Small Business Websites: Pointers for budding businesses

We believe that identity for a small business goes a long way. Discussion moves to massive multi-nationals when we talk about brands, but think about the local community and the small businesses that are becoming more and more well known in local circles. What’s more, super local targeting can be highly effective in a fast growing business environment. I know that if we built a website for every business in Milton Keynes, we’d need a bigger office and a lot more coffee.

This city has the highest rate of business startups in the country outside of London. It’s also seen the highest job growth levels in the last 10 years of any UK city. Population growth is the fastest in Britain. That means more and more demand and small businesses in Milton Keynes are in prime position to supply. That leads us onto you and your business.

The need to organise a website is likely if you’re planning to undertake any sort of sustained marketing activity as a small business. In the modern marketing mix, a website often acts like a hub. There are plenty of benefits to this ranging from saving time by providing customers with information, providing up to date details, getting found online by new customers, selling on the web, generating leads, sharing news and successes, promoting yourself, improving your brand… and so on and so on.

So you’re ready to get started, but there are always a few things that get in the way. We’re going to look at how to address around the most common issues.

Three business people having a casual meeting over coffee.

Time

It’s just the way, when you are a small business, you find you have more than one job. Sales, Marketing, Finance, Strategy, Resources and Operations all bundled into one. Presumably if you’re paying a web designer to build you a site, it’s something you take seriously enough to understand that it needs a bit of time. So when you start out in your discussions, you’ll find that you can save yourself a lot of time and often extract more value in the project if you make a point of finding out how much work your designer is going to actually do. Planning is a major time-thief, especially if you’re not 100% focused, or if the subject area isn’t your strong point. Picking a supplier should work the same way as picking an employee, you’ve got to trust their ability, know that they work hard and think carefully about the choices they make. That’s how quality work gets done on your behalf. We spend a lot of time planning projects here, sketching, mapping and creating charts of user journeys and site structures. When you consider how much information goes onto a website, or how many components are involved, it’s crucial you think about them. But the problem is you don’t have time for this level of detail, or if you do, it will be a very slow process indeed.

So the first key questions are:

How much help can your suppliers give you up front to plan your project?
Also ask yourself: Who in my business can track the project progress?

Money

Value is what’s most important. Cost is different, and whilst a key factor it should never be the decider. Buying a helicopter for £20 is a better investment than buying a pushbike for £10 (Health and safety notice: if you manage to pick one up for £20, don’t try and fly it). That said, we live in the real world and don’t expect businesses that are getting off the ground to throw heaps of cash into 6 months worth of brand development, creative direction and user focus groups. That would be great, but it’s never going to happen. When we deal with a company looking to launch their first site, or perhaps more accurately their first professionally developed site, there are usually embellishments added by us along the way that go beyond the brief because whilst we’ve got bills to pay, we also want to have sites on our portfolio which we truly like and that make more businesses want to employ us. Turned the other way, we’ve had plenty of instances where we’ve removed elements from a brief to keep the cost down, provided a different payment options, or combined a few tasks for a discounted rate to help deliver an excellent result at a cost that works for everyone.

Key question: What can you do to add value to my project, or meet my goals whilst staying under budget?

PS: Don’t panic if you don’t have a budget. Whilst they’re useful, you should be able to get an estimate from a web designer if you allow them to ask a few questions first to get an idea of your project.

Expertise

We don’t expect small businesses to have web design or development experts, or what would we even be here for? You’re hiring a pro so that you get someone who knows exactly what to do. This goes for both creative and technical. Give your web designer/developer a goal and let them propose a solution. When it comes to design, discuss the look and feel that you want, provide any boundaries, then trust your designer. Lastly, if you’ve got business objectives, don’t leave them out. Good web designers think about the way a website should solve business problems, not just how it looks or whether it loads quickly. Proper planning and user experience design can make a big difference so get input on all of these areas so that you maximise the value you get from the project. Allowing your team to worry about details will leave you space to focus on the business direction.

Keep it ‘top level’ by asking: How would you address problem X / objective Y?

These, in our view are the biggest challenges. Anytime we are gearing up for a new project, it’s always one of these that is first on the agenda to discuss with suppliers.