Explained: The 3 Options for Your New Business Website
There are many options for businesses wanting an online presence, and we know that it can be a dizzying subject for many business decision makers.
As much as we would like to give you a quick and satisfying answer to the question “which is best?” the truth is that the only quick answer is “it depends”.
We know that’s not a useful answer, so we’ve created for you this summary of the three – arguably four – principal options available including some pros and cons for you to take away.
Website Builders and Blogging Platforms
They’re inexpensive to start – often free, they don’t require any coding skills and most people with a speck of computer experience can use them to fire up a working website between dinner and bedtime. Just what every new business needs!
So, why doesn’t every business use them?
Third-party services such as Wix and Weebly market a very tempting proposition, especially for kitchen-table entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, these quick, easy and low-cost springboards come with several disadvantages that we think outweigh the advantages in many cases.
Firstly, their business model is based on recurring income, and one of their strategies is to attract masses of new subscribers and then incrementally nudge them up the ladder of increasingly expensive plans.
One of the tactics used to persuade you to upgrade repeatedly is to restrict the features in such a way that the limitations hinder you. This practice might sound crazy, but the idea is that you’re somewhat invested by the time you discover these limits and therefore feel compelled to open your wallet rather than start again.
For example, free subscriptions almost certainly include advertisements for the platform that you can’t remove from your site. Also, the paid subscriptions often split out elements that are essential for most e-commerce models (customised forms, shopping carts, email campaigns) so that the most expensive plan is effectively your only option for that business model. Some also restrict features unless you’ve paid up front, e.g. yearly rather than monthly.
Secondly, although their range of templates will mean that you can quite quickly create a site that looks good, the actual functionality that you need can be frustratingly just out of reach – even when you’re on their top-tier subscription.
No doubt some entrepreneurs have successfully bootstrapped a business using one of these third-party services, but the vast majority of clients we speak with need much more. The most significant issue here may be that once you’ve outgrown the platform, you’ll need to start all over again with something else. You usually won’t be able to copy your site to a new home because it’s not your site – it belongs to the platform, and you’re just a tenant.
For: Cheap entry cost, ease of use for those without web design skills, a wide range of attractive templates and many factors of owning a site are dealt with for you.
Against: Not inexpensive in the long-term, limited features that may be an obstacle, you won’t own the site, and the provider will have rights over your content.
Self-hosting is the next level of complexity and flexibility. There are various permutations, but you’ll basically be renting or owning a home for your website and then building it yourself.
For clarity; with a third-party platform you rent the space and subscribe to a site building tool. When self-hosting you only rent or buy the location in which you’ll need to start building.
Whether you rent server space from a hosting company or have one or more servers in a data centre or even in your premises, the critical point is that you will have a lot more access to and control over your website.
Such scope could be ideal, but small businesses must consider the toll for this increased level of power and potential; it requires a lot more work on your part than the other options. Only you can decide if that’s a concern in your case, but it’s worth considering that if your core capabilities are anything other than web design you’re now diverting your time and energy away from your best strategic play.
Self-hosting simultaneously opens the door to the empowerment of entirely customised design and the responsibility for coding, technical support, security, and disaster recovery provision, at least.
However, if you feel you do have a good enough reason to try the self-hosted route, here are some high-level steps for you to start researching – based on the most straightforward variation:
- Find a web hosting provider that offers excellent uptime and customer service. Then choose their VPS or dedicated server option – to increase your chances of getting good response times.
- Register a domain name and connect it to your web host.
- Start building your site from scratch, or install a Content Management System (possibly Joomla, probably WordPress).
- If you’re using a CMS, you’ll need to design and code a theme (aka template) or buy, install and configure one.
- Get a logo, and devise your other branding elements, e.g. colour palette, fonts, style, etc.
- Customise your theme with your logo and other design factors.
- Install and configure all of the analytics tools and plugins that you’ll need.
Having achieved the above, you’re now ready to start thinking about content, SEO, email campaigns, funnels, etc.
There are most definitely a notable number of flourishing online businesses that started and remain in self-hosted environments and on a CMS – we’re not suggesting that it doesn’t work. However, our experience tells us that the founders were either already technically capable or determined to be so, and were therefore happy to spend the majority of their working hours dealing with HTML, CSS, SQL and PHP, with the occasional break for a BLT.
For: Inexpensive, can be as quick to deploy as a third-party platform – if you know what you’re doing, flexible and scalable, you own the whole site and can move it from one hosting provider to another as you grow.
Against: Requires the most time and effort to get from deployment to maturity, plus the highest operational overhead. Technical and design skills will be needed.
Option three is to use a web design company to do the work for you while you focus your strengths on other areas of your business. That work can include managed hosting, website design, branding, SEO and even content creation.
Professional services are obviously going to cost more than the previous two options, for which the principal attraction is often the low entry cost. Many of our new clients have been surprised by how inexpensive a professionally designed website can be, but it will still be more because you get so much more.
In the case of web design, there are two ‘sub-categories’ at each end of the cheaper/better spectrum. Towards the cheaper end there are those that use templates, and towards the better end, there are those that create bespoke solutions.
Every business looks for opportunities to reuse and recycle. It’s sensible, and not everyone wants to pay for something unique. In web design, there are perfectly valid ways to do this, and one of them is to use templates. Having created (or bought) a template, designers can then very quickly customise them by changing colours and fonts and choosing built-in options such as whether menus appear on the left or right.
This is akin to you installing WordPress and customising a theme but, hopefully, a designer will be significantly more adept at it than you are. The question to ask yourself, and your prospective design partner, is whether the use of templates is appropriate for your requirements.
The trade-off is similar to commissioning a painting or settling for a print. If you do need uniqueness in the form and function of your website you must make sure that your designers will build it from scratch to deliver what you need precisely. If you don’t need a strong brand or tailored functionality, it may be worth asking whether you can achieve your goals with a template and therefore reduce some of the cost.
For example, SkullClothing.net uses standard functionality to resell through Amazon and Etsy, so the owners are probably satisfied with their ‘Crazy Diamond‘ WordPress theme. However, DriftLimits.co.uk enables customers to buy driving experiences as gifts, through companies such as Red Letter Days and Groupon, and the lucky recipients can then redeem their voucher codes on the Drift Limits site and schedule the day of their supercar or drifting adventure. This is a much more complicated business model that required a very high level of manual processing until we wrote a bespoke website that automated it all. Remember; it’s not just what your customers see that counts. You also need to consider your ‘back-office’ requirements.
Sometimes it’s evident that your branding or functionality needs require far more than a template can offer. If you’re unsure, it would probably help to ask designers for price comparisons and ask about the practical differences between customised templates and genuinely bespoke design. Also, take note of their questions to you, which could be more informative than their answers; are they focused on technical and visual concerns, or on understanding your business needs? Your design partner isn’t just there to write code and make your website look great, they should also be capable of interpreting your needs and clearly explaining the solutions that they recommend.
For: Uniqueness, functionality optimised for your business processes, tailored and managed hosting ensures performance and reliability, delegation enables you to focus on what you do best, professional help means professional results and your web design partner may also provide other related and integrated services.
Against: Some new ventures might not have the required capital (don’t assume though; get estimates to be sure).
Any of the options outlined above could be perfect for your business. The deciding factors are often the initial cost, the functionality you need, the importance of unique branding and whether or not you have – or want – the technical and creative skills required.
We recommend that you prioritise your long-term vision and select now the option that will accommodate your needs as you and your business grow. However, we appreciate that some strategies require a bridging solution to get from here to there.
We wish you the very best of luck in making your choice, but there is an easy and free way to reduce your risk; give us a call and let us answer your questions.