It’s 2015; get a website already

joe s contracting Google SearchA surprisingly large number of owners still think their small business doesn’t need a website.

Among them are some of the smallest businesses, like handymen, gutter cleaners and house painters. But it also includes businesses with higher overhead and more at stake: mechanics, limousine services, even restaurants, retailers and professional service providers like lawyers and accountants.

A website isn’t a luxury – especially for small businesses. It can mean the difference between being perceived as a painting company and a guy with a ladder. Today, a website is like a telephone and a business card: Don’t even think of doing business without one.

Why you don’t have a website

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

  1. I get all my business by word-of-mouth: That will likely be the case even with a website. But more and more, people who are referred to your business will try to look it up online before making a phone call. When they do, if they don’t find your business right away they will find competitors. You’ll never know how much business you didn’t get from direct referrals who discover you don’t have a website.
  2. Most of my customers are older and don’t use the internet: According to Pew Research, 6 out of 10 people 65 or older use the internet regularly. But even if all your customers are in the other 40%, new customers are likely to be younger.
  3. All my customers are local; I don’t need a website to reach people in Idaho: If a website reaches people far away, it’s reaching even more people close to home. That’s because the major search engines all use geographic location in search results – especially on mobile devices which now account for more than half of all internet search activity. Reaching people outside your geographic area may not put money in your pocket, but it doesn’t hurt anything and it doesn’t cost extra.
  4. I don’t have time to build a website, and I don’t have the money for someone to do it for me: Today, you can build a drag-and-drop website without any technical knowledge at little or no cost. Time and money are never the real reason – just indications that you don’t yet understand the true value.
  5. I don’t have anything to put on a website: In my experience, this is the real reason most of these businesses aren’t yet online. 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. Going through the sometimes-difficult process of learning how to make your business seem unique will pay dividends in all aspects of what you do, and it’s the most important part of creating a website.

Why you need a website

Credit: Search Engine Land, 2012

How many times have you used the internet in the last 12 months to find a local business? Credit: Search Engine Land, 2012

A 2012 survey by Search Engine Land indicated 85% of consumers use the internet to find or qualify local businesses.

  • 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.
  • With phone books having all but disappeared, it’s becoming the only way 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.

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, e-commerce, appointment-schedulers and other add-ons. This can be valuable and has successfully transformed many businesses. But that may not be what you want.

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.

There are three technical requirements to build your first website: A domain name (prices vary, but $15 a year is a fair, gimmick-free price); a hosting service (ballpark $100 a year) and a simple drag-and-drop platform on which to build your website (free). The large hosting services like GoDaddy and 1&1 provide everything you need in one place (and you’ll enjoy the experience 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 bottle of wine. Or pay someone who specializes in building small-business websites – who will help scale the project to your needs and budget.

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, and the cost if the copyright holder finds you (which is more likely than you think) can be exorbitant. 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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