Now that you’ve decided to build a website for your small business – congratulations. Your company will receive more visibility, better branding, and eventually more sales.
Before you build your site however, there are several questions you’ll need to answer in order to to determine if you should build a site through a low cost, do-it-yourself website platforms such as Wix, SQUARESPACE or GoDaddy, or make the significant investment in building your own robust website:
- What products are you looking to sell on your site, and how do you plan on selling them?
- Are you selling subscriptions? Will the purpose of your site be to make appointments for people to come into your brick and mortar business to buy products or services?
- Are you seeking to sell products directly through your websites via online payments?
- Do you plan to feature industry content or a blog on your site?
- How will your site stand Apart From Competitors?
- What Actions Do You Want Site Visitors to Take?
What Should Your Site Accomplish?
Now that you’ve answered those questions, you essentially have two choices: You can use a DIY website platform, which does have its advantages – most of them charge a low monthly fee; provide an easy-to-use website template, and provide web security and basic analytics. This may be the best option to choose if you’re simply looking to expand your presence and just check off the “web presence” box for your business.
For example, if you’re an independent restaurant owner who wants visitors to use your site to make reservations, or a car dealership owner who wants your site visitors to make appointments for test drives of your vehicles, then a DIY site may be the best choice for you.
DIY platforms do have their drawbacks, though. Almost all of them charge additional fees if you look to add features to your site, and many of them will ask for a large percentage of your revenue if you are seeking to use your site for direct sales. Additionally, the web template that you choose may be being used by other customers, so your website may not look unique.
If you want your website to do more, however, such as accommodate direct sales of your products, offer sales or discounts, or generate industry buzz through a blog page, then building your own website is probably the best bet for you.
Be warned, however: while building your own site will be well worth the effort from a sales and marketing standpoint, it will be a long, arduous, and expensive process, and one that will require you to first analyze whether it will be worth the money to do so.
Figuring Out if it’s Worth it
Now the question becomes: based on your wishlist for a website, is building a site worth the money? The answer to this question is paramount in deciding whether to invest capital into building your own site. The process of answering this question is also a bit complicated and may require you to hire an outside web consulting firm to assist you.
The first thing to do is to figure out the cost of building a website. A basic laundry list of things you will likely need to spend money on in order to create your own site can include:
- A website consulting firm;
- High Speed cable Internet;
- A Domain name;
- A server or website hosting platform;
- A web designer/programmer, and
- A Web-based Payment Module
Do some research to find out the fees of website consulting firms and the market price for a web designer/programmer, if you choose to hire those. In order to house your website and make it available to the public via the world wide web, you can either purchase your own server – the machine that will house your site and may cost upwards of $1,000 – or hire a website hosting platform such as Bluehost or HostGator for a low monthly fee to house your website for you.
There are many advantages to using a web hosting service – you won’t have to pony up the cash for your own server, and they provide web security for your site. Keep in mind, however, that a hosting platform will charge you the monthly fee for as long as your business’ website exists (which could be up to $60 per year), and there could be add-on charges if you look to make changes to your site.
In addition to hosting costs, leasing an original domain name through services such as GoDaddy, Domain.com or Name.com can cost anywhere between $20 to $50 per year, on average; and purchasing a domain name outright could cost you thousands of dollars.
Other costs to consider: If you do not have expertise in building a website, you may want to hire an experienced web designer/programmer to help you. Hiring an outside firm or an internal employee to do this may be expensive but making a mistake in building your site could be even costlier. Also, you will need a payment processing app to enable your customers to purchase items from your site. Apps such as Merchant One, Clover or ProMerchant will enable them to do that.
Estimating Your Site’s future Revenue
Now that you have an idea of the cost, the next thing you should do is have your website consulting firm assist you in creating a general, one-year projection of revenue for your site, since the process can be complicated. Some lenders may ask for this if you look for financing to build your site.
Of course, we all know that a general calculation of ROI is income minus cost divided by cost, but how do you calculate that if you don’t know what the actual revenue of your site will be?
While it is impossible to calculate exactly what the revenue will be, you can make a rough estimation by examining the benchmark for similar-sized companies in your industry. The web consulting firm you hire should have data on this, or you can use an online tool called Similarweb, which tracks that. You can also use a web service called Unbounce, which can give you a benchmark conversion rate – the percentage of visitors of an ecommerce site who end up becoming customers.
“This way, you’ll have an idea of what to expect in terms of revenue,” said Lucie Loubet, director of digital marketing at web design firm DesignWare. “Just remember to look at the paid vs. organic traffic breakdown in Similarweb to understand how much additional money you will have to invest in customer acquisition.”
Dawid Zimney, product manager at web consulting agency NerdCow, added “Your web agency needs to know your conversion rate, your market and your audience. They need to benchmark this against the historical improvements of the conversion rate on their clients’ websites.”
Another marketing term to know is customer lifetime value (CLV) – the estimated value of a return customer. For example, if you own a restaurant and you see certain customers coming back because they love your food, or a retail clothing store and you see customers returning for the service, you can calculate the average amount they spend per visit and multiply that by the number of times they visit your business.
The website firm you hire can help you estimate the percentage of customers who will become repeat customers, as well calculate their CLV.
Nikita Chen, founder and CEO of item authentication firm LegitRails, said the final step in calculating your website’s future ROI is to multiply the number of estimated customers with the CLV, and then determine whether that number is greater than the cost of building the website. The web marketing firm you hire should help you with that.
“If the number is higher, you are in profit, and it is, therefore, a good idea to create the website,” she said. “If the number is lower (which could be the case if you’re running excessive ads) it might not be in your best interest. The figure you come up with at this stage will also determine your ROI,” said Chen.
Financing Options to Pay for Your Site
If you’ve realized that your needs require you to build a custom website but you don’t have the cash on hand to pay for it, that’s okay. There are several financing options you can choose from.
A business line of credit may be a good option for you since building a website will not be a one-off expenditure. A business line of credit – much like a personal credit card – will give you the flexibility to spend as you go along in the process of building your site, and you will only be charged interest on what you borrow. You can also pay it down as you go along.
If you’ve predetermined a budget for building your site and plan to stick to it, then a business loan may be right for you. If you go to a traditional lender, they may ask you for a business plan or projected ROI on your website. Alternative lenders such as Kapitus will generally just ask to see your company’s revenue history and approve you for financing more quickly than a traditional lender.
Test Your Site First
Now that you’ve decided to go ahead with your site, you should have your web designer/programmer build a test site, typically referred to as a beta site. Pick the top functionality of your site, have your programmer design and build it, and release it online. The beta site should be a limited release of your website with the goal of gauging audience reaction a nd finding bugs before the final release of your site.
The site is usually opened up to a limited number of users, such as employees of your company or friends or family. The idea of the beta site is to listen to their feedback and use that to make improvements or adjustments to your final website.
“If you build it, they will come…”
Now that you’ve done the calculations and figured out that building your own site is worth it, how do you build a site that is visually appealing, user friendly and will generate additional sales? In the next article, we will discuss what your site should look like to make that happen.