Small Business Web Design 101

In today’s digital age, a big project for small business owners is tackling a website. You HAVE to have a website today, and really, few question that fact anymore.

The question is, what kind of website should you build? What should it do, and how much should it cost? New business owners often have a lot of questions surrounding this topic, and rightly so, as website programming and code is confusing to the average person. But you don’t need to be a developer in order to have a professional looking website.Tweet This  Let’s take a look at some cost-effective options available to the small business owner:

Cost-Effective Web Design Options

There are several different routes you can go when building out your website, from the basic to the ultra-complex. Remember, websites that require more complex functions often require custom programming. However, WordPress has changed the game for many small business owners and it’s fairly cost-effective and user-friendly to have a website set up and slightly customized to fit your brand. There are templates, plugins, and other features that are mass-produced and available to WordPress platforms. There are also a number of similar template-based website platforms out there, such as SquarespaceWeeblyWix, as well as the open source platform Joomla. They each have strengths and weaknesses, but they can be a great route to go for new businesses that need to build a strong digital presence without breaking the bank.
The first question you need to ask yourself at this stage is, what purpose will your website serve? You want to look at what information and tools you need on the website. Do any of these functions require complex programming? Or, does your site simply need to be your online brochure, where people can learn about your company (through an about us page), your offerings (through a products and services page), and know how to reach you (through a contact us page)? As you flesh out what you want your site to do for you, you’ll begin to understand if you need a custom-coded website, or a simpler, CMS-based system like WordPress, Wix, or Weebly.

Action Steps:

1. Create an outline of the information you want to present on your website. Think about what main pages you will have and what main messages you might present on those individual pages.

2. Think through any special functions, such as contact forms, user portals, file uploads.

3. Scour the internet for your competitors’ websites, industry leaders’ websites, and other non-competitions’ websites for ideas. You’ll begin to see formats and layouts to these sites that you like and others that you don’t like. That will allow you communicate more effectively with a web designer in the future.

Websites vary in cost due to the platform you’re building on, the designer’s fees, and the complexity of the site’s structure and functions. Truly custom websites could be easily $25K and up. However, a basic site personalized for you could run you closer to $2K-$5K, again all depending on its complexity. Especially if you’re in a niche industry, you may find offerings for $99 websites that are mass-produced for your industry. (You get what you pay for.) The dirt cheap offerings will cost you more in time, money and frustration along the way. It’s better to have a site built for YOU and invest in the website from the start. You’ll need to be part of the process, but when you’re involved and have the right web design team behind you, you’ll love the results!

Does Your Website Look Like the Fortune 500?

The internet is a level playing field for all businesses. Small companies have the opportunity to win business from huge corporations strictly based on their website. To do this, it’s necessary to show the world you’re there for the long haul, because people don’t want to do business with a company that may be out of business in a month. A primary business decision that pays long-term dividends is investing in a professional web design, because this is the first thing a customer will see.

Below are some tricks to showcase your business like a Fortune 500 company, even if your office consists of just a few employees.

Get a Great Logo

Your logo sets the feel and tone for your whole site. Obtaining a professional logo for your business has become much more accessible than the traditional 10k logo design packages of the past. As an example, you can post a logo contest online at either freelancer.com or 99designs. Hundreds of professional designers will submit logo entries for contests ranging from just $100 – $250. And these logos are the real deal. They look professional, creative and they absolutely drive sales.

Invest in a Premium Theme

Most shopping carts and Customer Management System (CMS) frameworks have premium themes available. Premium themes can be offered from the company itself, or from designers and developers that specialize in adding customizations to the basic themes. Premium themes cost between $50 – $250 and are worth it for all the long term benefits and updates they provide.

Check out themeforest.com, a marketplace for premium themes on the most popular CMS available. Make sure you purchase a premium theme that has a responsive design so your website looks great on any device from a desktop computer to a smartphone.

The bottom line? People search the internet for everything. When someone visits your website, you want to make a great first impression. After all, your site will be their first point of contact – before they ever meet a single person. Think of your website as your digital storefront or online brochure. Potential customers will look at it and form an opinion about your business based on how the site looks. So make it look professional and sharp!

5 Profit-Boosting Essentials for Your Website

Your website is much more than an online storefront for your small business. If properly optimized, your website can become one of the most important resources in your marketing toolkit. It can help your customers find you online, generate new leads, enhance your authority in your industry, and significantly increase overall profits.

But, many small business owners believe that creating a great website is too expensive. Others simply don’t know how powerful and impactful a website can be when the right tools are used.

