Not having a website means losing out on potential customers and potential revenue. The excuse of websites being too complicated or too expensive to create is no longer valid, especially with companies like Bluehost, which gives you a domain, professional WordPress website, and business email for just $2.95/month. Follow the 5 simple steps in this guide to have your small business website up and running in no time.
Step 1: Choose and Register Your Small Business Website’s Domain Name
The very first step is to decide what name you’ll give your website – for example, www.YourBusiness.com.
First things first, you’ll want to check and see if your business name is available. To find out, enter it into the domain search tool below, powered by Bluehost. If you are taken straight to the registration page, it means your name is available, if you see a message that the domain is not available for registration, then you will have to adjust your business name.
If the .COM version of your business name is available, consider using this for your website. As we’ll explain more below, there’s just a few scenarios where you might consider adding a location at the end of your domain (i.e. SmithPlumbersNYC) to improve your visibility in search engines to people searching locally.
If your business name is not available, try different phrases before settling for an alternate suffix, like .NET or .INFO. Consumers overwhelmingly use .COM when entering a web address. So even if you promote your .NET website, you’re likely to lose customers who typed in the .COM version instead.
Tips for Finding Business Website Domains
If your business name is taken, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you search for alternate names:
- Domain names are important for search engines, like Google. When possible they should include words that people are likely to use when searching for your business and/or the products and services you sell. “ProStar Lawncare” is probably better than “ProStar USA.”
- Domain names should be easy to pronounce and remember. Keep your name as short as possible and avoid punctuation like dashes. As a simple rule of thumb, make sure somebody can find your domain if they hear it spoken out loud.
- Use location to find a unique URL. If all other options are taken, add your city/area name to the domain. For example, a company called Smith Plumbers based in Albany, NY, could try www.smithplumbersalbany.com. This, again, can help your website appear in Google since customers are likely to enter their city name when searching for a service.
If you still need help choosing a domain name, see our Top 25 Domain Name Tips From The Pros.
Registering a Domain
Once you have chosen the domain you want for your website, you will need to register it to make sure no one else can claim it.
“Once you settle on a brand name, buy it right away. If you search for the availability of a domain and then think about it, something happens – it ends up being purchased. People have software working in the background to buy domains that are queried but not purchased. Then they buy the domain and put it up for re-sale.”
— Carrie Wood, CMO, Leaseref.com
If you are just interested in registering the domain, we recommend Namecheap since it is one of the least expensive options – $10.69 per year. Learn more about why this is our recommended provider in our comparison guide.
If you want to build a website using WordPress (we will go over who this option is right for in the next section of this article), you’ll save money by registering your domain as part of a hosting package from Bluehost. You can get your domain, website hosting, and business email address for $2.95 per month. We show you how to create a professional WordPress website and business email with Bluehost for free in this step-by-step guide.
Step 2: Choose Which Platform is Right for You
Choosing the right platform is a balance of how much time you have, how technologically advanced you are, how much you want to pay, and what you are looking to do with your website.
“If you have a simple informational website which doesn’t require a high degree of customization, a website builder is the way to go. If you consider yourself somewhat tech savvy and want some more functionality WordPress is the platform for you.”
— Austin Curtis, President and Founder, Crispy Digital
Option 1: Create a WordPress Website using Bluehost ($2.95/month)
If you are a little more technologically savvy, and want access to unlimited features and functionality, then WordPress is the way to go. Through Bluehost, you can create a WordPress website (with a domain and business email account included) for just $2.95/month. We provide instructions on how to set this up here.
As one of the original and most popular website engines, WordPress has countless plugins for additional features. You should consider WordPress if you want to start a blog with lots of entries (it’s what we use here at Fit Small Business) or allow visitors to register user accounts – such as, for an online forum.
While Weebly does offer blogging and visitor accounts, WordPress is better at managing a large number of pages and users. Also, if you decide you need a special feature, like scalable tables, a mortgage calculator, unbranded video players, calendars and more, WordPress is almost guaranteed to have a plugin for it.
Getting Started with WordPress
Just bear in mind: WordPress is an intermediate website builder. You won’t need any programming knowledge per se, but you will need to familiarize yourself with their backend menu. Unlike Weebly, which lets you edit the website just by dragging and dropping elements, WordPress has a more traditional edit menu.
