If you’re reading this then you’re probably thinking about building a website for your business. That’s a great start, because if you don’t have a website then you could be missing out on a ton of business that might not come your way otherwise.
Having a well-made website can help with the perception of your brand and help to build trust with your potential customers.
But where to begin? The team at my creative agency, Other Things, has built successful websites for some of the world’s biggest brands. We also work with start-ups that want a shortcut to website excellence.
When we did the brilliant AD:VENTURE Northern Max accelerator program last year, we met a lot of start-up founders who were looking for varying degrees of help with building their own websites. Should they make it themselves or get help from the professionals?
There’s no silver bullet to it, and every business is different, but there are a few bits of advice that apply to many if not most small business website builds.
I’m going to list some of them for you:
1) You CAN Build It Yourself
If you’ve got a social media profile and you know your way around the internet, you can build yourself a website. There are some well-established services out there (such as Wix, or Shopify if you’re looking for an online store) that will hold your hand through the process.
That said, it might be awful and do more harm than good for your brand. I mean, you could tailor yourself a cocktail dress if you really wanted to. Doesn’t mean it will be any good.
Still, if you stick to the pre-defined templates, have a decent eye for design and can string a meaningful sentence together then you should be able to create a simple website that meets your business’ needs.
2) You Don’t Have to Figure It All Out From Scratch
Take a look at your competitors and other businesses that you admire. What are they doing on their websites? What are they doing badly, and what are they doing well?
What ideas can you draw inspiration from that would work with your website and brand?
That’s not to say that you should create a carbon copy of a competitor’s website, or plagiarise their copy and messaging, but you will likely identify some things that you think they do well and then you can put your own spin on them.
3) .co.uk Might Not Be the Way
If the .com domain name that you want is not available, but the .co.uk one is, it still might not be the best option.
People searching for your brand will probably find you either way, but you will inevitably and inadvertently be sending traffic to the .com version of the website domain. Not great, especially if it’s a competitor or a brand that could be mistaken for yours.
It’s still worth buying the .co.uk domain if it’s going cheap, and if you only ever plan to trade in the UK, but better to rack your brains for that .com domain name. Common ways around this are to add ‘we are’ or ‘this is’ in front of a brand name e.g. weareyourbrandname.com
We experienced this at Other Things, and we opted to go for otherthingsagency.com (we also grabbed otherthings.xyz to be what’s known as a ‘vanity URL’, but that’s another story…)
4) Cut to the Chase
When people visit your website, what action do you want them to take or what opinion of your brand do you want them to leave with? Make the fulfilment of these things the filter for all of your website-related decisions.
But don’t beat around the bush. Keep your choice of words and messages short and to the point. Challenge yourself to say what you need to say in as few words as possible, right up front on the home page, so that visitors know exactly what your business offers straight away.
This is your website content, and visitors to your site will form an impression of your brand based upon it.
It’s an area where professional help might be worth investing in if you’ve no experience in writing or producing content for the web. But if you want to DIY then keep it simple. Avoid using crappy Word art or DIY sketches. Stock photography can be great, but some of it is very cheesy. If you don’t think you can tell the difference then rope in someone who can.
And make sure you proofread it ad nauseum. If you’re not confident in that area, have somebody who knows how to properly use an apostrophe take a look at it.
5) Don’t Try to Reinvent the Wheel
Usability is essentially how well people can use your product to achieve their goal, and websites more often than not are built to a format that is familiar to the average visitor so that they can find what they’re looking for quickly and easily.
At Other Things we love to see experimentation in this area, but if you’re looking to DIY build yourself a website for your business and you have little experience of doing such things then sticking to the ‘norms’ is your best bet. No need to reinvent the wheel. It will probably just confuse your visitors.
If you use a website building platform (such as Wix, Gator or Squarespace) there are templates and ‘themes’ that are put together with usability in mind. You won’t be winning awards for website innovation, but visitors to your site will have a better chance of navigating around your website nice and easily and developing a positive impression of your brand.
These platforms can also take care of some of the basic nuts and bolts stuff around hosting your website on the internet, and help you avoid pitfalls with potentially baffling things such as optimising it for mobile, SSL certificates, SEO and other acronyms.
So there you have it. The above is by no means comprehensive or universally true, but it might help set you on the right path if you’re considering how to build your small business website.
If you’re going DIY then keep things simple, utilise the templates and simplifying tools available to you and don’t go too left-field with your creative ideas. You’ll learn something and maybe even enjoy it.
And if it’s terrible, at least you tried. Give a good agency or freelancer a call and they’ll see you right.
Matt Hitchcock is the co-founder and Managing Director of Other Things, an alternative creative agency that specialises in producing disruptive advertising and marketing solutions for the gaming and entertainment industries.
Photo credit: Jodie Beardmore (www.jodiebeardmorephotography.co.uk)