It wasn’t too long ago that business websites were viewed as a “nice-to-have.” One entrepreneur might mention that they’d recently built a website and another business owner in their industry would reply, “We thought about that, but decided to spend the money on more billboards on the I-5.”
Those wistful days are gone. In the digital age of commerce, knowing how to make a small business website is a requirement for success. It doesn’t matter if your business has brick-and-mortar locations, you ship products straight to customers’ homes, or you sell your wares in the street like the merchants from Beauty and the Beast, you’ve got to have an online presence.
Otherwise, you’ll miss out on all the research and shopping online. There are more shoppers logging on today than ever before in the history of the world. And, spoiler alert, there will be more tomorrow. And even more the day after that.
Consider these statistics:
- 43% of global shoppers research online before purchasing
- 75% of global shoppers make monthly online purchases
- There are 2.14 billion online shoppers worldwide
- Global online sales exceed $26 trillion annually
- Online sales in the U.S. alone will top $740 billion by 2023
- Nearly a quarter of global sales will be online by 2023
Without a website, you might as well bid farewell to the 43% of shoppers who research their purchases online. Ditto for a good portion of the 75% who are regular online shoppers. Not having a website for these potential customers to access is like putting up a permanent “Closed” sign in the window of a brick-and-mortar shop.
The Basics of How to Make a Business Website
The good news about business websites is that they’re one of the most scalable entities within your business. You can start with the basics and then bolster it in the future. At minimum, here’s what pages your business website will need to be relevant and beneficial to customers:
This is where you welcome visitors to your site and introduce your business. From the copy to the images, everything should reinforce the brand elements you’ve developed up to this point.
Resist the urge to cram 2-3 pages worth of content into your homepage. There will be other pages to help carry that load. You’ll often find with these pages that less is more.
While the homepage introduced your business, this is your opportunity to expound on your story and share more of the benefits you offer. Your ultimate goal should be to distinguish your business from the competition in a way that makes customers want to personally experience what you have to offer.
This page is where the rubber meets the road, as they say. Your product or services page should showcase what your business has to offer by utilizing engaging images and concise descriptions.
Build trust with your customers by providing multiple methods of contact. Phone and email are common examples, but you should consider adding text or chat. The easier it is for customers to reach you, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to establish strong connections that lead to loyalty.
After your site is up and running, you can analyze its performance and make decisions for improvement. Make no mistake—this isn’t a one-and-done situation. If your website isn’t growing with fresh content, it will start dying.
Perhaps you’ll add a blog. Or you could create a page dedicated to your customer loyalty program. The point is that you must identify opportunities to better serve your customers and then deliver.
For the actual process of how to build a business website, you must decide how you want to put the site together and host it. Your 4 main choices are:
- Build it from scratch yourself
- Hire someone to build it from scratch for you
- Use an all-in-one solution
- Use a content management system (CMS)
If you have coding skills, then by all means consider building the website yourself. The process is undeniably time-intensive, but you’ll be able to tailor the design to your business without the constraints of templates.
Perhaps you’re wondering if you have the skills necessary. Let’s just say that if this is a question in your mind, you probably shouldn’t tackle it yourself. The effort and time required simply won’t provide a worthwhile return on investment.
There’s always the option of hiring someone else to do it for you. This also allows you to put together a custom site, plus you get the added benefit of not having the burden rest on your shoulders. But it will cost thousands of dollars to have someone do it right for you.
Rather than invest the time and money to build a site from scratch, most small business owners opt for a platform that will do most of the heavy lifting. So which is the best website builder for small business? That totally depends on your style, budget, and priorities.
Identifying the Best Website Builder for Small Business
When you use a web-building platform, you swap the intricacies of coding for the simplicity of drag-and-drop. Yes, you’ll be limited to the templates and themes provided, but the top platforms provide so many options that you’ll likely have more than enough to choose from.
Some of the best all-in-one platforms are Squarespace, Wix, Shopify, WooCommerce, and Big Cartel. They all provide excellent building tools, robust resources, and helpful support.
Another potential route for your website creation is a content management system (CMS). While systems such as Drupal and Magento have their fans, the undisputed champion of the CMS world is WordPress.org. Don’t get it mixed up with WordPress.com, as that option is more limited and won’t set you up for success.
