk you through the process and take care of the details. Remember, your web site will only be as good as your web designer (and "good" also means "able to generate money").

Think about how you plan to maintain your website

I cannot tell you how many times I've run into small business owners who have had a friend design a web site that gives the small business owner no easy way to update or manage the web site in the future. Certainly, the friend doesn't have the time to update the web site every time it needs a change. And there will be changes that you will need to make in the future.

Think about it. What will you do when your web site needs to be changed or updated?

I can tell you what usually happens. Usually, the small business owner doesn't know what to do and the web site sits there for a few years, outdated and poorly representing the business. Then a few years down the road the small business owner forks out more money to someone else to have the website redone.

Fortunately, this isn't the way that it has to be. Simply keep this concept in mind when you are discussing a web site with a potential web designer, and ask them "how can I update the web site in the future?"

Choose a maintenance plan that is appropriate for your technology skill level.

There are many ways that the issue of "making future changes to my website" can be tackled, and some are definitely better than others. Usually, you'll hear the designer mention that you can make changes through the "content management system" the site will use. This is just a fancy way of saying "a system that allows you to log in and make changes to the content on your website." The most common content management systems areDrupalJoomla, and Wordpress.

For a tech-savvy business owner, these content management systems work well. I've found, however, that even simpler solutions are important for less tech-savvy small business owners if they hope to remember how to make changes to their web site a few months down the road.

That is why, at Laterna Studio, I've developed such an easy way for small business owners to make changes to their web site. You can just click on what you want to change and type new content. There are no complicated controls to remember.

You can check out the video below for an example.

This video shows some behind-the-scenes on a project that Laterna Studio recently finished for a small business in Northern New York. Though the staff and Evans & White Ace Hardware do not have a background in technology, they are able to easily maintain their site. If you're interested in learning more about Laterna Studio's services, you can contact me via the contact page.

Continue Reading this Guide

Well that's it for part one of the guide. I'll link to part two when it's finished. Good luck on your endeavors!


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