That said, we’ve written a few guides and recorded a video that explains how to create a WordPress website using Bluehost from start to finish. If you follow one of our guides and use the same theme, you should get most of the work done in less than an hour.
Check out our WordPress guides below. For each of these, we use Bluehost, which gives you a WordPress website, domain and business email for just $2.95/month:
- Create a Small Business Website (Using Restaurant as example)
- Create a Real Estate Website
- VIDEO: Create a Small Business Website (Using Salon as example)
Option 2: Use a Website Builder like Weebly ($12/month)
For small business owners who are short on time, are less technologically advanced, but are willing to pay a little bit more, we recommend using a website builder. Website builders are super easy to use and our recommended builder, Weebly has tons of nice looking and mobile responsive templates to choose from.
You start by choosing a template, then customize it by adding your own pages, text, images, etc.
The editing process is very intuitive. If you’ve ever used Microsoft Word or PowerPoint, you’ll easily grasp the tool. Add elements by dragging them from the sidebar. Adjust the size by dragging from a corner, and change text by double clicking within the text box.
It’s also very easy to add interactive features to your website. Most website builders will have a click-to-add option for Google Maps, YouTube/Vimeo embeds, web forms, and more. This makes your customers more likely to share and spend more time on your website.
You can read why Weebly is our recommended builder in our website builder buyer’s guide, or go ahead and check out our step-by-step instructions on how to create a website using Weebly.
When to Use a Website Builder Besides Weebly – Ecommerce Website ($29/month)
If you’re just selling one or two products, Weebly has the capability to handle this. However, if the primary purpose of your website is to sell products, you may want to choose a website builder that specializes in creating an online store. We recommend Shopify as the best dedicated e-commerce platform since it’s all-in-one multichannel selling solution includes a full suite of web store, marketplace, social, and in-person selling tools. It’s pricing is comparable to Weebly’s e-commerce plan at $29 per month.
Step 3: Outline Your Website Content
Now that you know which platform you are going to use, it’s time to decide what your website is going to say. Figuring out what to say on your website can be difficult, and one of the main reasons business owners put off creating one.
The good news is you don’t have to say much at all. Business websites work best when they’re simple, featuring minimal text and just a single “option” on each page – i.e. submission form, or “contact us” button.
Business websites also tend to follow a standard format, using these 4 essential pages. As you go through the list, don’t worry about formatting each page yet – just think about the text, images, and content you’ll include:
- Homepage: On the homepage, you should include the name of your business, where you’re located, and a simplified pitch – a few lines about what makes you unique and/or why customers should choose your business.
- Products and Services: A page with details about the products you sell or services your provide. On the page which you detail products or services, spend one to five sentences describing each type you offer and give the pricing.
- About Us: Provide your company background and list organizational memberships like being part of the Better Business Bureau. Also include customer testimonials, which helps make your company seem more trustworthy and credible.
- Contact Us: Your address, email, phone number, the hours you are open for business, and links to any social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook should appear on this page. You should also embed a Google map of your location and include different ways of getting there (i.e. subway, train, car etc) if applicable.
“Reviewing the types of pages featured on competitor sites can also give you ideas for content that you want to feature on your new site.”
— Sally Kane, Content Director, PaperStreet
Special Tools for Mobile Websites
These days, more than half of customers browse from their smartphones instead of a computer. As a small business owner, this means it’s imperative to have a mobile-friendly website.
The good news is most of the top web-builders, including Weebly, automatically create mobile-optimized websites for you. Known as “responsive” themes, these websites can detect the type of device you’re browsing from and automatically shift the content to give you the optimal experience. WordPress also has multiple responsive themes available.
That said, even if your website is responsive, it’s usually a good idea to make some additional adjustments for your mobile site. In general, you want to remove any excessive details. Your mobile website should focus entirely on your call-to-action – whether that’s getting users to call your business, fill-out a contact form, join a mailing list, or make an online order.
Click-to-call buttons are especially helpful if you want mobile visitors to dial your business. This is a button that – when clicked from a mobile phone – automatically populates your business’ phone number into the visitor’s dialpad. An embedded Google Maps widget is also key for customers who are browsing on-the-go, as they can quickly bring up navigation to your store.
Step 4: Decide on a Logo
The colors, font, and style of your logo will affect the design of your website. This is because you want a consistent theme between your logo and web pages.
