The Comprehensive Guide to Starting a Website for Small Businesses

The internet – and in particular it’s evolution over the past few years – has been nothing short of a significant game-changer for businesses and corporations. Access to high-speed internet and internet-tools has become easier, cheaper and much more wide-spread across the globe.

All of which of course means that creating, establishing and having a strong presence online for businesses is of the utmost importance!

However simply having a website isn’t enough – entrepreneurs, and small businesses need to create a strong online presence, which not only includes having a killer website, but active presence on social media and other platforms as well.

But it all starts with creating a killer website, and having one designed can be expensive, and hence can be unfeasible for many small businesses, which may already be operating on shoe-string budgets.

Thankfully, building your very own website from the ground-up is easier than it seems (not to mention inexpensive as well!), and there are a lot many DIY options available out there.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for small businesses on how to start their own website and create a strong online presence for themselves. Broadly speaking, getting a business website up is a 4-step process, so let’s have a look at what these are.

Gathering requirements

The first step towards creating an online presence and having a website for your business is to actually determine what you want it for, and what the purpose of your website will be. Would it just be an informational portal integrated with your social media channels, a place where you would like to sell your products and/or services, or perhaps your website will serve as a platform to expand your outreach – a platform through which you could reach out to your customers and clientele and vice versa.

Whatever your reasons for having a website might be, it is essential to define them right now.

At this point in time, you should also know what the basic design and layout of your website will be, how many pages you’d want and what their design would be, as well as get a logo designed for your website. This could be the same logo that you’re already using for your business, or you could have one designed online – 99Designs is an excellent place for this!

If you don’t have a logo design in mind, then take a look at one of the many logo galleries on the net like Logofaves. It’s a great way to spark some inspiration!

Having this information ready at this point will help you build the website in the future (more on that in a bit), whether you have it designed by a designer or choose a DIY option.

Purchasing a domain

One of the first things that you’ll need to do is register a domain name, which is the name you want to be giving your website. Something like www.YourWebsiteName.com.

Domain names are very simple and easy to register – all you need to do is go to a good domain name registrar such as GoDaddy and Namecheap.com, look for a domain name that you want, and register it if it’s available.

A domain name doesn’t mean that you have a website (at least not yet), it just gives you an online address that your visitors and customer can use in order to access your website.

Dot-com domain names usually cost $10/year, which of course is a recurring fee.

A few tips and best-practices to keep in mind when choosing a good domain name for yourself are:

  1. For businesses, a domain name has to be the name of the business itself, for obvious reasons. You don’t want your website to be called something else than what your business is called, right?
  2. Get a Top-Level Domain name or a TLD. These are domain names ending in .com, .net, .org, etc. TLD tend to rank better in the search engine rankings.
  3. Domain names should be short and simple.
  4. Avoid hyphens and numbers if at all possible.

The process of registering a domain is quite simple and straightforward, and good domain registrars such as GoDaddy take you through the process in a very simple and step-by-step manner.

Purchase Hosting

The next step is to purchase hosting or server space. Hosting or web-hosting, as it’s most-commonly referred-to, is a virtual space on the internet where you can host your website, or keep all its files.

There are tons of web hosting companies out there, two of the best however are HostGator and Bluehost.

Hosting companies such as these offer many different hosting packages. HostGator, for instance, offers the following web-hosting packages:

  1. Shared hosting: Cheap, and best for small to medium websites. Ideal for small businesses. HsotGator’s shared hosting plans are excellent for hosting new websites. You get plenty of bandwidth and hosting-space for your money, as well as the ability to host either a single or a multiple number of websites (if you intend to do so in the future). The biggest advantage of shared hosting is that it’s cheap, packages can start from as little as a couple dollars-a-month!
  2. Dedicated and VPS hosting: One of the drawbacks of shared hosting is that you’re sharing server resources with many other websites at the same time (which is why shared hosting is inexpensive), and if you get a lot of traffic, load-times and browsing speeds could be slow. That’s where dedicated web hosting comes in. Dedicated servers give you full access to a server’s resources and are hence ideal to host medium-to-large websites (such as e-commerce portals) or websites that require a lot of bandwidth (such as those which get a lot of traffic or require live video streaming).

