Imagine if a potential client or customer asked for your business phone number and you told him you didn’t have one—that’s the equivalent of not having a website in 2015. A website creates credibility and visibility for your business. It’s a storefront that never closes. It can sell your products and services while you’re asleep.
Providing you put together the website in the right way, with the right information.
This four-part series, developed in partnership with Squarespace, will lay out the steps to create and perfect an effective website whether you are launching a new company, a side project, or want to create an online project for your existing offline business.
We’ll start with the four questions you need to ask yourself before your launch your online business. Take time to evaluate and consider these four questions carefully, because they can help ensure you create a cost-effective website that projects the image you need to attract and convert customers and prospects.
1. How does the website fit with your overall business model?
You can’t make sound decisions on design, functionality or any other element of your website without first being crystal clear about your objectives. Do you want to generate leads with your site? Sell products or services directly to visitors? Build an audience, grow subscribers, or generate followers? Each answer leads you down a different design path.
“A restaurant website should help people who want to make reservations, look at the menu, or find the hours or location,” says Jeremy Schwartz, business development manager at Squarespace, a website builder, blogging platform and hosting service. ”If a 90-second video auto-plays when anyone comes to the restaurant site, people will become frustrated because the video isn’t serving their needs.”
Your objectives will also dictate the kind of commitment you want to make to the site, not only in money, but in time. For example, do you expect new customers to find you via organic search on the web? In that case you might want to create a blog and robust social-media presence that will drive customers to your site and help the site appear higher in search engine rankings.
However, if you primarily find customer by word-of-mouth or personal working, you might only need a “portfolio site” where you direct potential customers who want to see samples of your work or learn from information about you.
2. What functionality does your website need?
Bells and whistles for their own sake can slow your site down and make it more difficult to navigate, so the functionality of your website flows from your goals as well.
The first consideration is whether you’ll sell products, services or information directly from your site. If so, you need to consider, precisely how you will sell. Offering a subscription-based podcast will require a pay wall. A professional office may need an application that allows customers to book an appointment through the site. An ecommerce story will need to consider shopping carts and applications for online coupons.
The product blend will also affect the functionality. Schwartz says a company with a small number of products will need a basic ecommerce system while a company with many products, which are available online and through a brick-and-mortar store, will require an ecommerce platform that includes an inventory management system to tie all the operations together.
If you focus on the journey you want visitors to take through your site, the functionality you need will become apparent. That journey will determine how you capture visitor information, such as using simple web forms or user accounts with security log-ins, and every other element on the site.
3. What assets and content does your website need?
“For many websites, the quality of the assets (your logo, copy, and images, etc.) will define the upper bounds of the site’s quality,” Schwartz explains.
For a home improvement company, beautiful photographs of your previous renovation projects can determine whether a customer calls for information or clicks to your competitor. A dental office that provides professional-looking videos of procedures can grab the attention of web surfers thinking about having their teeth whitened. An accountant who provides testimonials from former clients can make them even more persuasive by adding photos of those clients.
Schwartz adds that many small businesses fail to appreciate the importance of the copywriting on the website. The “about page,” which gives you the chance to tell the story of your business, is one of the most visited parts of any page—and an area that is often overlooked. Carefully consider if you need assistance in telling your story and conveying the information visitors will want in the most effective manner. “Writing a pithy one-sentence about your company is not the same as normal English,” Schwartz says.
Remember the quality of the words and images will reflect on your company just as much as the clothes you wear to a business mixer do.
4. How will you build your website?
Schwartz says there are three basic approaches, and they are influenced by the budget you have for the site:
- Build the site yourself on a hosted platform. The DIY approach is good for small businesses who don’t want to spend a lot or have to rely on others to update the site However, don’t get caught up in the false economy of doing everything yourself if you need a creative eye or specific functionality that is beyond your skills.
- Have someone else build the site on an open platform. This gives you more flexibility and opportunity for customization, especially in terms of functionality. This approach is more expensive and may require more effort for you to learn how to use and maintain the site.
- Have someone else build the site on a hosted platform. An expert can help hone the layout, look and feel of the site to your goals, but after launch you can use and maintain the site on your own easily. This can be an excellent approach for a company with a larger amount to spend.
A website, done right, provides a huge competitive advantage. Just keep a laser focus on what you want to accomplish, and let that guide all your decisions.
In future posts, look for information about the step-by-step processes that you can use to set up your site; prepare for ecommerce; and perfect your site post-launch.
Build Your Site, Your Way
If you’re looking to put a unique stamp on your online presence, Squarespace offers creative tools that help you easily create a beautiful website, ecommerce store, or portfolio no matter your experience level, with no coding required. Squarespace’s completely inclusive, all-in-one service provides content management, hosting, domains, social integrations, e-commerce, and 24-hour customer support. Use the offer code "Entrepreneur" to receive 10 percent off your first purchase.Read all articles from this four-part series on creating an effective website here.