1. Work out what you want your website to do
The purpose of your site will determine the features it will need to have, and the tools you should choose to put it together. For instance, do you intend to sell products direct to customers via your site? If so, you’ll need to add features that allow you to keep track of orders, and a payment gateway for customers to pay for those goods securely and safely.
If your website is going to be used mostly as a platform for advertising your services, you won’t need the same order management capabilities as an e-commerce store; but you’ll still almost certainly want the ability to add and change the website content easily. This may include: a blog page and/or news feed to engage with your customers, links to your social media channels, and to show Google that yours is a useful, up-to-date site.
2. Get a domain name
Every business needs an address: your domain name refers to your site’s internet address. If ‘yourbusinnessname.com’ is already taken by someone else, you can’t use it. However, tools such as NameStation and LeanDomainSearch let you check what’s available, and also have name generating features to help you find something suitable that’s available – good practice is to try and keep it short, memorable, and easy to type. Additionally, a .com or (if you’re aiming for a purely UK market), a .co.uk address are what the majority of your potential customers will be familiar with.
Sites such as GoDaddy and FastHosts offer domain registration services, and the basic price per year for maintaining a domain tends to be around £10. However, these very often are bundled with other services, such as hosting (see below).
3. Find a web host
You need a web host to store your site, keep it open, and make it accessible to visitors. You’ll find no shortage of hosting options out there, and typical hosting costs for a relatively small site tend to be in the region of £10-20 per month. Try to hunt out independent reviews, and look carefully at the host’s track record: this should give you an indication towards the quality of the hosting option. Furthermore, as an e-commerce entrepreneur, an outage results in potential lost revenue. If you find evidence of frequent downtime and slow load times, it means that particular host should be avoided.
4. Choose a website builder tool
Think of website building as a kind of virtual lego: if you’re capable of drag-and-dropping images, then, in theory, you can put together your own site. This is all thanks to website builder tools that let ‘non-techies’ install and customise their own sites.
You can find out more about the best-known example of this in our introduction to WordPress guide. Other examples include Joomla and Drupal, and all three examples feature comprehensive content management system (CMS) capabilities – which means they are designed to make it easy to add new content to your website once it's set up without having to do any programming. When you’re trying to decide between different website building tools, here are some things to consider:
Finding the right theme
It might be a self-built website, but you don’t want it to look like one: a badly designed website will not attract many customers. A website’s ‘theme’ is a collection of files that make your web pages appear in a certain way, including: the layouts, fonts, and colours. Most platforms offer a selection of free, and paid-for themes. There are also plenty of web design and development companies that offer readymade and custom options. As a start, browse what’s available for each platform’s theme library to find a match for your brand and product.
Am I comfortable with using it?
Most platforms offer tutorial videos and demos to help you find out. Additionally, there are plenty of help forums and communities out there that will be able to help you further if need be.
Will the finished site meet my needs?
This is especially important if you intend to use the site for online selling. Some platforms, such as WordPress, weren’t designed with online selling in mind. However, over time, e-commerce ‘plug-ins’ (additional pieces of software) have been designed specifically with e-sellers in mind. At the same time, consider dedicated e-commerce platforms, such as Shopify, where you can style your own site; but where everything is geared towards selling online.
5. Put together your core site
As a start, the ‘must have’ pages are as follows:
An overview of your services, and the top reasons why you are worth doing business with.
Have a dedicated page for each one.
Give your background, and list your credentials.
Don’t just tell your customers how good you are: show them.
Where you’re based (you might want to consider a company address service if you’re working from home) and how to get in touch with you: think email, and phone number. Be sure to include hours of business, and links to your social media channels.
6. Put it to the test and make it better…
Test your website on as many different types of devices and browsers as possible. This will give you answers to questions, such as whether it loads quickly and smoothly, or not. Now comes the task of attracting the right audience, and checking that it ticks all the right boxes for visitors. This is your cue to find out how SEO and analytics can drive your website forward.
Browse our help centre to find out more on how to further expand your knowledge on website building and management.