“As a small business owner, do you need a website?”
That’s one of the most common questions small business owners ask me. Why? Because most of the time they expect and want the answer to be “No”!
Small business owners usually don’t want a website because:
- It’s outside their area of expertise
- It’s going to cost them money
- They can’t see the value in it
- They don’t think it will get them new customers anytime soon
They’re mostly right! But for many businesses, there is value in them having a website and it will get them customers right now and even more in the future. So if you’re a small business owner you should read on because I’m going to tell you why you need a website, what features it should have, how to save yourself money, and how to use it to get new customers.
Please note though if the image below is you then you don’t need to read on, you don’t need a website!
For the rest of us:
Why you need a website
You need a website no matter the size of your business simply because your customers expect you to have one. If you don’t have one they worry…
Is this a real company?
Do they do what I need to them to do, or sell what I need them to sell?
You could just have a phone number, or even better, business premises. But what about when you’re not there? You need a holiday, right? You go home to get some sleep and feed the dog occasionally? You don’t want to answer the phone sometimes?
Think of a website like this, it’s a brochure out there that everyone can see, you can put whatever you want on it, you can update it everyday if you want. It means you get fewer phone calls from people asking stupid questions like ‘Are you open this Sunday at 5pm?’.
You could be thinking right now ‘but I will never sell my products or services online, I’ll always sell to them in-person’. Another reason you need a website is because everyone, well almost everyone, uses the Internet now to find products and services. They do a search first before deciding which shop to visit, or which company to call. Prove it!
Here’s some facts for you:
- Google gets over 100 billion searches a month. (Mashable, 2015)
- 81% of shoppers conduct online research before making big purchases. (Retailing Today, 2014)
- 72% of consumers who did a local search visited a store within five miles. (WordStream, 2016)
- 30% of mobile searches are related to a location. (Google, 2016)
- 28% of searches for something nearby result in a purchase. (Google, 2016)
- Local searches lead 50% of mobile visitors to visit stores within one day. (Google, 2014)
- 78% of local-mobile searches result in offline purchases. (Search Engine Land, 2014)
And some of those stats are a few year’s old now, you can only imagine the percentages have risen. Take that all in for a minute. Meditate on it. Now think about your business. People used to ask their neighbour Sarah, or their Father-in-law George, but now they ask Siri or Google. So if you’re not on the Internet they’re not going to find you.
So hopefully now you’ve decided that having a website is a good idea. Next decision is how to go about getting a website, how much is it going to cost, and what functionality will it need?
What type of website do you need?
You might be thinking that it costs a lot of money and takes up a lot of time to have a website. But actually, that’s probably because you’ve presumed that you need your own website. In could be the case that all you need is a page on other company’s websites. There are several directory websites out there, some which are nationwide and others which are local. Do a search for your type of business on Google and you’ll probably find that these websites come up first. Here’s a screenshot from the first page of a Google search for “electrician Southport”:
What do you see there? All but one of them is a directory website. So if you got a free directory listing, or a paid directory listing on each of these websites, suddenly you’ve got six places on the internet where your business can be found, and more importantly, these websites are on the first page of Google search for one of the main searches your potential customers would do. You could stop there! That could be your ‘website’ done!
But for businesses where you want to convey more than just your address, phone number, and a few lines about what you do, you will need your own website. That’s particularly true if you’ve got a visual business, or a technical business, where photographs, images or detailed descriptions will make the difference between gaining a customer or a losing them to your competition.
Building Your Own Website
Well really, you don’t need to do it yourself, but you could. With simple website building applications like WordPress, Wix, or Joomla you can build simple websites which look great and will act as an online brochure for you. Over time you may learn how to add-in extra functionality like a reservation or booking system, buy online e-commerce facilities or a calendar of events. Starting out you also need to buy a website address, with places like Godaddy you can buy your website address, have it hosted on a platform like WordPress and have an email system all in one place. This should all cost you no more than about £100 per year, but of course, you do need to calculate how much of your own time it’s using up. If you’ve got a teenage son or daughter though, why not ask them to do it! They probably have the desire and know-how to do a better job than you!
