Web Design for Start Up Businesses
15 things you need to know to help your start up business succeed and before you get your website designed.
As a UK web design company who specialises in web design for start up businesses, I’ve noticed a pattern over the past 10 years. By the time a client’s website is live (usually even well before), I can usually predict whether or not that client will still be trading in 1 or 2 years time. I’m not saying that I’m accurate every single time, but there is a definite pattern. Of course there are many other factors required in making a new business work. However, if you are in the process of starting your own business, I hope the below pointers can help you, at least when it comes to getting your website off to the very best start.
I guarantee that if you set aside time to really think about your website and its content, it will help you think about and spot other areas of your start up business that perhaps you hadn’t considered. Starting a business is such an exciting and empowering thing to do. Give yourself every chance you can to make it succeed.
All the points below are based on a small start up business such as a Sole Trader or Partnership. In my experience these types of start ups generally make all the decisions and write the copy for the website etc themselves. If you’re a much larger start up all the below will still be relevant. However, the difference is that you may be paying experts in each area to set each one up for you.
1. Spend Time Creating Your Website Content
In the grand scheme of setting up your business, this may be quite near the bottom of your to do list. Because your to do list will no doubt be long. Very long! But don’t be tempted to write your website content as an afterthought. The very process of writing the content for your site may make you think of things that perhaps you’d overlooked.
Here’s what I’d recommend. Grab a piece of paper and a pen. For most people, jotting down what pages you want on your website is a great starting point. What kind of content do you want on your Home and About page. Do you even need an About page? For companies offering local services this is really important as your potential customers may want to know more about you before contacting you. For other companies this may less important and a small section on the Homepage might suffice.
What other pages does your website need? If you’re entering a service industry, will your company offer just one service, or does it need to be broken down further? For example if you’re a builder you may offer painting and decorating services, plastering, plumbing etc. Do you want a page for each of these services? This is great for Search Engine Optimisation but perhaps you’re on a tight budget (the more pages your website has, the more expensive it usually is). That’s fine. You still need to make sure that you list everything that you can offer. Your web designer will make it as attractive and appealing as possible and ensure that your site visitors understand what you can do for them.
What else does your business offer? Are you selling online? Do you have good quality photographs of your products if so? What might your customers want to know about your products? Really think about your new business from every possible angle and jot everything down, even if it doesn’t seem relevant to your website. What have your competitors included on their websites?
I guarantee that f you do the above, then your website will get off to a much better start. Not only that, but I’ve found a definite correlation between the quality of content and thought behind the content that is sent to me, and the success of the start up business.
2. What’s Your Style?
As a web designer one of the many things I love about my job is being able to take a client’s ideas and content and transform them into a website. It’s always a great compliment to be entrusted with designing a website for a start up business.
When a client comes to me with their start up business, they broadly fall into one of these five categories:
They are able to visualise their website, the layout and the colours they want to use
They’re not sure how they want their website to look, but they know the general colours they want on their site
They have seen other websites they like (in any industry) and want something in a similar kind of style
They have looked at other websites but didn’t see anything that inspired them
They have absolutely no idea of what they want and haven’t looked at any other websites, not even their competitors
For me as a designer, I really don’t mind which of the above categories you fit into and I completely understand that for some people visualising their website is incredibly difficult. From a success point of view, I have found a direct correlation between those businesses which are still trading after 2 years and the research that they put into the design of their website. Those that didn’t research any websites at all are rarely still in business 2 years later.
3. What Exactly Do You Want Your Website to do?
As a start up business you know that you need a website. But what exactly is it that you want your website to do? This may seem like a strange question but it’s something I usually ask my clients as it can affect the design.
Some examples of what you want your website to do can include:
1. Generate leads
This means that you want people to contact you online via your website, looking for a your services and perhaps a quote. This is often a preferred way of getting in touch with businesses and somebody may be contacting various businesses for quotes.
If you do want to generate leads then you need to decide what information you want the lead to include. Do you need a telephone number? Do you need a postcode? If you’re a bespoke door supplier you might ask for dimensions so that when you contact the potential customer you can give them an accurate response. How quickly will you reply to them? Let them know. The more specific you can be, without putting them off, the better.
2. Generate phone calls
Perhaps you’d rather that people pick up the phone and call you your business, rather than email in or send a contact form. If this is the case then I would display your phone number very predominantly on the site.
3. Get somebody to visit your business
If you run a shop or cafe, your objective may be to get people to physically visit your premises. In that case, easily finding a map and directions on your website is essential. You may also want to prominently display an offer on your website or have people sign up for offers. For example if you run a cafe and Mondays are slow, you might run a coffee and cake promotion on a Monday (I’ll be there!)
