Creating a business website can be anything from a few simple steps, up and running in less than a day, to the hardest project you’ve ever undertaken.
The good thing about building a website is that there’s lots of information available on the web.
The bad thing about creating a website is … there’s lots of information available on the web.
We’re talking information overload…
When it comes to building business websites, everyone’s an expert and everyone has conflicting views.
It’s not so much that different websites are trying to deceive you (I’m being kind here), it’s just that often the answer to “Which website builder should I use?” isn’t straightforward.
It depends on what you want from your website and what you expect from your business.
The web is full of information aimed at different business types and sizes, and tips from people who haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about.
Add into the mix that this is the tech industry, where products change by the day, and you get search engines littered with outdated information.
So here’s my attempt to cut through the noise.
I’m not a big techy, but I’ve been building websites since the days of dial-up.
This advice is based on my own experience balanced out by hours of sifting through posts on forums (yep so you don’t have to).
What Do You Want Your Website To Do?
This might sound like a simple question but it’s easily overlooked in the excitement of playing around with website builders.
It may even help to get your crystal ball out. The sort of things you need to think about are:
- What’s my budget for setting up a website?
- Will my website sell products?
- Are these products physical goods that require shipping?
- Do I need any special features?
When you’re starting out your business website should cover all the features you need to sell your products or services.
Put the emphasis on functionality: quick to load, easy to navigate, provide great content and a first class user experience.
What it doesn’t need to be is the best-looking website on the planet.
That can come later when you have profit to spare on a custom design.
If you want your business to sell products you need an eCommerce solution.
You will also hear the term store builder which is basically a website builder that has all the features you need for a full eCommerce set up.
There are two main categories, hosted solutions or self-hosted solutions.
This is where a company runs the website for you.
It’s typically a software as a service (SaaS) solution, where you pay a subscription to access the website builder from the cloud.
It’s a popular option for newbies and technophobes: these builders are designed for ease of use.
With low start-up costs, even a complete beginner can get a fully functioning eCommerce website up and running quickly. It’s a weekend job at most.
The downside is flexibility. This option has constraints on what you can and can’t do with your website.
Shopify or BigCommerce
The main players are Shopify or BigCommerce. Choosing between Shopify and BigCommerce is difficult, both of these suppliers are popular.
My view is that Shopify has the best themes but BigCommerce has the edge for functionality. From my own experience, the design limitations with BigCommerce can become really frustrating as you grow.
These types of website solutions have traditionally been scorned by web developers.
Why might you ask?
Historically, these hosted sites had limited functionality and it was almost impossible to modify their design themes. Bear in mind this was at a time when most businesses were using expensive custom built websites with really limited functionality.
Today this has changed and the lines between Hosted and Self Hosted solutions have blurred.
For example, take the BigCommerce Enterprise solution. This is for businesses with a $1 million plus turnover, and it has an open architecture for custom builds.
I can personally vouch for this. I used BigCommerce for my last business at a time when most companies were using clunky, expensive custom builds with limited ecommerce functionality. To begin with, back in 2010, it was great. The website could handle all my requirements for dispatching high volumes of products.
BUT and it’s a BIG BUT.
With Shopify, BigCommerce and all the other Hosted solutions such as WIX, Squarespace, EKM, you’re tied into a service. You’re stuck. Moving your website off these platforms isn’t straightforward and it’s a scary place to be when you’re a sizeable business with growing overheads.
My BigCommerce website went down for 4 days over Easter. It’s up there as one of those excruciating memories I just can’t forget. I was completely stuck at the mercy of BigCommerce.
So you need to weigh up the pros (accessible and easy to use) with the cons (less control). Shopify is currently a very popular solution for eCommerce. The convenience factor is hard to ignore and it’s a slick answer for a store with multiple products. But if you want more control, I suggest you take the self-hosted route.
Self Hosted Solutions:
This option uses off the shelf software and you host the website yourself. The software can either be proprietary where you buy a license or open source (free).
- The main advantage is full access to your website source code.
- This means you have complete freedom over your design.
- Your options are only limited by your coding skills and/or your budget.
