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Photographer: Hal Gatewood | Source: Unsplash

So you're starting a business, and you're thinking you should have a website.

Great! Well done on both counts, there's a lot of satisfaction to be found running your own business, and putting it out there for the world to see.

Before jumping in with both feet and just magically creating a website out of thin air, there are some things you need to know, some things you need to do, and some things you need to buy.

Why Not Just Go "Free"?

Yes, you can build your business website for free (as in, no money). It's actually a good way to get your feet wet and get some practical, hands-on experience with what you need to consider and do to build a website. Do the free stuff before you want customers though, to get experience and learn a few things.

You can still get going for very low cost, and add functions or tools or services later, however there's a world of perceived difference by customers between "mybusiness.wordpress.com" and "mybusiness.com.au"

So if you want to be taken seriously, to be seen as a 'proper' business, then you'll need to make at least a couple of small investments. Whether you've gone as far as registering an official business name or even if you're planning on trading under your own name (check with an accountant on that one though), you'll want to be seen and recognised as a 'business' and not an uncommitted part-time hobbyist who may or may not still be going next month.

1. Reserve A Domain Name

You'll need your own web-address. Your very own www .something .com .au. The "something" in there can pretty much be whatever you like, although there are some rules;

  • Obviously you can't use someone else's trade-mark or business name
  • If you expect to serve Australian customers, or particularly want to be seen to be Australian, go for the ".com.au" ending
  • If you're up for world domination and are aiming for something more generic, more worldwide and not country-focussed, go for the ".com" ending
  • Better yet, get both so nobody else can get the other one and cause you grief.
  • Before you register your domain name brainwave, write it down and check with a couple of nearby people. The 'Speed of Art' people might not have appreciated what people see for their domain name, speedofart. com, for example!
  • Make it easy to write, easy to say, easy to read and preferably easy to spell. Businesses with awkward lettering may need to get creative – for example, Tess's Sandalwood Creations could go for tessssandaldwoodcreations .com .au. Not advisable though… perhaps sandalwoodcreationsbytess .com .au could be better here
  • You can register as many domain names as you like, and have them all go to the same website. So if you want sandalwoodcreationsbytess .com .au and also sandalwoodcreations .com .au and also sandalwoodbeauty .com .au AND they are all available, now is the time to get them. At $50-$100 for a couple of years each, it's not a large splurge and you can review whether they're of any use to you when they come up for renewal. It will be too bad if someone else has registered your desired domain name or a variant of it because you wanted to wait until you needed it.

2. Decide What You Are Selling

Just what is your product and/or service mix? Be clear about what it is you're providing – because you are going to have to provide it!

Can you write it down in just 1 sentence so that a first-time reader will quickly know what you are talking about?

And most importantly, does it solve someone's need or pain-point or problem? If your potential customers can't immediately relate to how your offering will make life better in some way, you'll lose their interest quickly. And there's too much demand for people's attention to let that happen.

What's important here is that First Impression. In just a few words, literally no more than a sentence, you have to cut through and grab people to make them want to find out more. Once a person knows that this may be a 'good thing', you can expand and provide more detail and do the selling, but it's that first communication that is key. You simply don't have the luxury of in-depth explanations on why your offering is worth considering until someone is already hooked somehow.

Be clear on what it is you are aiming to sell – and not so much the 'what', as the 'why'.

3. Decide Who You Are Selling To

Your 'target market' is important for a number of reasons. You need to know where to find these people. It is (very!) unlikely that what you sell is important to EVERYbody, no matter how passionately you believe it should be.

So zoom in on the core people that are going to buy your product/service. Age range? Income range? Geographic location? Single, family? City, country?

You will need to communicate with these people in a way that they are comfortable with. Use their language/phrasing, sayings, style of writing/speaking. If they are good with acronyms and jargon for a particular industry, use it. But if jargon is a barrier, try very hard to use wording that avoids jargon.

In essence, be as clear in your mind as possible about who it is you most expect to want your product/service, and communicate in a way that they expect and appreciate.

Knowing your target market also allows you to focus better on the best ways to reach them. Facebook? Twitter? Newspaper ads? Letter drops? Email (but be wary of the law against spam)? Paid Google search ads? Youtube ads?

There's no point paying for Facebook ads when most people go searching Google when they need you, for example (although it may be useful to create awareness of you).

Note that this is not an easy area of business – put in the effort, and you put yourself further up the ladder of competition though. If we could all reach our ideal customers easily, we would all be doing just that, and making money would be easy, wouldn't it?

4. Define How You Will Sell It

Get a bit practical here for a bit. You know what you want to sell, and who you want to sell it to. Exactly how do your customers get it?

If you're selling a Thing, you'll need to be sure you have it in stock (or know how to get it quickly). You'll need to be able to move it from A (where Thing is) to B (customer). also quickly. What are the costs involved of getting from A to B? What's your strategy for shipping charges?