4. Provide information
All websites provide information. Be that about your company, a product etc. If you specialise in a certain area or industry then let your website visitors know that by writing some great content. This can be updated as a blog or you may want to include it in your FAQs.
If you do write a blog it’s a great way of getting people to keep coming back to your site. Not only that, but Google loves great content and you may even find yourself getting rewarded by Google by moving up the search engine rankings. Plus if you can share your knowledge then other sites may link to you and again this can improve your Google rankings.
Another reason you might want to provide information is that it can save your company time. If you tend to receive the same kind of queries, you can direct people to an area of your website where you’ve already covered this. Not only is this a great help to your customers, it also saves you time as a company by not having to repeat yourself. Plus of course while somebody is on your website reading your great content, they may decide that you’re a company that they want to do business with.
Really thing about what it is you want your website to do for you and I guarantee it will improve your business.
4. Look at Your Competitor’s Websites
I’ve been running my own web design businesses for almost 10 years now and looking at my competitor’s websites is something that I still do. Looking at your competitor’s websites before you even start writing your content can help you
Think about what you need to include on your website.
Decide how many pages you need.
Decide what you don’t want.
See if your prices are competitive.
5. Think About Your New Business Logo
I’m not quite sure why, but many start up businesses have already had their logo designed before they come to me. Perhaps it’s just to help them get the ball rolling and have business cards printed. However I’d really recommend having your logo created as part of the web design process. Your logo needs to not only look good on business cards (although many online businesses will never even need business cards) but much more importantly it has to look great on your website.
For example a client came to me recently. She had a really beautiful logo. However, there were two problems. Firstly it was square. You may wonder what is wrong with that. Nothing in general. However within the square was a circle with text. If the logo was shrunk down too much, then the text was no longer legible. Research shows that the most effective place for a logo to be situated on a website is at the top left. Because the logo was square (rather than rectangular) and couldn’t be shrunk down it meant that the logo couldn’t be placed in the most effective position. Well it could, but it would have taken up a huge amount of very valuable space at the top of the website.
The second problem was logo colour. It contained black, white, orange and blue. If it was placed against a white or light background then the white part of the logo couldn’t be seen. If it was placed against a black or dark background then the black part of the logo became invisible. See the problem?
If you do want to get your logo designed before your website, then think about how it’s going to look online. While I’ve not found a link between when you get your logo designed and how well your start up business lasts, a good logo will certainly stand you in good stead.
6. Spell Check
I love my job. I really love my job. And I love my clients. But something that really drives me crazy and that I just don’t understand is why some people don’t spell check their content before they send it to me. And I don’t mean those typos that we all make where the red line doesn’t appear because you’ve written (and correctly spelled) another word by mistake. I mean the big, glaring spelling errors that have a whopping great red line underneath.
After you’ve written your content, read it. And then read it again. And if possible, get somebody else to read it. Check it for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. They matter. A website with spelling mistakes says to me that a company doesn’t care about the small things. And guess what? A whole load of spelling mistakes is another one of those indicators that I’ve found means that you’re less likely to be trading in 3 years than if you sent through spell checked copy. (Please, please, please let me know if you see a spelling mistake on my website!!)
7. What’s Your Unique Selling Point?
This one may seem pretty obvious and I’m sure it’s something you’ve already thought about and included in your business plan (not got a business plan? Don’t panic, but read this instead).
As a web designer I’d love to know what sets you apart from your competitors, so that I can include it on your website. Maybe your product is a better quality, you make the best coffee in town, you’re cheaper or you just simply offer the best customer service in town (I like to think I offer the best web designer customer service in the UK!).
Plus of course if your USP is something you’ve thought about then your business is much more likely to succeed.
8. What’s Your Business Address?
Does this sound like a silly question? Strangely enough, this is one of the things that catches out many of the start up businesses that I work with. There are two main reasons for this:
Many local businesses such as builders, decorators, book keepers, web designers, plumbers etc work from home. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and for me it allows me to keep my costs down (and make myself really good coffee throughout the day)!
However if you want to add yourself to Google My Business and you work from home, then it shows a picture of your home. If like me you’re a) a very private person b) have a young child and haven’t had time to look after the front of your house for a few years, you may not want this.
So the options become to either not have a Google My Business listing (this will be covered in another Blog post but in the meantime this is an article about a Google My Business listing) or to have your business at a different address. As a local business you really do need a Google My Business listing, so the first option is out. And for most businesses the second option, with a different address, just isn’t possible.