Once done, you’ll need to ‘connect’ your web-hosting with your domain name that you purchased earlier by pointing it to your web hosting account. This requires you the change the name servers for that domain name. Good web hosts such as HostGator can do this for you free of cost. Once this is done, visitors will be able to view your website hosted by your web hosting provider simply by typing in the website address.

But before that happens, the website actually needs to be built…

Building the Website

Now that you have your hosting space – a place on the internet where you can host your website – and your domain name – your virtual (online) address – it’s time to actually build your website.

There are certain ways that you can go about doing this, here are the best of the lot:

  1. Hire a designer: You could hire a web-designer (an individual or a designing firm) to code and design your website for you. This can be someone you know, someone you get in touch with through the yellow-pages or Craigslist, or someone you hire via Freelancer or oDesk, for instance. Web and graphic-designers usually use one of the many commercially-available WYSIWYG web-designing programs such as CoffeeCup, Coda 2 (Mac) or Adobe Dreamweaver to name a few in order to design your website, its many different elements and its pages, and then use FTP programs to simply upload these files to your web-hosting server. Of course the designer will charge you for his services, and you may need to sit down with him/her/them from time-to-time as well.
  2. WordPress: One of the simplest and best ways to get a fully-functional and highly-customizable website up and running is through the use of WordPress. WordPress, in a nutshell, is a feature-rich, customizable and free content management system (CMS) that allows you to quickly and seamlessly ‘build’ or create a website from the ground-up using templates, a point-and-click mechanism, and plug-ins and themes. Many web hosting companies (including Bluehost and HostGator) offer simple and easy WordPress installation through the control panel via the one-click script installation.
  3. Other CMS: Other content management systems (like WordPress) include Drupal and Joomla. These can also be used to create a website, however WordPress remains one of the most popular CMS out there, thanks to it’s ease-of-use, feature-set and customizability.

I highly recommend using WordPress for your small business website, as there are many advantages of doing so. For instance you can end up with a powerful and functional website using WordPress, add pages, users (as well as user classes), make use of powerful (free and premium) WordPress themes, add plugins to your website, optimize your website for search engines (WordPress is already quite search-engine friendly right out-of-the-box) and so on – all without the need to know any code.

WordPress also comes with an excellent control panel (usually referred to as the cPanel), which is where you can easily change and tweak things with regards to your website. The cPanel is very simple to use, user-friendly and intuitive.

Some excellent places to look for WordPress themes include:

  1. ThemeForest: One of the biggest and best premium theme galleries out there on the internet.
  2. WPArchive: Another great WordPress theme gallery, features many free and premium WordPress themes.
  3. WordPress theme repository: Plenty of free WordPress themes to choose from here.

WordPress will also allow you to easily add and put content (text, images and other multimedia) on your website.

SEO

We’ve pretty much covered all that you need to know to build a website by this point. You can simply start redirecting visitors and clients to your website by giving them your website address.

However for business, especially small business, it is essential to be able to get traffic from search engines as well, in addition to direct traffic. This is known as organic traffic, and in order to be able to get visitors from search engines, your website needs to be optimized for search engines. This process is known as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO in short.

Optimizing your website for search engines allows people to find your website, and hence your business, for keywords and terms that are relevant to you. That’s one of the reasons why a website exists in the first place – so your existing and potential clients and customers can find your business.

Since SEO is a large, all-encompassing field, we will be doing an ‘SEO for Small Business Websites’ in a separate article on SmartBusinessTrends.

Integration with Social Media

It is also essential to integrate your website with social mediums, and make it a part of a comprehensive, company-wide social media strategy. This means having a strong and active presence on social mediums, which is tightly-integrated with your website as well, and is part of your overall online presence as well.

How small businesses can develop a comprehensive social media strategy for themselves will be covered in a future article on SmartBusinessTrends, so watch this space.

Questions, Comments?

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