How to get your business or interest on the web
This article is a guide on how to go about getting your business or interest on the web.
The web is an amazing tool that has empowered the people and businesses that now use it on a daily basis. It allows for freedom of speech (generally speaking) and it allows businesses and individuals to connect and share with people all over the World.
Starting out on the web can be a bit of a minefield if you have never done it before and there are several decisions you need to make along the way. Hopefully in this article I can cover some of the hurdles and tasks you will be faced with along your journey to becoming the next web entrepreneur.
Firstly, you need to decide on what type of website is going to benefit you the most. Your business activities or interests will generally dictate the choices to you.
If you are a retailer, currently selling products from a store then your natural choice would be to consider going for an e-commerce website that will open up your business to a much wider audience of potential customers. If you offer a service then you are likely to need an informative brochure style website that details information about the services you offer and generates leads by means of direct customer contact. If you are an enthusiast in some form of hobby or interest then perhaps you will need a blog site.
The Brochure style website
This sort of website can be quite simple and there’s an array of choices available to you in getting you up and running. You first need to decide on your budget and the level of quality you expect to get for your money.
Possibly the cheapest solution of all can be offered by most web hosting companies. You simply need to register a hosting account with a web hosting provider who offers a website builder as part of their service. These all-inclusive packages vary in price, some are free and some will cost you upwards of £15 a month. Where you choose to fit in this scale is up to you. Generally the free packages will either have some form of branding or advertising on your website, or there is likely to be some hidden costs. For a simple website we would recommend looking at a hosting package that costs between £4 and £8 a month. The lower priced packages generally tend to be hosted by resellers where you can possibly expect a lower level of support and quality of service.
Most website builders are simple and easy to use and without much experience you can get a half decent website up and running in no time at all. However, you need to bear in mind that you are going to be somewhat limited in what you can do with your website as the website builder is going to have limited functionality.
You should also consider that website builders can sometimes generate poor quality html and may not be good for the long term marketing strategy of your website.
The next solution is to look at an open source CMS solution such as Joomla or Drupal. These will generally give you far greater flexibility in building a website but the learning curve is far steeper than a website builder. There are many plugins and modules available for these systems that will increase the functionality of your website but you are going to need to be a bit tech savvy to get a site fully up and running.
The final solution is to hire a web designer to build the website for you. A lot of web developers will now customize a Joomla/Drupal or Wordpress installation to reduce the overall production time and the costs to the customer. You can find a web designer who will most likely do this kind of setup for anything between £100 and £500. Generally here you are going to get what you pay for. Look at the portfolio’s of any potential web developer you are going to use. Do you like the quality of their work? Do each of the projects look identical or are they showing good creative with differing style between each of their sites?
When it comes to e-commerce you can follow all the same routes as described above, however there are some extra things you are going to need to think about.
Some website builders do incorporate e-commerce functionality, however it is most likely going to be very limited in nature. If you are just selling a few small items then this may be a perfectly valid starting point for you if you are on a low budget.
You could once again consider an open source product such as Magento or osCommerce but once again the learning curve is going to be steep. A decent web-hosting provider can usually install these products for you as part of your hosting package. However if you want to make these products look custom then you are likely going to require a developer.
If you are taking your e-commerce quite seriously then I would recommend that you do hire a web developer, even if they are only going to configure and customize an open source solution for you. A web developer should be able to guide you through the steps you may not realize were even required to get you up and running quickly and painlessly.
Some of the things you need to consider when building an e-commerce website include:
- Do you need to manage stock or inventory?
- Do you require a decent order management system?
- Do you require an extensive product database/catalogue?
- Do you need good reporting tools?
- Have you got the right tools to service your customers properly and encourage repeat business?
The final part of the e-commerce puzzle is how are you going to take money from people? In the most simple form you could open up a Paypal account and add some “Buy Now” buttons to your website. You may want a better solution to take credit card payments. There are plenty of payment providers out there who can offer the services you require. Some of these include Worldpay, Sagepay and Nochex. Also, you could speak to your bank, as most of the business banks will also provide you the tools to integrate with their merchant systems.
A lot of the providers and banks also provide several different methods of integration. Quite often the simplest method will be suitable and usually involves you passing the customer over to your merchants payment pages. The merchant then handles the security and credit card information and then when payment is complete they return the customer to your order confirmation page and send information about the transaction back to your website.