[NB. Shipping is a tricky one. We all love free shipping. Failing that, flat-rate shipping. Either way, people will want and expect to know up-front what your shipping charges are going to be. That extra little 'sticker-shock' when you're going through the checkout process and only at the end do you see a sizeable shipping charge? No. Not good. Abandoned cart right there.]

You'll likely be able to hook into shipping services like Australia Post to get a realtime quote on what it will cost you to send a package to a particular destination. Have a think about the impact this will have on your sales. Shipping of $50 on a $7,000 item isn't the same as $15 on a $35 item. What do your closest competitors/equivalents do for shipping?

It's worth knowing that generally, people would prefer to buy a $40 item with free shipping that a $30 item with $7 postage. Just sayin'….

5. Define How Customers Will Pay

This is a very important part. Some would argue (you bean-counters out there) the MOST important. You are setting up in business to exchange something for something. Obviously, most businesses expect to receive money in return for their products/services, so the odds are you'll want some way of receiving payment.

Just how is that going to work?

  • Direct deposit is easiest. So long as you have an appropriate bank account to receive the funds in. It's generally not a great idea to mix your personal finances with your business finances, and you won't want to untangle things down the track. Time to jump through the hoops at your chosen bank and get a new, separate bank account.
    With direct deposit, you'll need to check your bank account to see when a payment has cleared to your account, and if it is OK to provide the product/service (or chase up the payment if you've already provided it). Note also there will be a 3-5 day delay between your customer paying and you receiving the proceeds. So it's slow and requires manual admin.
  • Paypal is another easy one. Register a business (merchant) Paypal account in your business name, because you get better profiling by Paypal and different facilities. There will be some bureaucracy hurdles (along the lines of the banking 100-point check) to prove you are a genuine business. Then you can link your Paypal account to your bank account, so you can transfer funds between them.
    Paypal will take a commission of every payment you receive, of around 2-3%
  • Stripe is an excellent payment system that is similar to Paypal but deposits proceeds directly into your bank account. It's quick, too, and integrates with all sorts of online tools and services. Like Paypal, they take a commission of around 2-3% of the payments you receive.
  • Square is a combination of hardware (a gadget) and payment service which lets you take payment in person by scanning/reading credit/EFTPOS cards. You can also use Square online eg. in your website, but it's not as widespread as Paypal and Stripe so check your chosen website solution supports Square before ordering one. As you might expect, Square is also commission-based similar to Paypal/Stripe. Proceeds are deposited directly to your bank account.

Many of the above payment options can be included in your accounting system too, for example Xero. So when you email an invoice, the invoice includes all the payment options and (where appropriate) a link to enable instant online payment.

In addition, there is of course "an app for that". You can setup your smartphone to take payments through Paypal and/or Stripe, although you'll need to manually enter the card number etc.

You might event want to setup a direct debit arrangement that lets you automatically take payment from a customer, for example if your are providing a product/service with a monthly charge. Pinch Payments provide a commission-based service (as usual!) which lets you automatically take payment directly from the customer's bank account or credit-card when the invoice is due – the client stays in control and can cancel any time, and has to agree to allow it. This means you can automate a monthly Xero invoice and receive payment without anyone needing to do a thing. Neat.

There are other payment options around too. The point is, what is going to work best for what you do and for your customers? A smooth payment system is good for business all round. The less 'friction' people experience when having to pay, the easier the process is, the more pleasant the experience – the happier the customer is, and the more sales you get.

6. Choose a 'Platform'

So when webby people talk about the platform, they're talking about the software system that will be used to create and build a website. For example, the world's most popular platform is WordPress.

Does it matter which you go for? Yes and no.

Bear in mind, you will be renovating your website (as in, major overhaul) every 2-3 years. If your business succeeds and grows, you will be making significant investments in time, effort and money into making the website do more and more, and be increasingly effective and sophisticated. A $15,000 dollar website may sound hideously expensive for a startup, but compare that to $50,000 for a sales person to do the same thing (not to mention sick-leave, holidays, superannuation………..).

But at the beginning, you'll want something that is popular (so there's lots of support for it), easy to use (so you don't need to pay someone for every little change), and extendable (so you can add the facilities and functions as you need them).

This doesn't rule out many options, I'm afraid, as that's how website systems are these days. And if you find one that isn't popular, easy and extendable, be aware you are tying one arm behind your back no matter how good a solution it seems right now.

6(a) 'Managed' Website Systems

Major players that look after the technical side for you include Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, Shopify and WordPress.com (note the ".com" there, we'll come to why). You sign up for free, they step you through how to create a website (and provide some good-looking templates to get you going quickly), it's all done online using reasonably easy tools. You'll probably fairly quickly run up against the need to start paying for add-ons for particular functions which the free account won't let you have. The biggie is using your own domain name instead of piggy-backing on their name (eg. mybusiness .squarespace .com).

