When I'm talking to fellow business owners, building and maintaining a business website seems to be the most universally daunting task. When I recently published a post on Instagram and Facebook with my own thoughts on the importance of websites, I was inundated with comments and messages. The woes included a lack of time or technical skills and dealing with unhelpful web hosting companies.
Today I'm going to share the website building experience of small business owners, along with some general tips and advice collected over nearly a decade of my own experience. 6 business owners in Caithness, all at different stages of their website building journey, took the time to give me more detailed thoughts on these questions. My thanks go to the following for their contributions to this post:
Why do you need a website?
I've been considering a business website to give myself more space to showcase my work and also to describe the design process more effectively for customers. Often I spend a lot of time messaging customers back and forth explaining all the different types of designs we can do/fabric colours/finishing style because there's no where for me to effectively display this information on a Facebook or Instagram page. I can have the same conversation with multiple people each day and it's not an effective use of time especially as I have two young children at home with me and the majority of my work is done between their bedtime and mine. (AJK Stitch Designs)
I decided last year as one of my business goals to restart yet another website. Then lockdown happened and I had to stop procrastinating and crack on or my business would disappear. Having a website keeps me in people's minds, on their doorsteps and out of the red! (Eye Candy)
I wanted to build a space where I could speak about my passions and create a community where discussion could be free flowing and without judgment. Instagram didn't quite hit the mark and I didn't feel like I could say as much as I wanted to. With a website it also meant I could add my prints which I'm planning on changing into a proper store in the upcoming year. (Sophie's Edit)
How does having a business website contribute to your business goals?
Having a website contributes to my business goals by reaching a wider audience and showcasing what we offer. (Above and Beyond Tours)
When I source new stockists, many of them will check out the website to see which other brands I stock and use this to determine whether Coastline will be a good fit for their products. It gives people a feel for what Coastline is about and has all the information you would need in one place. (Coastline)
Having a business website makes it easier to get regular income, has everything in one place, and makes it easier to keep track of everything related to the business. (Harp Heart Dreams)
What are your 'must-haves' when planning or building your site?
When planning and designing a business website the main things I'm looking for are ease of use and good customer service/support. I can get by with technology but I'm certainly not an expert so I'd like something that provides me with a template to edit to suit my own business rather than starting from nothing at all. Time is a major factor for me so I don't want anything that will takes hours and hours of setting up and then hours and hours of upkeep. (AJK Stitch Designs)
When planning I knew I had to have an eCommerce website. I had to be able to quickly and easily take payments. I also knew it had to flow with categories. I needed clean images and good descriptions. It is important for it to be as easy as possible for customers to navigate. (Eye Candy)
The ability to be creative in its design so I can match branding and get the layout I want. The ability to calculate and print postage, including different currencies. To be able to offer discounts and gift cards. Be able to keep track of stock and orders easily. (Harp Heart Dreams)
What have you learnt about the website building process?
As a total beginner muddling through using Squarespace and picking my daughter's brains (Lisa at Inspired by Caithness) I have found it to be a more complicated but necessary process. (Above and Beyond Tours)
It's taught me a whole load of skills which are highly transferable across many different social media platforms and it's allowed me to reach a wider audience. It's also allowed me to push myself and prove that I could sell my prints alongside writing regularly. It may sound strange to combine the two but I think that's what's great about a website, you can tailor it to how you want it. (Sophie's Edit)
Building a website is A LOT of work and can all be pretty overwhelming! Identifying what you want from a website will help you find the right web provider. What works for someone else, might not necessarily work for you. Shop around for a domain provider - you might save some money having a separate contract for this rather than a website + domain package. Write out a plan for pages, content and navigation, it'll help when putting it together. Make use of the free trials and themes before committing to a contract. Watch all the YouTube tutorials, and if all else fails, call upon expert help. The more you can do yourself though, the better you will able to maintain it. (Coastline Fashion)
There are so many options! Had I not asked on social media I wouldn't have know where to start. I've just signed up to a website provider on a trial basis and having a play around with it to see if it suits me. I have lots to learn! (AJK Stitch Designs)
A Highland Blend's tips and observations
I'm a bit of an anomaly as I'm fairly technically literate and have had some form of website (WordPress) for almost ten years, but I only decided to start my own business within the last six months! If I was starting a business website now I would perhaps be more confident to experiment, but when I rebranded in 2018, into what is now A Highland Blend, I used the services of Kirsty M Design to make my ideas a reality. That's my first tip - if you don't have the expertise and can afford it, don't be afraid of spending a little bit of money to get the quality of product that you want. It's an expense worth investing in.
If you have a 'brick and mortar' premises, invest in your own online presence. Due to the popularity of webroaming (checking out products or menus in advance before coming to your premises to purchase), business websites should be up to date – one of my personal pet hates is visiting a website that isn't current or has incorrect information on. (This is where I can offer my services, to review and improve your existing web content to ensure that it is accurate, readable and is in line with your business tone). Another reason to do this is that social media platforms do have constraints on what your business page can look like. By investing in your own design, you set the rules to show off your business on your own terms.
Social media has its place, but sometimes it feels like Facebook runs the world. It might not always be like that, so it's worth driving as much traffic to your website as you can, than to put most effort to keep audience solely on your social media profiles. If Facebook and Instagram closed tomorrow, how would your customers and audience contact you? (I'm speaking as much to myself here as anyone else and it's something that I'm trying to work on this year for my own business!)
My last tip is to link up Google Analytics so you can understand visitor behaviour on your site. If you are selling, you can see what are your most viewed products and the customer journey around your site. If you are blogging, seeing how visitors navigate and how long they stay on your site, is very helpful to know when planning out your content.
Thanks again to the following businesses for contributing to this post: