Creating a website for your small business should be at the top of your “to do” list – right up there with printing business cards and getting your number in the phone book. Maybe even higher, because if you want customers to find you, you’ve got to be online. Virtually everybody (82% according to one study) goes online – it’s now the #1 way that consumers search for local goods and services.
A few of the business owners we work with didn’t have websites. In fact, 38% of small businesses don’t have a website yet. And who knows how many more have one but are unhappy with it. I hear from a lot of people that they’d like to make changes to their website, but don’t know how. Often times they have to go back to the person who built it for them and pay extra.
You used to have to know HTML (a programming language) in order to make your own website, but now there’s a lot of do-it-yourself tools out there that let you build a good-looking website without any technical know-how or special software.
You start from a template (there’s hundreds to choose from) and then customize some of the design elements like the colors and fonts. You can layout the pages however you like just by dragging and dropping stuff where you want. You can upload your own logo and pictures. You can even add widgets, like a map with driving directions to your place of business or a slide show of your work. Full Slate has a widget you can copy and paste that lets clients make appointments right on your website.
The best thing about building your own website is that you can change the content whenever you want. So if you need to update your business hours or want to upload new pictures or post special offer, you can do it yourself. I’ve been playing around with these tools and can attest to how easy it is – check out this sample site.
Oh yeah, and did I mention that most of these do-it-yourself website builders are free? 🙂 Almost all of them let you build a basic website for free and only charge a small fee for advanced features, like getting your own domain name (www.this-is-the-domain-name.com) or removing a “powered by” tagline in the footer. So it’s worth checking out one of this low-cost option before spending several hundred to several thousand dollars on a professional designer.
Here’s the ones I’ve tried, plus a few others that are well reputed:
- Weebly – This is one of my favorites. It’s pretty flexible and pretty snappy (since these are web-based applications, sometimes they can be pretty slow). Plus they give you a lot of features for free. The only drawback is that they put a little tagline at the bottom of every page that says “Create a free website with Weebly,” and you have to pay to have that removed.
- Yola (used to be called Synthasite) – Comparable to Weebly. They’re templates aren’t as flexible (you can’t change some of the colors and design elements), but they have more widgets. They also try a little harder to get you to “upgrade” to paid features, but you can do a lot in the free version.
- Webs (used to be called Freewebs) – I didn’t try this one, but it’s one of the biggest out there. It looks pretty similar to the others, but I think it started out focusing on “communities” and evolved from there. They offer mailing lists and the ability to send e-newsletters, which the others don’t.
- Homestead – There’s a “lite” version that’s web-based, but you have to download and install software to be able to do stuff like upload your logo or pictures. That software doesn’t work with Mac, so I couldn’t try it. Also, even a starter website costs $4.99/mo, but you can try it free for 30 days (beware: you have to call to cancel). I mention it mainly because they’re owned by Intuit (the same company that makes QuickBooks and TurboTax), and they offer a wide-variety of services to promote and manage your business. So if you’re looking for a one-stop shop, this could be it.
- Vistaprint – Just about everybody I know gets their business cards from Vistaprint, and they have a website builder too. The starter package costs $4.99/mo, but there’s a 30 day free trial like Homestead. I took a peek with one of our customers who’s using it. Pretty rudimentary – they charge extra a for a lot of features and you can’t edit the HTML directly. You can make it match your business cards though.