It’s 2013; get a website already

If you ask a room-full of small business owners whether they have a website, a surprisingly large number will look you straight in the eye and say, “I don’t need one.”

This group tends to include some of the smallest businesses, like handymen, gutter cleaners and house painters. But it also includes a surprising number of businesses with higher overhead and more at stake: mechanics, limousine services, even some restaurants and retailers.

But today, a website is like a telephone and a business card: You shouldn’t even think of doing business without one.

Why you need a website

According to Pew Research, one out of three people who own cell phones use them to access the internet to decide whether to visit a business. That doesn’t include the larger number of people who use computers and tablets for the same purpose. Are these all people you don’t want as customers?

For the smallest businesses, a website can act as an extra set of hands – providing information without you having to stop work to answer the phone. It also puts you on equal footing with larger competitors. Finally, in an era when fewer and fewer people use phone books, it may be the best way to make sure people can find you.

Even the simplest website can present your business as organized and serious; it broadcasts that you want people to find you and learn about you. Not having a website says the opposite: that your business is marginal or indifferent.

Here are the most common reasons small-business owners tell me they don’t have a website – along with some push-back.

I get all my business by word-of-mouth: That will likely be the case even with a website. But people who are referred to you may still want to see your website before making a call. You’ll never know how much business you didn’t get because such people discovered you don’t have one.

Most of my customers are older and don’t use the Internet: Are they so old that they’re likely to die before you? If so, the younger customers you’ll need to replace them are more likely to use the Web to pre-qualify businesses like yours.

All my customers are local; I don’t need a website to reach people in Idaho: If a website reaches people in Idaho, it’s reaching more people close to home, because Google and all the other major search engines now use geographic location in determining search results. Reaching people outside your geographic area may not be the goal of your website, but when it happens, it doesn’t cost more and it doesn’t hurt anything.

I don’t have anything to put on a website: In my experience, this is the real reason many people never get around to building a website. When pushed to make a case why anyone should do business with them, they freeze. Organizing the description and value of your business can make your brain ache, but it’s critically important – and not just for your website.

I don’t have time and I don’t have the money for someone to do it for me: If you thought it was important, you would have made time.

Building a simple site

Lots of small businesses have integrated the Internet with their day-to-day operations by building feature-rich websites with blogs and appointment-schedulers and other add-ons. This can be invaluable, but it also costs more money and requires someone to maintain and update content.

You don’t have to do this. A website does not have to change the way you do business. It doesn’t need to have state-of-the-art social media integration. It doesn’t need to be optimized to show up at the top of search engine rankings. There’s nothing wrong with a simple website that provides basic information and seldom changes.

Three things are required to build your first website: A domain name; a hosting service and a simple drag-and-drop platform on which to build your website. All three should cost around $100 a year, and the large hosting services like GoDaddy and 1&1 provide everything you need in one place (and you’ll enjoy it about as much as a trip to Walmart on Dec. 24). If you’re unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the process, ask for help from a friend who has already been through it; it’ll cost you a six-pack.

The harder job for most people is figuring out what to put on the website. So make it simple. I suggest starting with just 4 pages:

Home: The introductory landing page that provides basic information about what your business does and who it serves.

Services: A page that goes into a little detail about what you offer. It doesn’t have to say much – just a list of the things you do.

About: A page that provides background about you and the business; use the same stuff that you say to prospective customers when trying to close a sale or deal with them.

Contact: It’s enough if you provide an e-mail address and phone number. Also include your mailing address – in case somebody wants to send you a check some day.

After the website is up and running, you may decide to add one or two more pages:

  • Testimonials from customers
  • A gallery of photos, if appropriate, of work you’ve done

One warning: Don’t illustrate your website with photos that you “scrape” from other websites or from Google Images. Most of these are copyrighted, require a license and royalties. If you need photos, try FreeDigitalPhotos.net or Stock.xchng, where photos really are free to use as long as you follow their guidelines.

Don’t worry about all the other fragments of knowledge you hear about building a good website. They all have their time and place. But for you, it’s enough to establish your online presence and then get back to business. You’ll be glad you did.

 

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