These managed website builders can be great value, you can create a great-looking website, and they can put you on the map and in business. BUT they are a one size fits all solution. If they don't or won't do something you want in your website, there's nothing you can do about it but add it to their Customer Wishlist. And an important consideration is that you are basically renting your website. If they close down (unlikely), so do you. If you have an argument with them, your site could easily be off-air and inaccessible.

So the main disadvantage is your level of control and ownership. Quite probably, not much of a thing when you're starting out! For your Version 1 website, these website builders are a good option.

6(b) Going Independent

The alternative to a managed website builder is to strike out on your own with an independent website. This is what you do when you head over to WordPress.org (and note it is ".org". this time) where you'll see you can download the website software to install yourself, on your own webhosting.

You not only have a world of choice (literally thousands) of 'optional extras' when you choose an independent WordPress website, you can also create your own unique customisations and code for it. If you have an idea that's a bit different and nobody has already built a solution, you can contract someone to get your website to do exactly what you want. That's fairly uncommon though – you'd be surprised at what has already been invented!

I'd recommend getting someone else to install and setup an independent WordPress website for you – you'll have enough to learn when creating the webpages never mind learning the ins and outs of creating databases that one time in your life and never doing it again. I'd also highly recommend using one of the major "page builders" – think of this as a layer that sits above the raw website system, to make creating and editing webpages with all the fancy stuff a WHOLE lot easier.

Page builders you'd want to consider include Divi, Beaver Builder, and Elementor. Which is best? Well, THERE's a whole can of worms you can look up on Google. They all do much the same in the way the major supermarket chains do the same, but with slight variations that mean you'll probably like one more than another. Elementor in particular has been well received by newcomers to website creativity, though – and it's free to use, with a paid upgrade available that adds more bells & whistles.

These page builders work on the 'drag and drop' principle. Create a new page. Add a new section to the page, and say how many columns across it will be. Put a block of text in the first column. Put an image in the second column. Add a new row that is only 1 column. Add a row after that with 4 columns. Wherever you want, you choose a type of content (text, video, image, quotation, testimonial, photo gallery etc etc) and put in where you want it, and then fill it with the appropriate stuff. You'll get the hang of it pretty quickly. And there is a LOT of help available to make sure you get through whenever you get stuck.

An independent website lets you do whatever you want to. And it is YOURS (so long as you make sure copyright is assigned to you, if you get some assistance with it). You can and should take backups of the entire site, which lets you move it to completely different webhosting should you feel the need. "Webhosting?" – glad you asked!

7. Webhosting

Your website has to 'live' somewhere. Any website boils down to being a collection of files and data stored on a computer (ie. a "webserver"), in some physical location. That could literally be anywhere in the world. And it really doesn't matter these days where.

What does matter is the quality of that webhosting. Here, cheapest is definitely not best. You are likely to get what you pay for. Very cheap webhosting means you share your webserver resources (disk space, memory, processing speed, communications links) with thousands of other websites. Not dozens or hundreds – thousands!

Compare it to a block of flats. At the cheaper end, you have multiple buildings each with hundreds of small flats crammed in. In the mid-range, you have dozens of larger apartments with higher-grade fittings. At the top end, you have just a few luxury big apartments with all mod cons. Each priced accordingly.

When you are starting out, you can certainly get away with cheap webhosting. You won't have all that many visitors, and you aren't likely to be activating functions that require significant computer resources. By all means, save money at this point – but bear in mind, you WILL need to relocate your site to better premises as your business grows. Do some research before picking a webhoster too. There are lots of webhosting businesses that are great at selling and marketing and atrocious at customer service.

Be sure you have direct access to your files and database so you can make copies and download as & when you need to. And be sure that you have some sort of backup in place, whether by yourself or on your behalf by your webhosting provider. You do NOT want to have to do it all over again because something goes wrong – and I've seen this several times. Painful, expensive, disruptive, a waste of YOUR time just when you need it most in other activities.

The managed website system will take care of backups, security, updates for you. That's a lot off your shoulders. An independent website will need you to make sure it's all done, although most good webhosters will include their own backups and tools for you to make your own backups.

8. Design & 'Image'

This is more important than you may realise, yet is also not something to get hung up on. When you launch, you'll want your potential customers to recognise you as a legitimate business. First impressions absolutely count here.

Think of your own experiences when you look at websites. Or better yet, hop onto Google and do a search for the product/service you will be offering, and compare the sites you find. Don't just look at the top results (especially the paid ads in the Google Results page). Go to page 4 or page 6 of the results to see the websites that are struggling to be found.