Boosting profits with your website isn’t just about using the right website design. In order to increase your website’s ROI, it’s crucial to include five core website essentials throughout your site. These essential items will help…

  •       Enhance the value of your site for the visitor
  •       Make it easy to follow up with visitors who truly interested
  •       Position your business as a thought leader in your field

A great website is an experience. It allows your audience to connect with your brand in a meaningful way. That connection, above all else, converts visitors into subscribers, subscribers into fans, and fans into paying customers.

Here are five easy-to-implement, cost-effective essentials that every small business website should have:

  • 1. A Clear Value-add

    Many small business owners think of their website as a glorified shopping cart or contact form. This is a mistake. The main job of your website is to add value for your visitor. When you provide your website visitor with something of value, you immediately engender trust. It is this trust that helps them get to know your company and ultimately leads them to purchase your products or services.

    “Adding value”? means you offer something – whether it’s information, a sample product, or an experience – that the visitor can benefit from right now.

    Use your website to…

    Answer common questions with a comprehensive FAQ page

    Educate your visitor on the ins and outs of your industry

    Solve common problems facing your end users

    When someone visits your website and their life is made better because of the visit, not only will they return again and again; they are much more likely to convert into a paying customer.

  • 2. A Customer-centric Interface

    Your website should be easy to navigate, and should be set up in such a way where the visitor can easily find what they’re looking for.

    Use big buttons, easy-to-read fonts, and intuitive design to lead people where they want to go. Don’t make them think too hard, and don’t get too clever in an attempt to be unique. You’ll have plenty of chances to be unique with your brand messaging and content. When it comes to site setup, keep it simple!

  • 3. An Email Opt-in Form

    You could have the most valuable, most intuitive website on the internet, but it does little good if you have no idea who’s stopping by. An email opt-in form allows you to capture visitor information so you can follow up with prospective customers in the future. It’s a way to capture leads without being pushy or salesy. Most email opt-in forms are simple forms placed prominently on the pages of your website. Visitors fill in their name and email address, and are then ‘subscribed’ to your community.

    An email opt-in form lets you track which prospective customers are interested in your business, and which customers should be placed into your sales funnel. In fact, depending on your type of business, you can combine an email opt-in form with email marketing to deliver marketing messages that inspire your subscriber to the next step in your sales funnel.

    By placing email opt-in forms on your website, you can begin to grow an email list. This list of prospective and current customers will allow you to send important updates to those most interested in your business. You can also send special offers via email, as well as subscriber discounts, newsletters, and other types of valuable content that will keep you top-of-mind with your customers.

    An email opt-in form gives you the opportunity to deliver even more value than what’s already on your website. It also allows you to grow an email list that can be marketed to independently in order to drive more business and increase profits.

  • 4. A Lead Magnet

    A lead magnet is a tool you can use to offer even more value to your website visitors. Some lead magnets include free downloads, whitepapers, infographics, eBooks, or any digital or physical freebie your target market would find valuable.

    By giving away a gift that solves your website visitor’s problems, you position yourself as an authority in your industry. Authority engenders trust in the user, which is needed in order for them to make a purchase.

    Make sure your lead magnet is very high quality. If you give away your best content for free, the user automatically assumes your paid products and services will be even better.

    Incorporate your lead magnet with your email opt-in form. When users opt-in to your email list, reward them with a valuable freebie as a ‘thank you’ for subscribing.

    Offer a lead magnet that solves your target market’s most pressing problem. If you sell skincare products, you could give away an eBook entitled “Top 10 Skincare Secrets for Busy Moms,” or a sample of your product. If you own a flower shop, you could give away a “buy one get one free” coupon for an upcoming holiday.

  • 5. Lots of Fresh Content

    No matter what industry you’re in, it’s important to use your website as a platform for publishing valuable content.

    “Content” is another way of saying “value-add” for your prospects. Your content might be in the form of a blog post, a video, a podcast, or a digital download – anything your user would find helpful, entertaining, and educational.

    Your website is not a static painting. Once it’s been designed, you’re not “done.” Instead, your website should be a living, breathing platform used to deliver value to your prospective customers on a regular, basis.

    Original content transforms your website into the go-to place for answers and information. The more you publish, the more your audience will return to get the answers they need. Before you know it, you’ll have built a loyal following of prospects.

    Perhaps the simplest way to regularly publish great content is to write a blog. Blogging is a fast, cost-effective way to…

    Share your knowledge with your audience; Solve problems and answer questions; Establish yourself as an expert in your field; Drive traffic back to your website via social media

    You can also incorporate your blog with your email opt-in form. When people subscribe, you can send them regular updates every time you publish a new blog post. This keeps you top-of-mind while increasing website traffic and further solidifying your relationship with the prospect.