If you’re selling online in the UK it’s a legal requirement to display your address on your website. This needs to be a physical address and not a PO Box. Many businesses now run an online shop from home and simply don’t want their home address to appear on their website. Perhaps for the above reasons or perhaps they don’t want to announce to the world that they may have some valuable stock in their home.
So, hopefully you can now understand why deciding on a business address can actually be quite difficult for some start up businesses. It’s something you definitely need to think and make a decision about before you find a web designer.
9. What are Your Keywords?
Keywords are a complete topic on their own, but here are the basics that every start up business should be thinking about. In my 10 years as a web designer it’s something that I find many start up businesses struggle with. It is really essential for your business and website though, so it’s something I’d recommend taking time understand.
A keyword is something that you type into Google, Bing, Yahoo etc when you are searching for something online. You may have come to my website by typing in “fixed price web design Blackpool” for example and found me on page 1 of Google. “Fixed price web design Blackpool” would be a keyword (a long tail keyword to be precise, but I’ll come to that in a moment).
It is really important that you think about what your keywords will be before you start writing the content for your website. So what are your keywords? There are various tools available to help, but first of all you need to think about what you personally would type into Google if you were looking for your business.
So, let’s say that you’re a solicitor based in Blackpool. People looking for your services my Google “solicitors Blackpool”. That’s a good starting point. However, depending on the size of your town/city and the number of other solicitors that there are, this may be a hard keyword to rank for. Don’t forget that every other solicitor in Blackpool wants to rank on page 1 of Google for that keyword too.
This is where long tail keywords come in. These are much easier to rank for in Google. They person searching for you via a long tail keyword may also be much more likely to be ready to use your service or buy your product.
So let’s drill it down a little. The person searching is going through a divorce and instead of searching for “solicitor Blackpool”, they search for “divorce solicitor Blackpool”. Solicitors aren’t cheap, so they may even look for “cheap divorce solicitor Blackpool” or “fixed price solicitor Blackpool”. Both these would be much easier to rank highly in Google for than just simply “solicitor Blackpool”.
When you write the copy for your website, including relevant keywords is really important. These should be written naturally and not “stuffed” in for the sake of search engines. This can be tricky to do, so I always advise writing for your customer first and foremost. What you have written can then be tweaked to help improve your rankings.
I can’t stress how important it is for start up businesses to understand and embrace the concept of keywords. When I create your website, I will optimise it for search engines. I can usually tell what the keywords will be (you also have the option to pay for advanced keyword research) when I receive your content but this isn’t always the case. It’s your business, so you need to understand your keywords.
10. What About Images and Photos for Your Website?
Your website will need images. Images help visitors engage with your website and help break up the text to make it more attractive and easier to read. The type of business you have will determine the number and type of images you need. The images required will fall into four general categories, depending on the type of business:
1. Product Images
If you’re setting up an online shop then these are really important. If possible these should be taken by a professional photographer. If you’re a start up business however you may not be able to afford this, especially if you have lots of products. Don’t worry. The cameras on many phones today can take amazing images and there are plenty of affordable people who you can pay to remove backgrounds and touch them up to look their best, if this something you can’t do yourself.
Included in product images should be those such as completed building work if you’re a builder, before and after photos for a decorator. These can really help your customers connect with you and can be the difference between them contacting you or one of your competitors.
It’s really helpful to your designer (and your SEO) if you give the image a relevant name. Imagine that you’re selling clothing, including long skirts in various colours, some of which are silk. A good name for the one of these skirts in turquoise would be long-turquoise-silk-skirt.jpg (or .png). Your web designer knows exactly what product the image is for and also very importantly you’re helping Google to know what the image is about.
2. Generic Images
These are generally purely for aesthetic reasons and to break the content up. For example an Accountancy firm may have some general business images or a yoga teacher may have health images. Just because they are generic however, doesn’t make them any less important.
3. Portfolio Images
If you’re a photographer or an artist, these images should be the main focus of your website. They will of course be high quality and they should really showcase your work.
As with product images, it’s really important and very helpful for your designer to name these images. Calling them image1, image2 etc doesn’t tell search engines or your designer anything.
4. Staff Member Images
Love them or hate them, staff member images are becoming more and more popular in websites. Much as I dislike having my own image on my website (I nearly had a caricature drawn instead!) I completely understand that potential clients might like to put a face to a name. I know that I do when I’m doing business online.
Your photos don’t have to be professionally taken. They just need to be you.
If your web designer asks you to provide your own images, there are many free resources out there. Some of the best include Pixabay, Pexels and Stockio. If there is the option to donate to the photographer or creator, then please do so. This kind of free imagery is relatively new and once upon a time you would have been being paying a hefty sum for these kind of quality images. The least you can do is donate enough for a cappuccino as a thank you.
