How to Set Up a Website: A Guide for Small Businesses
If you’ve never set up your own website before you might find the idea of doing so rather daunting.
But, what if I told you there was a way to do this without much technical knowledge required?
Would you give it a go?
Setting up your own website for your business is actually a lot simpler than you think. And, in this article, I’ll be taking you through each step of this process, from purchasing a domain name, to choosing the best platform for you.
If you simply do not have the time to do this; or your requirements are too complex, then we’ll also show you how to approach and brief a design agency.
How to make a website
These days you would need a very good reason not to have a website for your business. While not every business will be selling through a website, just having something simple that showcases your brand, team and company goes a long way to make your business seem more authentic.
For companies whose website will be a huge source of new customers, it’s well worth investing time and energy into making something quality.
It’s not as hard, nor as expensive as you might think. At the end of this article, you’ll be able to answer the following questions:
- How to establish the right website strategy for your startup
- Build it yourself or hire a web design agency?
- How to purchase a domain name?
- What platform should I build my website with?
There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s begin.
Establish the right website strategy for your startup
Building a website is not just about making a site that is aesthetically pleasing to you. Although having a site you are proud to own and direct people to is a great bonus. What you are really trying to achieve is a site that looks trustworthy, is fit for the market you are in and is easy to use.
Last week we covered branding where we explored how to create a brand that fits your market and not just what you personally think looks good. The same principle applies here. What your website looks like, its messages and its layout will be dictated by your market research. We emphasise market research informing your choices a lot through this guide. Market research is crucial for the success of your launch.
Finding the right strategy is about narrowing in on the core purpose of your website. So it’s important to think carefully about your primary goal.
For example, your primary goal could be:
- To get people to call a sales number
- To download a fitness class timetable
- To watch a video showcasing a product
Whatever your business needs, carefully consider the steps you want your visitors to take as they go through your website. Your website design needs to help a visitor quickly recognise what you do and guide them toward completing the actions needed to complete that goal. Content that hinders this progress needs to be avoided.
Below are some examples of websites that you might choose. The type of website you choose will depend on your business goals.
- One page lead gatherer – easy to setup and great for making a visitor take one specific step i.e. completing the form on that page and/or making contact with you
- One or more page information/brochure website – often comes in a long form scrolling website that can get a lot of information across in one place
- Multiple page shop front e-commerce site – If you are selling a range of products online you’ll need a great space to showcase them
- Multiple page product showcase website with blog – Great for selling a product such as software with multiple features and benefits to get across
- A portal for signing up and signing into a web application – a practical website less focused on marketing and more focused on providing the actual product
Your core goals will also help you prioritise your calls to action (CTAs). Most commonly these will be buttons pushing people towards other parts of your website such as ‘Sign up now’, ‘Join today’, ‘Call us now’ etc. So – as you can see – deciding on your initial website is all about deciding the goals you want your visitors to achieve.
To decide on what your goals are, think about what you’re trying to achieve with your website. Think about the following:
- What do you want your visitors to do on your website?
- What actions should the website help them achieve?
- Set these as your primary goals and describe how this will aid your activity
As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when designing a website. Already, you may feel overwhelmed with how much you need to consider. If you’re really short for time, or feel you can’t create the website you want by yourself, you may be able to pull in outside help.
How to choose a website design company
Whether you choose to build and design your website yourself or hire a web design agency will depend on the requirements and complexity of your site. As you’ll see by the end of this blog post, that creating your own website can actually be quite…simple. By the time we’ve gone through all the steps you may be convinced to create your own.
If you’re not sure, read through the steps to see if you think it’s a task you’re capable of taking on taking into account all the other tasks you’re working through too. If it isn’t, then you may want to consider hiring a web design agency.
Choosing a design agency
Before we go through the steps needed to set up a website, let’s talk about how to choose a design agency.
If you’re sure you would rather hire someone to build your website for you, it can still be overwhelming trying to find the right person. So, we’ve given you some suggestions on how to approach this process.
Trying to find a design agency to build your website is also time-consuming. You could end up spending this week just finding a list of potential candidates and making first contact with them. Don’t rush this, finding a design partner to go forward with is as much about ensuring you have a good rapport and working relationship as much as the design work itself.
- Look at their portfolio of past work. You want to see if the work is good quality and fits with the vision you have. You also want to see their clients and the industries they have experience with.
- Make sure you get on well with them – are they a good fit? You’ll start to learn this over your first phone calls and face to face meetings.
- Ensure good communication and updates. They should outline how they will approach this throughout a project. You should also be able to judge this from how prompt they are with their replies and the quality of their responses.
When searching for agencies, it’s a good idea to start looking locally first. The benefits of a local agency are more frequent face-to-face meetings which are key to relationship building. If there are no suitable local agencies you can then expand your search.
Briefing a design agency
If you have decided to go to an agency to have your website created professionally then here is the basic structure of a website brief. It’s important to give agencies a broad overview of what you are trying to achieve, both through your website and across your company as a whole. Let them into the big picture so they can understand your brand to the full and create something that truly represents it. In addition to the topics below, you could discuss post launch work and content creation if you’re looking for the agency to cover the long term management of your website.