If you already have a logo that you are using in the offline world, then perfect. Find the digital file, or create a high resolution scan to use on your website. If you do not already have a logo, or want to upgrade from your existing design, there are three key ways to create one:
- Do it Yourself – There are a number of logo design software out there that will allow you to create your own logo. We recommend Tailor Brands if you want an easy way to create an appealing logo. You can try it out for free, and if you find a design you like then it’s just $24 to download.
- Use Fiverr.com: Fiverr.com is a site that matches you with all kinds of service providers who are willing to do projects, including logos, for just $5. If you use the $5 option you will have to wait a couple of weeks to get your logo. For around $20, you can generally get it that same week. If you find a designer with a portfolio you like, this is easily the best option for the money.
- Use 99Designs.com: 99Designs.com runs contests where multiple designers compete for your logo and other design business. This is a great option because you get to see many different professional and creative designs (It’s how we found our logo at Fit Small Business!), yet only pay for the one you wind up choosing. The price ranges from $299 to $799 depending on how many designers you want competing and the quality of those designers.
If you’re interested in obtaining a logo from 99Designs, check out our full guide How To Create a Logo, Flyer, or Menu with 99 Designs.
Step 5: Design Your Website
Now that you have all the pieces for your small business website ready, it’s time to put them all together into a nice looking website.
It’s been shown that it takes someone less than 3 seconds to decide whether to stay or leave once they hit your website, so it is imperative that you make a good first impression. Here are a few tips to ensure your website is keeping people engaged:
- Have clear navigation – You want people who visit your site to instantly know what your business is about and where to go to learn about your products or services, find pricing, and contact a representative. If your site is not clear, people will get frustrated and exit out.
- Use call to action buttons – Implementing buttons with clear actions will immediately attract the user’s eye. This helps you to lead the person to take your desired action.
- Make sure your site is loading quickly – People are impatient, and if your site takes even a fraction of a second too long to load, people will give up and look elsewhere. Make sure your web host provider, like Bluehost, has fast load times.
- Keep it minimal – Don’t overdo it with the design and definitely don’t feel like you need to cover every square inch with information or a design. White space is your friend. By keeping the look minimal, you can focus attention on the things that you want people to really pay attention to.
Consider Hiring a Professional to Build Your Small Business Website
If you simply don’t have time to create a website, or if you want a unique design, there’s a few different ways to hire an expert.
“If you plan to outsource your website, make sure you haveaccess to it in case you need to make changes. Many of our clients have had their websites held hostage and charged exorbitant fees to make simple edits after a design has been approved. Control your digital assets by requesting account passwords for everything if you want to avoid this.”
— Tom J. Cameron, President, Digital Pudding, Inc.
Hire a Designer on Upwork ($50-$300)
If you’re just looking for a simple website (text, photos, videos, email capture forms, online store, etc.) you should find somebody to design it with a web builder, like Weebly. Freelance websites like UpWork have people who will design your site for around $10 – $20 per hour.
Hire a Professional Designer with 99Designs ($1,000-$4,000)
If you want to create an advanced website on WordPress and aren’t happy with any of the templates available, or don’t have the skills to customize one, hiring a designer is another option.
Just as you can get a logo designed by 99Designs.com, you can also have your full website designed through this site. The concept is the same: you submit a brief on what you are looking for and get back anywhere from 20 to 60 designs. You only pay for the design you choose, and the price ranges from $599 to $1,599, depending on which package you go with. We used 99designs here at FitSmallBusiness.com for our own website – so if you want to see an example of a 99designs website, you’re looking at one!
After you have chosen the winning design, you will need to find someone to code the design for your website. 99designs has coding partners that will be able to do this for you and who have experience working with templates from 99designs. Typically the cost to code 1 responsive page (a page that also works on mobile) is $300, and each inner page (all pages other than the homepage) costs around $150.
To learn more about the costs involved when a professional creates your website, view our complete guide to website costs.
To create a small business website, the least-expensive and most versatile option, by far, is to use Bluehost. You can get a domain, professional WordPress website and business email accounts for just $2.95/month.
That said, those looking for a simpler and faster solution should consider Weebly. At still a very good price of $12/month (domain and email not included), Weebly gives you fantastic user-friendly system to design a website AND attentive customer support.
If you’re ready to dive in, check out our article how to build a small business website using Weebly.