11. Can You Get Testimonials?
This can be a stumbling block for many start up businesses. As a new business you probably don’t have any customers yet to get testimonials from. However if you’ve already been trading for a while before setting up the website for your new business, this may not be the case. Testimonials are really important for your business and I recommend that you have them added to your website as soon as you can. You’re great a what you do, so let the world know.
12. Make a Video for Your Start Up Business Website
Now I know that many of you will turn and run a mile at the thought of making a video. Is the thought of your face or voice on screen enough to give you nightmares? Well before you complete dismiss the idea let me just tell you, that done in the right way video can have a really great impact on your business. And your Google rankings.
Let me give you an example. Let’s imagine that you’re a dog trainer. Some videos that you could make could include various techniques that you would use to train a dog. You would create your own channel on YouTube (really easy) and upload your videos, making sure that you used relevant keywords You would then embed these videos on your website (also very easy, simply cut and paste some code). This may seem counter intuitive. If they can watch a free video, why would they pay for your services? So why make videos?
- Your potential clients can see you in action, get a feel for you and hopefully connect with you
- You become more than just words on a website
- Don’t give away all your techniques. Leave people wanting more
- People often search “how to” in Google. If your videos are “how to train a dog”, “how to make a dog sit” etc this can really be in your favour in terms of ranking. And don’t forget that Google own YouTube so they like YouTube to feature on page one if there are relevant videos
Creating a video may not be high up on your list of things to do as a new business, but once you have time it can be well worth the effort.
13. Choose Your Domain Name Carefully
Following on from Keywords, is how to choose a domain name. Domain names are really important, should be chosen carefully and I would always advise discussing your domain name with your web designer before buying it..
For some businesses, choosing a domain name is really easy and they have chosen www.companyname.com. However, the .com may not have been available, so instead they have chosen www.companyname.biz for example. In this case, I would advise the client to choose another domain instead. Why? Over the last 10 years of building and ranking websites, I found that .com and .co.uk (if you’re in the UK) are much easier to rank than .biz, .info etc websites. Google denies that your domain extension affects your Google ranking but in my experience this isn’t the case. Plus of course a .com or .co.uk is just much more professional looking.
Another consideration when choosing a domain name is your main keyword. Having a keyword as your domain can really make sense and can help your website to rank much easier for your keyword (this isn’t always the case). It has to make sense though. You don’t want your domain name to be www.cheapdivorcesolicitorblackpool.com, unless you only specialise in divorce and you’re cheap!
I can’t stress how important your domain name is. Although the domain name can’t make or break a start up business in itself, it can go a long way to helping you get found by search engines and that in itself can certainly help make your business.
14. Don’t be Seduced by Cheap Domain Name Offers
I’ll keep this one short. There are some big name companies out there (you will have seen or heard them advertising) who offer domain names for as little as £1.00. Don’t fall for it. They will then charge you something like £3.99 + VAT per email address. This works out at a very costly domain name.
I charge £15 for a domain name per year and this includes up to two professional email addresses (extra one’s are not needed for most start ups and if they are, are a minimal cost).
The bottom line is, speak to your web designer before buying a domain name. Not only will they probably save you some money, but they’ll be able to advise you on the best domain name for your start up business.
15. Check Ongoing Website Costs
Before you decide on who is going to design the website for your start up business, make sure that you know all the costs involved. Things can be tight financially for a start up business and something you don’t want to do is suddenly discover that you’ve signed up for £70 a month ongoing fee for your website (yes, this really does happen).
The main things you need to check before getting your new website designed are:
- Domain name costs (hopefully you’ve read point 13 above and haven’t bought it yet!) and renewal costs
- Website hosting costs. Not sure what hosting is? You can find a web design jargon busting section here.
- Maintenance costs. This may be for things such as keeping your website secure, carrying out back ups and updates etc. I include these in the cost of hosting (£10 a month) but some companies do charge extra for this.
- Costs for any extra work you may want carried out in the future. It may seem like a good idea to pay a fixed sum each month for updates. However, unless you know that you’re going to want your web design company to update your website at least every week or so then these generally aren’t a good idea. You can end up paying very large amounts of money over the space of a few years for a few updates that may only have cost £50 in total if you paid by the hour.
Many web designers include a Content Management System these days. This means that you can log into your website and easily make any simple changes to text, images, blog posts etc that you want to do yourself. This is something I offer my own clients and I highly recommend this for most businesses.
I hope that these 15 ways to help your start up business succeed will be of help. Of course it takes much more than this to make a business succeed. But add some hard work, determination and self belief and I know that you can do it. If you think of anything that I’ve missed out, please do let me know in the comments.
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