- Introduction – A concise introduction to you, your company and what you do
- Company brand, values and goals – Summarise the primary elements of your brand (see Week 8)
- Your target audience – Outline your audience demographics (see Week 3)
- Your competitors and their websites – List your competitors and how you want to differentiate yourself
- Examples of websites you like – Provide examples of the look and feel you want to go for and layouts you think would be effective
- Website goals & calls to action – Summarise the exercise you did at the start of this chapter
- Timescale & budget There are your timescales and budget restraints to factor in but also what is realistic for the agency to achieve based on your requirements. This is why it’s important to be detailed with your brief so the agency can give you an accurate quote and timeframe.
If you’ve decided that you’re going to try and build a website yourself, the first step to setting one up is to choose a domain name.
How to choose a domain name
This is one of the most important steps in building a website. A domain name is what you see in the address bar at the top of your website browser window. E.g. www.mydomainname.com.
Your domain name has to be unique since it defines where on the web all your pages will sit. Domain names are purchasable and this is the first step you’ll need to do if you want your own website!
Apart from being unique, the name should clearly be recognisable as your company. Obviously, you want to try and secure your companyname.com and ideally get local versions such as companyname.co.uk or companyname.fr.
If the company name you’ve picked is unusual then it should be inexpensive to purchase. You’ll generally need to pay an annual cost to a provider to secure and maintain ownership.
Use a website like godaddy.com to check if your domain name is available. If it is, you’ll be able to begin the purchase process where you can choose which domain endings you want to go for and how long you wish to purchase it for.
The process is generally simple and non-technical at this point. Follow the steps the company provides you with and in minutes you’ll be the proud owner of your company domain name!
Now that you’ve chosen your domain name, you need a website platform to build your website with.
How to choose a website platform
A website platform is an interface that helps you build and manage the content on a website. It’s an easy way to start instead of going through the time-consuming process of coding one from scratch. It also gives you the opportunity to do everything yourself if you want to avoid the route of getting an agency involved in the process.
Here are some of the most popular website platforms available to you:
WordPress is the most common platform used. That’s because it’s very flexible, has a large plugin ecosystem and will fit the needs of most businesses.
There are two options with WordPress:
- You can use their hosted version at wordpress.com and pay for their premium plan to use your own domain name
- You can opt to have your own hosted version using wordpress.org
The wordpress.com route is an easier way in and definitely suitable for simpler websites. If you’re planning on launching a full eCommerce website then wordpress.org is probably the best route. It gives you more flexibility and control over content and plugins. If you go this route you’ll also need to choose a company to host your website (we’ll go through that shortly).
Other options on the list are also very viable and often try to fill a niche to justify their value.
Shopify, for example, focuses on storefronts where you need to sell lots of products directly through your website, providing built-in commerce tools specifically for the purpose.
Squarespace differentiates itself by putting design and aesthetics in the forefront which could be appealing for fashion companies or photography sites where appearance is the number one goal.
Keep in mind that many of these services have free versions so you can sign up and try them out before making a final decision.
How to code a website
If you’re feeling really adventurous you can also code your website from scratch. It’s worth saying a few words about this option if only to serve as a warning. Using a website platform will suit 90% or more businesses. Coding your own website (or more likely, paying someone to code it for you) gives you the complete flexibility to make something truly bespoke and unique. However, website platforms are so flexible themselves that you would have to be doing something highly specialist to require this level of customisation.
Website platforms are friendly to most users since they don’t require coding knowledge to create content. A completely bespoke website will require every change to be coded which may pose a limitation in future. Remember, we are trying to get a minimal viable product launched in a small space of time and coding simply won’t allow this in our 90 day challenge!
How to host a website
This step is required for your website to actually be present on the internet. The ‘host’ is the place that all files, images and content will be saved (a physical server computer somewhere in the world). You’ll find that many of the places you purchase domain names from also provide hosting and a website platform to build your website with.
If you need to find an independent hosting company then start your search with companies like GoDaddy or 123-reg. Whilst you are comparing the different services out there, make sure you read reviews to get a good impression of what the sites are like to use, cheaper isn’t always better.
We’ve now covered the first stage of creating a website. If just the description of finding, choosing and setting up a hosting environment for your website has terrified you then an agency might be a good choice for you. They will set up hosting as part of their service. This set-up stage isn’t as hard as it sounds but it’s unlikely to be worth your time to research and learn how to do it. You’re probably better off handing it to a more technical friend, family member or agency if you don’t have existing experience.
By now you should be able to see that setting up a website can be a relatively easy process that can be done with little technical knowledge. While the option is available to code your own site, nowadays there are so many easy to use website platforms that it’s not necessary. If your requirements are complex or have a short timeframe in which to complete the work, you may find that hiring an agency to complete this work is a better approach.
Remember, when designing your website, always refer back to your strategy. This will help you later when you are designing the look and feel of your website.
Next up, we will be looking at the website design process.
This blog post forms part of our series on how to start a business in 90 days. For an overview of the series and all the blog posts so far click here.