Take a critical look at the websites found on page 1, and compare to the page 4 or page 6 websites. If you were a customer, which would you buy from and why? Which would you NOT buy from, and why? Be sure to include all these aspects when you put your own website together.

So a good design will put customers at ease about your business. Above all, whatever you do will create an instant 'image' for your business. Are you formal? Fun? Adventurous? Healthy? You've got 2-3 seconds of attention to get across the feel for how you do business, and that is important to positioning your business in the minds of customers.

A professional logo is great. Don't get clipart or DIY it unless you have graphic design skills – you will look cheap and low grade and amateur. Better not to have a logo until you can afford one. By the way, very cheap logos can be found via online design services such as Fiverr – again, you'll get what you pay for, and there is a significant risk it will just be copyright theft. Don't leave yourself open to that sort of legal headache.

Come up with a colour scheme – a main theme colour, and then 2-3 supporting and complementary colours. Use your colour theme everywhere you do business stuff. Website, logo, leaflets, clothing etc. etc. Do a bit of research on branding to see why this is important.

But don't stall here. It can be easy to get hung up on the perfect logo, the perfect colours etc. Keep moving!

Search Engine Optimisation

The fabled "SEO". The black art of getting your website to the top of the first page when people search for your product/service. There is much hype around this, and a LOT of people selling what they can't deliver.

First thing to know – NOBODY can make you top of page 1 in Google. Nobody. That defeats the entire purpose of Google who want to list the best matches to a search. What does "best" mean? That is the secret sauce for each search engine such as Google.

But essentially, it's a popularity contest. Firstly, a page does actually have to be about what the searcher is looking for. Secondly, the more other people/organisations that link to that page, the more trust you and search engines can have that the page is both legitimate and something worth going to.

Winning at SEO is a long-term game and requires consistent work -by you or someone else acting on your behalf (eg. an SEO consultant). Winning at SEO is all about finding what people actually search for instead of what you think they search for.

As for design though, you can do the basics now to get going, and then come back and refine later when your business has settled down. With more experience under your belt, more customers, more sales, you'll have a better feel for what to do with SEO.

When you're starting up, go with your gut. As you create the words for each webpage;

  • be sure to use the wording and phrases that directly relate to that page
  • don't say "it", say the name of the product/service/aspect/feature
  • give search engines something to grasp
  • reinforce to humans what you're talking about
  • break pages up a bit with section titles and sub-titles
  • put a summary at the top of each page/section then break out with lots more detail/info
  • more words are better than less
  • images are great for humans but not for search engines (yet) – find out how to describe each image using its "Alt text"

9. Map Out Your Customer Journey

I'd put this as the most important step of all. A user-friendly layout that guides visitors through a journey from awareness to purchase is going to be much more successful than one that gets the visitor to work things out.

In other words, on every page and at every step, guide the customers. Want them to find out more about a particular product/service? Add a "Find Out More" button. Want them to buy it? Add a "Buy Now" button or form. Want them to contact you? The details should already be there – not tucked away in a Contact Us page up in the top menu.

So be very familiar with what a "Call To Action" is, and make sure your website is peppered with them in a consistent way. A Call To Action (or CTA) is simply you telling the potential customer what to do next.

Your website will have a primary objective (eg. buy online) and will have secondary objectives for visitors not yet ready (eg. subscribe to a newsletter). Decide on your primary objective, list your 1-3 secondary objectives. Make sure every page has the primary Call To Action or at least a secondary Call To Action. Feel free to repeat your CTAs on a page eg. the introductory text with a Buy Now button, then more detail and images along with a repeat of the Buy Now button.

In other words, make it as easy and convenient as you can for your visitors to take that next step. They're on your website, they've stuck around long enough to show they are interested, now give them guidance on what next.

Wrapping Up

So, with all the above covered off and under your belt, you'll get your new business online a step ahead of most. DIY websites are easy enough, but that doesn't mean they're necessarily effective or successful even if they do look good.

Websites are no longer about the tools or the tech. It's about what you use the tools and tech to create & build. Even if you do outsource some or all website aspects, your website will still need to reflect YOU and YOUR business. Keep control of that by being involved, directing and guiding what the website does and what it looks like.

At Winch Websites, we have a very interactive process that involves each client in making sure that a website is what they want and need, to determine what the objectives are, and therefore what functions the website will need.

A professionally-built website will get you better results quicker (as you'd expect) but it is a significant investment for a start-up; weigh up whether you are better off putting in the time to DIY and reserve your limited funds for other things plus get some website experience, or whether you want to fast-track things to get established and grow faster.

If you'd like some assistance with a website for your start-up, please get in touch. Our Project Assessment online form will cover some of the points discussed above, you'll need to be able to provide these answers no matter how you build a website, so please be sure to fill it out even if we turn out not to be suited to each other.

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