 Next steps…

Think of your website not as a storefront, but as the beginning of your sales funnel. It is an active place where you go to connect with current and prospective customers, solve their problems, offer endless value, and earn your prospects’ trust.

Consider updating your website with the following five items:

1. A clear value-add

2. A customer-centric interface

3. An email opt-in form

4. A lead magnet

5. Fresh content

If you include these five core essentials on your website, you’ll be able to swiftly move prospects through your sales funnel and increase profits. But even more importantly, you’ll be able to position your small business as a leader in your industry – a position that is sure to lead to even more profitable ventures and opportunities. If you’re interested in how to make your website look similar to Fortune 500 websites, check out this article.

Does Your Small Business Really Need an App?

Little is more fashionable nowadays than to create a mobile app for your business. With millions of mobile apps available worldwide and famed app case studies such as Uber and Snapchat, it’s little wonder that small and mid-sized businesses are sprinting to get in on the action. Unfortunately, in many cases, rushing into mobile app development can be the equivalent of buying that “hot stock” just because all your friends are doing it.

Many businesses are unaware of the cost implications, as well as the actual market potential of their app. With custom business apps generally running anywhere from $40,000 all the way to $150,000 and up, you could be incurring some serious opportunity costs by not relegating that money elsewhere, say on marketing, equipment upgrades, or good old fashioned savings.

Here are some things to ask yourself before joining the app rush:

  • Did I actually analyze the demand for this app or am I assuming that just because people will like my business they will like my app?

    Smartphone screen real estate is a precious commodity. With many phone providers pre-installing tons of uninstallable bloatware apps, 78% of smartphone users regularly use only 3 downloaded apps on their phone. And just because someone is a loyal customer, that doesn’t mean they want your app eating up memory and real estate on their phone. Luckily, if you are developing an app for a built-in audience, that same audience can provide an excellent source of data for you. Consider running multiple surveys across your existing customer base and some external surveys via Google Surveys to see if this app is something consumers even want.

  • Am I prepared for the cost and timelines involved? 

    The mobile app industry is highly unregulated. Whereas a mechanic needs a license to take $35 dollars for an oil change, an app developer can happily take a $500,000 check with fast talking and 1 year of online programming courses. The price range is truly astounding. The same exact application request for proposal (RFP) can generate quotes of $3,000 from tiny outsourced outfits all the way up to six figures from established software houses in the US and Europe. One way to clamp down on the ambiguity is to over-communicate and pay attention to detail.

    Your initial RFP should not be a vague 2- paragraph email about your app concept. Instead it should contain every possible specification in an industry-defined “spec report.” This would include things like user case studies, initial wire frames, user types, server requirements, platform requirements and others. The better planned out your app is, the easier it will be for an app company to quote you accurately. If you can’t put this together yourself, consider hiring a consultant to put it together for you. Spending a thousand dollars or so in the preliminary research phase with a consultant can easily save you tens of thousands of dollars in the quotation phase.

  • Am I prepared for the legal implications and liability?

    According to top Silicon Valley law firms, such as www.dpalawyers.com, mobile apps can be an incredibly high risk business venture if not structured properly. Recently, the California Appellate Court of Appeal shot down a click through agreement, which is becoming increasing common. Most businesses throw in terms of service as an afterthought into their app, not understanding the immense legal exposure they leave themselves open to. If a consumer ever incurred any sort of loss or damage that was in anyway related to your app, you could be caught completely exposed with your user agreement being unable to provide the slightest bit of protection.

    And not only that, a lot of stock user agreements contain “landmines,” or clauses that could be deemed illegal under the state jurisdiction you are operating in. Unscrupulous plaintiff class action attorneys actively troll mobile app user agreements, looking for these loopholes and sue unsuspecting businesses for no legitimate reason whatsoever. For example, the New Jersey Truth and Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act creates specific prescriptions for how NJ apps write their terms of service. If it’s written wrong, they can get sued for as much as $100 per user over pure semantics.

    You will also need to contact your insurance carrier as the policy you currently have for your business will most likely not cover any sort of liability incurred by the app, such as cyber security, collection of personal information, etc. There have been cases of apps being sued for as much as $1.5m because they did not do a good enough job of encrypting their user data.

The world of mobile apps can be fraught with risk and reward. While the right mobile app might skyrocket sales and land you on the national scene in a big way, a poorly planned app could turn out to be expensive, unprofitable and even cause you significant legal loss and harm.

Photo Credit: bradneathery, Twenty20