Your website serves as a proxy for your business, and for some people, it will heavily influence whether they patronize your company. Building a small-business website therefore offers major opportunities to grow your customer base -- or scare people away.
The good news is that websites have become much easier to build than they used to be. A highly functional site where you can sell things no longer requires a huge investment. That doesn't mean, though, that building a business website doesn't come with potential pitfalls. There are lots of mistakes you can make, but if you avoid these four, you should be in good shape.
1. Don't spend big money
Because your website is so important, in many cases it seems logical to spend a lot of money on it. That's simply no longer necessary. Most reasonably computer literate people can build a nice-looking brochure website themselves using site-builder tools offers at any low-cost Web hosting service.
Even if you want to add a little more -- maybe a calendar and the ability to sell a few items, platforms such as Shopify or even a WordPress site using low-cost plug-ins should easily meet your needs. That doesn't mean you should cheap out, though. Make sure you have professional logos, graphics, and photos. In addition, pay a copy editor and/or writer to help get your verbiage down.
If you don't want to do it yourself, pay someone to help you, but find someone who can take your elements, careful plan, and finished words and implement them. Look for local sole proprietors or even smart college kids who can show you some sample work.
2. Don't pay a big recurring fee
A little more than a decade ago, when I ran a large independent toy store, we paid $1,800 a month to a company that maintained our website. I knew it was absurd, and many of the tools they sold us as being worth the money were free or low-cost products we could have found ourselves.
Eventually, when our contract expired, I built a new website for the store, which we attached to a sales module offered through our point-of-sale system. That reduced our costs to around $40 a month plus another small fee paid for our payment gateway -- and in many cases, the same could be done for less now.
3. Don't have a sloppy site
Would you invite customers into a dirty restaurant or a store that badly needs cleaning? Would you show up for an appointment with a client in sweatpants and an old T-shirt?
You wouldn't, and you should operate your website the same way. Simple is fine, but make sure you have all the information visitors would want displayed so they can find it. This should include contact information, location, and hours where applicable.
4. Don't have a terrible URL
It's not always easy to get a URL that reflects your business. JoesPizza.com is probably taken, but that doesn't mean you should go for JoesPizzza.com. Yes, you added a "z" and found an available URL, but consider whether customers will be able to remember that.
Consider variations that are easy to remember and fit your company. JoesNYCPizza.com would be perfect if you push the idea that you sell New York City-style pizza. Whatever you pick, keep it simple, and focus on making it as memorable as possible.
Check and check again
Before you launch a website, make sure you have multiple people check it on various computers, smartphones, and browsers. Even today's dynamic websites that automatically scale for different size screens can sometimes have oddities on certain platforms.
Make sure people look over every inch of your site and share honest feedback. Just asking for some eyeballs can prevent embarrassing mistakes that might lose you business.