A website can be an effective marketing and promotion tool that requires little maintenance, functions 24/7 and reaches out to people all over the world. It can help you win and retain customers, perhaps generating much-needed additional revenue. And because of lower costs, margins on online sales can be significantly higher.
Even if the nature of your business means you can't sell online, a good website can provide added credibility – not having one might even create a bad impression.
In recent years, the internet has become a major influence on people's buying decisions and habits. The good news is, getting a high-quality website up and running need not be expensive or difficult.
Building your own website can save a lot of money, but the results might look like a 'dog's dinner' and having a terrible website is worse than having none at all.
If you choose the 'DIY option', have a good look around at other people's websites to see what works. As a general rule, simple is best.
There are many DIY online website-creation sites that enable people with limited experience to put together their own website, register a domain name, get email addresses, even set up online shopping and payment facilities. But beware – you could still end up with something that looks terrible.
Investing in the services of a professional web designer to build you a basic website should give far superior results. A web designer will usually include design, domain name registration and arranging hosting of your site by an internet service provider in their service.
Seek recommendations, look at their previous work and ask for a full breakdown of costs. Crucially, once the site is live, to avoid any further costs, you need to be able to update it from your own computer.
Look, feel and function are critical, but your website must communicate your key messages effectively. A visitor must quickly be able to understand why they should buy from you. Don't allow form to triumph over content – your website needs to sell your business and its wares.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is crucial if you will rely on customers finding your website via search engines such as Google. You could also use paid-for advertising services such as Google Adwords, for which you are charged on a pay-per-click basis.
To collect online payments you need to include a shopping cart function on your website, as well as a secure means by which customers can enter their details. Many web designers provide a shopping cart function and payment facility as part of their packages.
You also need a merchant account. Providers such as PayPal are popular, but also ask at your bank to see if it can help. Normally, you pay a set-up charge, monthly service fee and service charge for each transaction.
Test your website thoroughly before launch – that includes acting on feedback from potential customers. Post-launch, monitor usage and keep content fresh and current if you want people to keep coming back.