Website design and hosting for small businesses

woman with telescope standing on a laptop in the cloudsWhen you first start to think about your website needs, you can easily get confused by the myriad of options that seem to be available to you. This is an important project and you know it! But you also have a business to run and like many people you know something about websites and the internet. But do you know enough to make informed choices? The answer is almost certainly NO! The field of website development, hosting and maintenance is more complex now than ever, but the great news is you have far more choices than you would have had in the past.

I decided to write this article after working with a client who had made some less than desirable choices that I have now had to help them remedy. The root cause of their problem was a lack of appreciation of the choices they had made in the development and hosting options, this led them into a situation where they did not have the technical skills to manage their website. They exposed themselves to security risks, increased costs and potential loss of reputation. This article is directed at website design and hosting for small business needs.

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Your decision factors

There are several key factors to consider when starting your project.

  • What goals have you set for your website?
  • What is your budget?
  • How important is the website going to be to your business?
  • What trade offs are you prepared to make regarding simplicity vs flexibility
  • Are you able to manage security and business continuity yourself? or do you require help?

Let us go though these in a little more detail

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What goals have you set for your website?

Goals can be based on objective measures such as revenue, order flow, compass-600inquiries, cost reduction or qualitative such as reputation and image. Whatever they are you need to define them and understand where they fit into your overall business plan. For example, if you expect all your order flow to come from your website then it has far more importance to you than if it is purely about showcasing and image.

The setting of your goals has a significant impact on the rest of your decision making, so take your time and be clear about what value you expect to gain from your investment.

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What is your budget?

In days gone by you would have needed a budget of thousands for even the most basic on-line presence. I recently completed a project to replace a client’s old website and it cost her less than £500. Their original website was 7 years old and cost them £6000 and they have now got a better looking more functional product. A good website no longer needs to cost you the price of a small car.

frog sitting on moneyYour budget needs to cover 1) Logo and Graphic Design 2) Website development 3) Hosting and Maintenance; and the amounts will depend on a number of factors

  • doing it yourself or paying somebody else
  • the amount and type of content
  • functionality required e.g eCommerce, on-line bookings, vouchers
  • search ranking goals (getting to page 1 on Google searches takes time and investment)
  • do you require help in the creation of you social network presence?

This is where you also need to start thinking about if you want to use a developer to build you a custom website or should you use one of the on-line website self build services such as Wix to build your own. Or a mixture of both?

With services such as Wix, you get quite a lot for a small amount of money but there are significant downsides. If you build it yourself, then a budget of £200 should easily cover you and that would cover your hosting charges as well for the year. Set aside approximately 10-20 hours to research your competitor websites and 40-60 hours to do the build and you are up and running! The upside is that it is simple, cheap and no need to worry about on-going charges for backups, restore or software upgrades (maintenance). However, what you lose is flexibility because you have to use one of their templates and you cannot customise it, nor can you take it elsewhere. Also, many Wix templates use Flash technology which Google hates and will not display on many mobile devices. Many businesses complain that they cannot get any ratings on Google searches and the page load speed is reported by many to be very slow. Wix support is also reported as very poor.

A developer however, will use a CMS platform like WordPress and you will get all the flexibility you want and you “own” the site. Any changes or additions can be made easily to suit your exact business needs. However, if you use a developer then you will need hosting and maintenance and this is something you will unlikely to be able to do yourself.

So how do the costs compare between Wix and WordPress? This is not an easy comparison because they really are two different beasts. Wix provides simplicity, whereas WordPress provides huge amounts of flexibility. However, based on a basic five page brochure website we can examine the different cost profiles to some degree;

WordPress

  • Hourly rates can vary, but assuming you use a freelance developer charging an hourly rate of £30 and a forty hour build and development time, then your budget would need to be £1200 plus licence fees of perhaps £100.
  • If your developer also hosts your website and provides back up, restore and security services you will be paying perhaps £20-£30 a month with unlimited bandwidth and storage. So let us call this £300 per year.
  • Therefore your first year costs will be around £1600 + VAT (if applicable) and £300 per year thereafter.
  • Remember though, the website belongs to you and you can take it wherever you want and update it whenever you want.
  • Google loves WordPress and with some clever SEO work , you should get listed and found on your key searches.
  • WordPress is not hard to learn. There are videos in You Tube that can get you started easily and WordPress is free!! Many of the themes and plugins are free. All you need is a hosting company who will charge you around £5-£10 per month. DO NOT use the cheapest for the sake of it. Review the hosting company and make sure you will get fast downloads and great support. Try and use a local based hosting company, as you will get better support than from one based in another time zone..
Wix

  • The build time will likely be shorter, because there are less bells and whistle to take up time due to the limitation of the templates on offer. Let us therefore assume a thirty hour build time at £30 per hour and no license fees. Your budget would therefore be £900 + VAT (if applicable).
  • The set up costs and hosting charges for your first year will £93 + VAT and £172 + VAT per year thereafter.
  • However, you do not own the website. You cannot move it to another hosting company. You are locked in and have no flexibility to change it and add functionality as your business develops. If you want to change the template you have to pay the set up fees again.
  • Remember that Google does not like Wix websites and so do not expect to get to page one of Google or even close. However, I do appreciate that to many businesses this is not important to them. Particularly if you are a company where Google page one is dominated by listings of industry based directories and you only require a place to send potential clients to for information via other sources.
  • If you have the time to do the build yourself then you will save yourself £900. (It is more likely that you will get the hang of Wix far faster than WordPress)
  • You may find it hard to find a web developer prepared to work with you on your Wix build as most self respecting web professionals are wary of it’s limitations.

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Security and Business Continuity

Unfortunately the world is full of scammers and hackers. Your good work can come to naught if your website becomes infected and worse if your website infects a customers own personal computer security-600(you can get sued for this btw, if it can be shown that you did not take due care to protect your website).

You need to ensure you have taken all necessary steps to protect your website and you need to ensure you have the ability to backup the website and restore it in the event of a major problem.

If you take the Wix route, then the security and backup features are built in, though I have not tested these and would suggest you review this area very carefully.

If you use WordPress, then there are plugins that will do the right amount to render effective security and backup functionality (my own personal choices are iThemes and Securi. These companies are excellent and know their game). If you want to learn WordPress and build your own site, then ensure you know what to do here. Many, many people have lost their precious websites because they did not understand the need for backups or how to render them. Here is an excellent article by Elegant Themes on security, you will find lots of great advice in this post.

Even if you do build the website yourself, it is worth considering contacting a developer and sign a contract for them to do the hosting, security and backup activities. Let’s be honest, you have a business to run, so outsource these things to somebody who knows that they are doing.

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In Conclusion

responsive designYour business is important to you and your website should be an integral part of your business planning and operating model. I hope this article has helped you in your decision making and I hope I have helped you to be better prepared for the task of getting your website created.

Your own criteria shown now direct you as to which route to take.

If you have any questions or comments please feel free to submit them below or contact me directly.