If this is all starting to sound a bit overawing or beyond your limitations, then you can pay someone else to do it for you. At Southport Marketing our website build costs start at £300, dependent on what functionality you require, and then have a quarterly cost to keep the website maintained and hosted, and making changes when required. Minimum annual cost for the first year is £400, with a cost of £150 each year going forward. Just like you pay your Accountant to do all the stuff that you can’t do so you can focus on what you do best and make money, using a marketing agency like Southport Marketing to manage your website should actually free you up to make more money.
Learn From Other Websites
The great thing about websites is that with only a small budget and a great marketing mind, you can make your small business look like a big business. There’s no reason you can’t compete against nationwide and international companies if your product and price are right. If your brand looks strong and your website matches up, every customer will be convinced that you’re as big as the market leaders. A simple exercise is to do a Google search for your area of expertise or any other, and see who’s up there at the top. Take a look at their website, see what they’re using it for, ask yourself why you would know they’re a market leader, established and successful, even if you hadn’t heard of them before. There’s no reason your website can’t look similar.
Here’s a case study of a Southport Marketing client who has totally transformed their businesses through their website:
All Seasons Electric Bikes www.allseasonsbikes.com
All Seasons were a small business who were working hard to sell their electric bikes directly to consumers via eBay and local shows. 12 months later they’ve totally changed their route to market and grown their business exponentially just by changing their website. Alongside a rebrand, their website now reflects the quality of their service and products. This has enabled them to secure a network of hundreds of retailers and wholesalers, greatly increasing the exposure of their products in the market. Interestingly their website doesn’t allow customers to buy bikes online, but re-directs them to their local retailer, assuring the customer of the reliability and quality of the brand, and also helping in building relationships with retail clients. Effectively the All Seasons website is a glossy brochure providing product information and contact details.
Such growth has made it possible for All Seasons to start development of several new products for 2018, and also to commence building their go-to-market strategy for other European markets. They are quickly becoming recognised as one of the biggest brands in the UK electric bike market, which is fast progress from where they were 12 months ago.
As you will see from the example above, websites can vary very differently, they are four main types of websites:
- E-commerce – selling products direct to customers online. Ideal for companies selling directly to the public.
- Online Brochure – providing product and company information. For companies selling services and even products business-to-business.
- Blog – showing expertise in a subject area (see our blog). Great for professionals who need to show their expertise in their field.
- Portfolio – stimulating interest through examples of current and past work (see our portfolio). Perfect for creative businesses like architects, photographers, and wedding planners.
The Southport Marketing site is a combination of an online brochure, blog and portfolio. There’s no reason why a website can’t be just one type or all four types of websites. It all comes down to what your customer wants, and how much of the customer journey you want them to have online.
You can then chose several types of functionality for your website. You’ve probably seen all of these before on other websites you’ve visited, but I bet you didn’t stop and think about how you could apply them to your business:
- Contact Forms – so customers can contact you without you publishing your email address for pesky spammers
- Frequently Asked Questions – to reduce the number of phone calls and emails you receive
- Live Chat – to interact with customers and prospects while they’re on your website
- Newsletter Sign Up – to build a list of potential customers you can regularly share offers and news with
- Maps – to show your retail locations
- Videos – to demonstrate your products
- Resource Downloads – to share information such as assembly instructions or instruction manuals
- Social Media Sharing – to get customers to share what they just found with their friends
- Forums – to answer questions and allow customers to interact
- Testimonials & Ratings – allowing customers to rate you and your products
- Search Bar – to let customers search for specific products or information on your site
- Blog – to share your thoughts, new ideas, launch new products
- Customer Log In Area – to allow customers to place orders, pay their invoice
Hopefully that’s given you some food for thought! Your website can allow you to interact much better with potential and current customers. It engages your employees in sharing their knowledge and expertise and keeps everyone who’s interested in you up-to-date with what’s happening with your business.
About the Author
Stephen Haigh is a Director at Southport Marketing, and loves marketing! He’s got over 15 years’ of marketing experience now, having headed up marketing projects and departments for wallpaper manufacturers, insurance companies, food manufacturers, electric bike distributors, recruitment companies, luxury goods brands, and now his own consulting firm. He enjoys working with small and medium size businesses to help them think like big businesses, throw down barriers and start to think about becoming market leaders in their local markets and players in much larger markets.
Working in-house as a Marketing Manager and as a Marketing Consultant representing The University of Liverpool. Holding a BA (Hons) Business Studies with a major in Marketing from Lancashire Business School.
He enjoys reading and blogging about cycling, travel, and business.