If you really want to take e-commerce seriously then you should consider the more complex levels of integration where the customer never leaves your website. They enter their credit card information on your payment page and then your website will interact with the payment provider using an API. For this level of functionality you are definitely going to require a web developer to do this.
As an addition to the payment considerations you should also take very seriously the security of your website. If redirecting a customer to the merchant providers payment pages then a lot of the risks are reduced, however if you are processing the payment through your own pages then you will need to take your security very seriously.
Blogs and Hobby Websites
If you have an interest or hobby and you want to put information on the web about it then you are likely going to need either a brochure style website as described above or a blogging site, forum or possibly even a social network.
If you are likely to be updating progress or information about your interest then a blog may well be the best way to go. If that were the case then I would strongly recommend using Wordpress. Wordpress is a fantastic open source product that primarily is for blogging. However, with a little customization Wordpress can also be used as a content management system for a brochure style website.
There are lots of additional plugins and themes that can be downloaded and installed to increase the functionality of a Wordpress install.
If you want to build a social network then you could possibly look into using Joomla with the commercial Jomsocial extension or the open source community builder project.
If you feel a forum is more your thing then there are plenty of open source solutions to try. Again the forum solutions can usually be installed by your web hosting provider for free.
The steps you need to take
Having decided what it is you want to put online there are a few things you need to consider.
As with everything a bit of forethought and careful planning will save you lots of time and potentially wasted money if you get everything right from the start.
Firstly, what is your budget and what are you likely to get for your budget? If you only have a tiny budget then you may be forced to go for the website builder route and then your only cost will be the hosting fees you pay and the time it takes you to put your website together using the website builder.
If you are on a limited budget but have lots of spare time on your hands then you could consider the Open Source package solution. You will have a learning curve at first no matter what product you choose to use, however the rewards at the end will be better than using a website builder.
If you have more than £200 to spend then it is almost definitely going to be worth hiring a developer to set something up for you as the advise they will give you is invaluable and if you choose a decent developer then you are likely to end up with a fairly decent solution.
For a good bespoke e-commerce system you could be looking at anything between £1000 and £50000 depending on the complexity and delivery time of your product. In this arena very careful planning will provide dividends in the long run as everybody is clear on what you are trying to achieve.
Without hosting there wouldn’t be an Internet. Every website is hosted either through a dedicated hosting company or by investing in your own IT infrastructure to make your pages available to the web.
Web hosting can start from being entirely free to a few hundred pounds a month for a dedicated server. No matter what type of project you plan to bring to the Internet you need to choose your hosting provider wisely. If you anticipate a lot of traffic because you have a large marketing budget then you may need to look at virtual servers or dedicated servers but for the most part any shared hosting package is likely to be fine for your requirements. Look to spend anything between £3 and £10 a month. Anything below that and you are possibly looking at a low quality of service.
Finally we finish our article with marketing. In the past I have seen many people that believe just by having a website online they will get new business and customers. This is entirely wrong. Once you have a website then marketing is going to form a major part of bringing new business in. There are many forms of online marketing, which are way beyond the scope of this article, however we will cover some of the basic areas you should consider:
- Social marketing – Social marketing is becoming more and more important to any successful online marketing campaign. By utilizing Facebook, twitter and many other social platforms you can engage new customers.
- Search Engine Optimization – If you want to generate organic traffic from the search engines then you are definitely going to need the help of a specialist SEO Company to advise you on how to get the best results. SEO is also a minefield of information and techniques. It is also a continuously changing field.
- Email marketing – Sending emails to potential customers by purchasing databases requires some care and attention. You don’t want to get a reputation as a spammer so you need to think about out any possible mailing campaigns considering the pros and cons. Again, it’s advisable to speak to professionals in this area.
- Newspaper and Print – You could do things the old fashioned way and stick an advert in your local paper or a specialist magazine for your industry.
- Pay per click – This is where you have an advert or banner on a search engine or website and you will pay for every click on one of your adverts. This can be very expensive in some industries.
- Banner Adverts – You could pay for advertising space on a industry suited website. These type of adverts are usually on a monthly basis or you buy a certain number of impressions of your advert.
Marketing can be very complex and very expensive. If you have a limited budget the options available to you may be minimal. If you have a slightly larger budget then I would recommend that you speak to a dedicated marketing company who will be able to advise you on the most up to date and applicable practices. Marketing companies should be able to get you a better return on your investment.
Hopefully by writing this article I have given you some food for thought. Getting online with any budget can be incredibly simple if you carefully think about what you are trying to achieve. You can look at some of our other guides to get further information.