13 Things Every Small Business Owner Needs to Know to Create Their First Website

Whether you’re a freelancer, starting an e-commerce business, or you are ready to open a brick-and-mortar store, having a web presence that properly represents your brand is a vital component to your long-term success. Want a great website but feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of creating one? We’ve boiled down the essentials to help you make something that works for you and your business now and into the future.

Before Getting Started

Before you get started, it’s important to consider (and secure) a few key components to your business.

Business Name

Coming up with the perfect name can be tough. Most new entrepreneurs are tempted to use keywords in their brand name that describes everything that they offer, but that can be a mistake.  A short name is easier to remember, makes better social media platform handles and isn’t cumbersome for your audience to type out (for that reason, you’ll also want to stay away from words that are hard to spell).

Locking down your business name, domain and brand colors before you create a website will save you time and energy in the longterm. ( Image source )

Locking down your business name, domain and brand colors before you create a website will save you time and energy in the longterm. (Image source)

One of the best tools to use when you are researching a business name is TESS. Once you see the name is available there, make sure that the domain name and all the social media pages are also available. Why is that important? Read on, we’ll cover it shortly.

Domain Name

Some businesses go through the entire process of starting a business before they secure their domain name, but that can be a big mistake. Domain names are important. You want it to be as close to yourbusinessname.com as possible because otherwise you risk losing your audience (and google search ranking). Don’t let someone else take yourbusinessname.com and leave you with yourbusinessname.net!  Secure your domain name early and you won’t have to work as hard to direct your audience to your site.

Logo & Brand Guidelines

Your website is a direct reflection of your brand. Your brand colors, fonts, and message tone should be used on your website for brand consistency. When you have your logo and brand guidelines created you’ll know exactly what colors and fonts to use, so get those set first before you start on any web designs.

Hosting

Choosing the right hosting provider can seem like a daunting task, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. Starting an e-commerce store? Shopify is worth looking into. Managed WordPress is also a great choice and works well for e-commerce websites, personal brands, and websites for brick and mortar stores. Other platforms such as SquareSpace and Wix are popular but they have limited tools, resources, and customizability, which, depending on your goals, may cost you time and money in the long term.

A little planning goes a long way. ( Image source )

A little planning goes a long way. (Image source)

SSL Certificate

SSL Certificates protect your visitors’ sensitive information so that their credit card information, usernames, passwords are safely handled when they make a purchase from you. They also help certain websites perform better than others -- in February 2018, Google announced that it would formally mark websites that lacked SSL Certificates as “insecure,” which means that if you don’t have an SSL Certificate, it isn’t as likely to rank your website when users search for subjects that are relevant to your services.

Don’t worry, most hosting providers like GoDaddy and Shopify will provide you with a free SSL Certificate along with your domain name if you choose to purchase your hosting directly from them .. If your provider does not not, SSL Certificates cost around $69/year and are fairly easy to install.

Create a Professional Email Address

Whether you want your audience to retain your services, make a purchase, sign up for newsletters, or ask you questions, you want to make it as easy as possible to use your website to contact you. When you connect your email address to your domain you look more polished, professional and trustworthy. The best part? It’s easy to do. Just sign up with a $6/month plan from Google and you can secure a domain-related email address in almost no time at all.

Credit Card Processing

If you’re planning on accepting payments, it’s imperative to choose the right credit card processor and to connect it with your business bank account before your website goes live. If you don’t, customers will try to make orders and won’t have a way to pay!  PayPal is known for being the go-to for online stores, but it's lenient rules for returns can be too costly for some business owners. Need an alternative? Check out Stripe, Authorize.net, or and Square for newer but still-popular options. And if you’re ready to step up your game with other online payment options, look into accepting Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Amazon Pay to allow your customer to complete the checkout process with a single click.

If you’re planning to sell products online, you’ll need to have a way to process payments and track shipments ( Image source )

If you’re planning to sell products online, you’ll need to have a way to process payments and track shipments (Image source)

Shipping

If you’re planning on selling  inventory, you’ll need to secure a shipping provider before you can start selling your products. They’ll help you properly calculate the shipping cost for your customers, how much to charge based on the customer’s shipping address, easily print labels, and provide customers with tracking information once their item has been shipped.. Check out Easy Ship or ShipStation, both are great options that print labels, track shipments, and calculate shipping costs automatically.

Building Your Website

Once you’ve completed the tasks above, you’re ready to start building your website! These tips will help you lock down the look and feel of your site -- and to help take it live when you’re ready.  

Website Templates

If you don’t have the budget to hire a website developer, templates can be a great resource; they help your site look design-forward and professional while helping you  stay within your budget. For users relying on WordPress or Shopify, one of the most commonly trusted website template purchasing platforms is ThemeForest. Just make sure to understand the features, read through the reviews, and test the live demo on mobile and desktop before purchasing your theme The last thing you want is to spend money on a theme that doesn’t fit your needs!  

Bonus Tip: If you’re very new to website development, you may find uploading your theme and the demo content to be trickier or more time consuming than you expect. Spending an additional $50 to have ThemeForest install the theme for you can save you time (and money) in the long-run.

Be sure to optimize your content for the very best results. ( Image source )

Be sure to optimize your content for the very best results. (Image source)

Content

Every website has to have compelling written and visual content  that help explain who you are, what brand represents, the kinds of services you offer, and how your audience can purchase from or connect with you. That may feel like a lot to cover, but try to keep your content as clear and as concise as possible. Boring, overly long, or confusing language, visual clutter or sloppy structural issues will drive your users away.

Content is also vital for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that will help your website rank for search terms on Google and other search engines. Want to learn more about how to optimize  your content for search queries ? SEO Book is a great resource for finding the keywords you should be using on your site. If you’re using WordPress, we suggest installing SEO by Yoast after you’ve secured your keywords -- it will help you navigate adding those keywords into your content as smoothly as possible. Using Shopify? Check out SEO Manager instead.

Calls to Action

Whether you want someone to make a purchase or retain your services, you want to make it as easy as possible for your audience to complete the task. How? By placing call-to-action buttons and links in strategic places around your site. In Western culture, we read top to down and left to right. Keep this natural reading flow in mind when choosing your placement. Call-to-action buttons placed towards the bottom or to the right of content often outperforms alternative placements.  

If you have a bright brand color, matching your call-to-action to that shade will make your website look more polished and complete. Have colors that are less than eye-catching?  Consider using red, orange or green. The most important thing to remember? No matter what color they are, make sure your buttons and links are prominent enough to clearly stand out (and be easily read) on the pages that they’re on.

Plugins & Tools

Plugins are every entrepreneur and business owners’ best friend. Shopify and WordPress offer apps that help you integrate marketing features like subscriptions, promotional popup windows, special offer coupons, live chat bots, sales countdowns, and loyalty rewards that will help you convert and retain customers on your site. Even if this is your first website, there’s no need to be intimidated. Plugins are  hey are easy to install , and fully automated so they don’t require coding to enable.

Thinking about how you’ll market your site and your business now will pay dividends in the future. ( Image source )

Thinking about how you’ll market your site and your business now will pay dividends in the future. (Image source)

Once You’ve Built it, Will They Come?

Once your website goes live, you’ll need to switch your attention to marketing it in a way that will drive quality users to your page, and ultimately, to secure their business. Think about how you can encourage that process through while you’re still building your site - create digital advertisements, a social media strategy or lock down other digital marketing efforts to boost your website’s profile when it goes live — and you’ll be well-positioned to reap the rewards when it’s time to switch gears.


Looking to learn more about launching your first website? Skillshare has hundreds of classes to help you navigate your way through creating your first website.