In this category, Magento is one of the most popular platforms around. It’s loved for its reliability and scalability. It could be a great choice if you have a team of developers in-house or a large budget.
Not so great for your average small business startup.
Fortunately, there’s an alternative if you’re a small business owner with a tiny budget.
WordPress + WooCommerce
WordPress is open source software that you can download for FREE and use to create websites or blogs. The brilliance of WordPress lies in its popularity.
28% of all websites are created on WordPress.
Consequently, designers all around the World have created thousands and thousands of plugins that you add onto WordPress to enhance your website design.
Just think of a feature you need and someone will have come up with a solution.
In recent years the plugin WooCommerce has turned a great website builder into a fully functioning eCommerce store.
However, there is a catch.
WordPress doesn’t need coding skills. You can use the new WordPress Gutenberg editor or page builder plugin Elementor to visually create pages with a simple drag and drop interface. No coding skills required and both these options are free. But it can seem a bit daunting starting out compared to the simplicity of Shopify.
Personally, I think if you’re going to run a blog or business with a strong web presence it’s worth spending a bit of time and learning the skills to edit a WordPress site. Through Simply Hatch I will be showing you how to get started with WordPress.
I promise the investment will pay off.
WordPress.org or WordPress.com?
It’s confusing but there are two types of WordPress.
The widely used, popular software referred to in this blog is WordPress.org.
WordPress.com is a hosted solution, a bit like using Shopify. WordPress.com lets you set up a website for free but you don’t get to use your own unique name, you’re stuck with WordPress.com’s own adverts and you can’t make money from your blog. If you’ve ended up with a WordPress.com site you can easily migrate it to WordPress.org. Both of the hosted solution providers listed below will help out.
When you’re using WordPress.org you will need to source separate hosting for your website. I strongly recommend you use managed hosting that takes care of backups and security.
It means paying a little bit more but the benefits of peace of mind and reduced hassle will easily make up for it.
After exhaustive research, there are two options I recommend. These are the options:
The first is SiteGround. For a managed hosted solution SiteGround is very affordable. Is a great option for getting started on a small budget. Daily backups and security are taken care of. They will even set up your WordPress site for you for free.SiteGround’s uptime is an amazing 99.99%. That basically means you’ll never lose any sales because your website is down.
The second option is WP Engine. Think of it as the Mercedes of WordPress hosting. Secure, reliable and very fast. This site is hosted by WP Engine.
The support is excellent.
With the start-up package, the support staff are on-hand 24/7 to help you out, whatever your problem. WP Engine only hosts WordPress sites and their experience shows.
You pay a premium, but in return, you don’t have to worry about site speed, site updates or backups, Plus you get access to the amazing StudioPress Themes for WordPress for free.
I use both these options for my own businesses. Simply Hatch is hosted on WP Engine and uses the StudioPress Breakthrough Pro Theme.
Interested in starting a blog ? Read my guide How To Start A Successful Blog.
This is the term given to websites that don’t sell any products. It’s the preferred option for a lot of different businesses who just need to advertise their presence online.
WordPress is the obvious choice for this type of website.
Blogging is terrific for driving traffic to a website. It’s central to the WordPress platform making it an ideal solution for building your customer base.
The superb flexibility of WordPress is the key selling point.
Long-term Goals for Your Business Website
It’s worth thinking seriously about what you want your website to do in the future. It doesn’t mean you have to design today for everything you might need in 5 years time. But it does mean choosing a solution that’s easy to adapt as your business grows.
As you choose your business website builder, think about how your business might change over the next 12 months, two years, 5 years…
Maybe take a look at businesses in the same sector and see how they’ve set up their websites. It could help you anticipate your future needs.
For example, if you want a brochure website now, will you want to add eCommerce capability a few years down the line?
If you’ve just chosen a hosted eCommerce solution such as Shopify, will it be able to handle your growth in product range?
Thinking through these options now can save a lot of time and costs the next time you revamp your website. The terrific advantage of WordPress is that it will always be fully adaptable.
Your first business website definitely won’t be your last one. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve rebuilt websites. Some designs have barely lasted a year.
With the likes of WordPress, these redesigns are very easy…just choose a new theme and away you go…