Your First Business Website

Starting a business is a pretty daunting process. There is so much to learn from how to do accounts, to getting the correct insurance, right through to the complexities of employing staff. Usually, an owner-manager has to do most of this themselves leaving little time for the actual business activity itself.

It makes sense to work out which of these tasks can be done effectively by someone else, so that you, the business owner, has the time and energy to focus on driving sales and developing a successful business model.  If you can’t (or don’t want) to subcontract then you should use the right tools for each different task.  You can use both these strategies effectively to produce your businesses’ website and there are some very good reasons to do this.

There are a wide range of skills needed to produce a successful website. Excellent design skills are essential as is attention to detail. The website must be able to work across multiple devices with internet connection speeds of varying quality and sometimes in multiple languages. Websites that make online sales need to deal with complex functions like bundled products, product variations, shopping carts, secure logins and have excellent security. Even the most technical business owner may not have the time or energy to work out how to design and maintain their own website particularly if it needs to have to have complex features like these.

Luckily there are some very good quality, tried and tested ways to get some or all of your website development done by someone else. Even better is doesn’t have to cost a lot (or anything!) and it doesn’t have to take a great deal of time.

Website Builders

If you are already technical then you will understand hosting, email and be able to use one of our free website templates to set up a basic business website. Good for you! However, to make your business really stand out you may want to use some special design elements, graphics or typography which need specialist training and expensive software. What if you have basic skills but have no idea how to develop a shopping cart, integrate a payment gateway or ensure your site is secure? If you are not technical then you would be silly to spend the time needed learning all about how to build and test a secure and mobile friendly website when there are a great deal of excellent tools that will do it all for you.

Technology sector leaders like Wix have been developing online website builders over many years. Most of these are free or offer a free basic service with some paid add-ons for more complex areas or for additional support. The majority of these online builders produce very polished results and their user-friendly interfaces mean that even an IT novice can produce a great looking website that works in a short time frame. An easy to use fully featured free website builder will provide a wide range of modern, beautiful templates to work from as a base with a simple ‘drag and drop’ way to add your content and customisations.  If you really only need a very simple website then some providers will simply ask your business name, contact information, business area and preferred colours and then do the rest for you – yes that’s right fill in a few form fields and you can have a website in seconds.

A simple 'drag and drop' interface

A simple ‘drag and drop’ interface

Be careful to choose a company that does cater for more advanced features though. As your business grows and develops you will probably find you need your website to be bigger and handle more complex tasks. It is much better if you can develop the website you have rather than have to start again from scratch. Does the website builder you have chosen offer things like simple shopping carts, image galleries and animations? Ideally, it should also provide an API (Application Programming Interface). This is a way for you to use your own custom code to ‘talk to’ the website which basically means you can develop it however you like.

Using A Website Designer

Some of you will simply not wish to divert anytime from your core business activities to developing the website even with a simple drag and drop interface. Other people with have very particular needs or design objectives which a template-based website will simply not be able to deliver. For some design-led businesses a truly unique or spectacular website may be essential to your sales effort.  In all these cases the website builder route is not going to be suitable, you are going to want a designer.

Easier said than done – how do you find the right designer or design company, verify their portfolio, agree terms and manage your payments to them in a way in which you retain quality control? Recommendations are of course important but few of us will be lucky enough to find a suitably proficient designer this way. Are there other proven ways of finding quality website designers? Yes, there are!

Companies like oDesk and upwork provide a platform for designers to showcase their skills and a way for business owners to contract and manage payments. However, these platforms have a number of serious inherent issues;

  • the review system is not reliable which makes it very hard for you to assess the quality of a designer before you contract with them.
  • the contractors are not vetted or assessed, anyone can join and if they get a bad profile they can delete it and start again with a new one.
  • Contractors have a habit of winning your work and then delaying when they get a more lucrative piece of work.
  • If you have problems with the quality of work or timeliness then you really don’t have any come back. Part payments you have made can’t be recovered and you may find the contractor will not hand over important vector files or logo files unless you pay them and give then a good review.

As a result, the popularity of these platforms has reduced. There are, however, a few online directories of web designers who have been vetted, at least to some degree, and who have to publish a portfolio of their work with genuine customer reviews. One of these platforms is Wix. This tech company provides a service whereby you can choose a designer based on their portfolio or submit your requirements and they match you with 6 suitable professionals. Importantly you retain control; you choose the designer you like best, what budget they should work to and how you are going to pay them. An additional benefit of the Wix service is that it has designers from different countries so you can choose someone who understands the local culture and speaks the language fluently.

Even if you are a highly technical business owner with the skills to develop your own website it doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Your time is precious and you should make sure you spend it on the tasks that will add the most value to your business and can’t be done by anyone else.  Web development is an area where quality skills can be contracted easily and for good prices so you can safely consider using a web builder service or a designer rather than trying to do everything yourself.