To help you decide between the various all-in-one platforms and a CMS like WordPress.org, let’s look at some of the distinct features and benefits of these top 5 options:
This building block-style platform is reassuringly easy to use. Basically, if you have the computer skills required to visit Foundr.com and then navigate to this article, you’ll be able to handle it.
Squarespace has gorgeous website templates and provides the flexibility to make your site feel unique. Plus, it provides a wide array of integrated features at no extra charge. So you won’t need to pay for additional extensions and apps.
You can use the free trial period to acquaint yourself with the platform’s various features. After the trial ends, the basic tier starts at $26 a month.
If you thought Squarespace was user-friendly, wait until you check out Wix. Made for beginners who are tackling some of their first website projects, the Wix business website platform uses drag and drop functionality to allow just about anyone to create a polished website.
After the free trial period, the basic tier will run you $18 a month. You can use Wix to create a basic website or add extras such as inventory management and the ability to accept payments from customers.
While there are many templates to choose from, you’ll need to do your due diligence before settling on your preferred option. Why? Because once you publish your website you can’t simply select another template with the click of a button. It’s an involved process that requires you to design a new site and transfer your content.
Wix and Squarespace are ideal options for general websites and ecommerce websites. But if you’re going all-in on ecommerce, you should consider Shopify. There are more than 1.7 million entrepreneurs currently on the platform, making it the juggernaut of the global industry.
Shopify has fewer templates to choose from than Wix or Squarespace, but it was never intended to be a designer’s dream. It’s a lean and mean selling machine. You’ll find excellent upgrades in the app store to help make your website as effective and impressive as possible.
You can sign up for a free Shopify trial, then if you decide to stick with the platform, the price for the basic tier is $29 a month.
If you’re looking for the best free website builder for small business, Big Cartel is a top contender. As long as you’re selling 4 products or fewer, there is no charge to use this platform. Even when you scale up your operations, the prices are still generally lower than the competition.
Big Cartel is geared toward artists and creators, with a basic aesthetic that’s easy to use. The narrow selection of design options makes setup and maintenance a breeze but also limits what you can do. So Big Cartel is probably not going to be the best way to market something more sophisticated like software products or consulting services.
Because there’s a free trial and ongoing free services for small shops, Big Cartel is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with running a business website. Some entrepreneurs use it as a laboratory where they can test new ideas and experiment with concepts.
Of all the CMS options out there, WordPress is the most accessible to new users. Unlike a builder like Wix or Squarespace, WordPress doesn’t host your website. So the first thing to do is find a provider such as Dreamhost, HostGator, or Bluehost. Avoid GoDaddy because it usually has higher rates and fewer benefits.
With a CMS, you’ll be able to choose your ideal hosting provider and customize your website to the hilt. Any time you want to update something, you’ll just need to edit the code or get the right plugin.
The drawback of WordPress is that even though it’s the most accessible of the CMS options, it’s still not nearly as user-friendly as an all-in-one platform. So if you lack the expertise to manage WordPress, you’ll need to hire someone to help you. In other words, this isn’t the type of system that you can just fiddle with for a couple of hours and figure it out.
How to Make a Business Website Platform Decision
So which option should you go with? Do you choose the best free website builder for small business, Big Cartel, or go with a paid platform that provides more support and customization? Or do you go with a CMS like WordPress.org?
As you’re approaching these decisions, here are 7 considerations to keep in mind:
- Will I be able to comfortably manage the website myself?
- Will this option make my website mobile-friendly?
- Does this option provide me with analytics to improve my site?
- Will my site be easy for my customers to navigate?
- Will this option allow my website to grow and evolve in the future?
- If I want to sell products on my site, will I be able to accept diverse payment methods?
- Does this option come with the level of support I’ll require?
Each avenue for building a website, whether it’s hiring an agency to create your website, using an all-in-one platform, or coding it yourself, has its drawbacks. Take time on the front end to learn about which will be the best fit for you. And be honest about your web capabilities and your budget so that you don’t get into a sticky situation down the road.
Visit our library of free business courses to find helpful resources to guide your website journey. For example, Arman Assadi’s course on copywriting will elevate your site’s messaging and help you connect with customers on a whole new level. And Gretta van Riel’s Start and Scale course will walk you through the crucial steps to start converting more sales through your website.