Believe it or not, the majority of small businesses still don’t have a website.

According to an article in the Tampa Tribune, small business owners are concerned that it will cost too much, take too much time, or that they might not be able to handle the influx of customers. (a problem which, i’m pretty sure, most small business owners would be happy to have!)

Whatever their reasons, the holdouts and luddites of the small business community are doing themselves a massive disservice.  In today’s day and age, every brick and mortar store should have some kind of online presence. A website is a vital tool for increasing awareness of your business, strengthening customer engagement and loyalty – and ultimately in boosting sales.

What’s more the process of getting a small business website up has become dramatically cheaper and easier over the last few years. A few helpful young companies have emerged with tools that can help you quickly create and customize a new website. Plug-ins and other extensions can also allow you to incorporate e-commerce features, which opens up a whole new revenue stream for many small business owners.

We’ve rounded up a few helpful website creation platforms that you can use to make a fantastic online extension of your store.

Squarespace

Let’s start with Squarespace.  This hybrid content management system is intended as an all-in-one web-publishing platform. It contains numerous website building tools, a blogging platform – as well as a hosting service, so you don’t need to worry about dealing with multiple online providers.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the Squarespace interface is just how easy it is to get started.  You simply choose one of the pre-built templates and adjust, so it fits your color and layout preferences. For anyone looking to get into the world of content marketing (and if you’re a small business owner you really, really should!), you’ll enjoy using the easy blogging tools. Equally, for people looking to dabble with online selling, the ecommerce functionality makes it easy to get going.

All of the Squarespace designs are responsive, so they look great on mobile, tablet and PC screens. If you’re not tech-savvy, you’ll be surprised how far you can take a website on this system – even if you don’t see yourself as tech-savvy.

The icing on the cake? You can get started with a site for as little as $8 per month, depending on your needs.

There are a few downsides. Squarespace can become a little pricier than the competition if you’re looking for full integration with accounting or ecommerce software.

Also, if you’re business takes off, you may find you outgrow Squarespace quite quickly. The front end tools available don’t allow you to take the website to the next level of customization – so if you’re looking to alter or adjust any part of your site, you may have to subscribe to the Squarespace developer offering (and hire an expert to assist in the process).

It’s possible to continue to tweak an Squarespace site, but the need for outside assistance might make it more expensive than other options.

Squarespace

WordPress

WordPress is one of the best website building platforms out there. Countless companies use this service to blog, let customers shop, and other useful tasks. In fact, shopkeep.com is run off a bespoke WordPress installation.

So what’s so great about WordPress? Well, while it’s perhaps a little more intimidating for the beginner than SquareSpace, WordPress is almost infinitely customizable.  The system is built in such a way that you can take advantage of a huge variety of ‘plug-ins’ – small software components that can be added on to your main website to enable specific functionality.

This could be sharing tools that allow visitors to share to your social media accounts; or video players; or forms so you can easily collect user information, etc.  There’s a huge variety available in the WordPress Plugin Directory, so have a look and get creative!

Essentially, these helpful tools can add more versatility to a site. One downside is that incorporating an ecommerce option isn’t easy. These plugins have proven to be the most difficult to add to a WordPress site. However, it is not impossible.

The rest of the features are pretty standard. You’ll find numerous pre-built templates that can support all kinds of content. A great provider of these customized builds is Themeforest.net. Some of them are free, but you will have to pay a little extra to be able to use others. There are plenty of responsive designs too.

Most small business owners will want to hire developers for setting up a WordPress site. Upwork is a great choice for finding fantastic freelancers. WordPress can be a bit more difficult to set up compared to Squarespace, and any customizations need to be done by a professional well versed in PHP/Wordpress (the system’s basic programming foundation).

Remember: there are a lot of awesome freelance developers out there, and there are a lot of charlatans too.  Do yourself a favor and pay a little extra to get the individual with great reviews and a solid portfolio.

WordPress has a powerful blogging platform built-in, so it’s also a great choice for avid social media and content marketers.

Wordpress

Wix

This is a new addition to website building industry. If you choose Wix.com, you can create a number of online sites, as well as mobile sites. Wix.com harnesses HTML5  which is the most modern, up-to-date standard for HTML (the basic structural language of all webpages).
Wix operates on a freemium model. It costs nothing at all to set up a basic site. However, you can pay for more premium upgrades. It will also display a banner ad for Wix.com at the foot of your website.  What’s more, the free model doesn’t allow you to use your own domain, so instead of sending people to tonyshardware.com, you’ll be sending people to tonyshardware.wix.com. This might not seem like a huge issue it can create problems with how you are found by search engines and, perhaps more importantly, it just sends out a ‘small-time’ image.

If you’re going to use wix.com, I highly recommend you upgrade to the paid service ($10 per month) which includes more data and bandwith storage as well as the removal of Wix ads, which can get annoying after a while.

Wix

Agency/Custom Build

If you decide to avoid the other three routes, you can choose to hire an agency for a custom build. You can still decide to stick with a freelancer, but agencies are more trustworthy and reliable. You’ll be able to consult with people who know how to incorporate powerful ecommerce plug-ins, create beautiful and unique graphics, and more. This kind of service costs a lot of upfront cash and is probably more relevant for succesful, going concerns than the new small business owner.

It does however afford the most customizability, which is important for small business owners who really want their customer experience to be authentic and consistent across the board.

An agency working on a website may also ensure you spend less time on the project – so while it might cost a little more upfront, there’s often a cost-benefit in the time you can dedicate to things like serving customers and generating revenue.

Plus, you can call up anyone on the team for help with issues that may arise.

Now, pricing can be tricky. Most agencies traditionally operate on a monthly fee and require a set cost for provide continued maintenance. These costs can really add up.

If you do go the agency route, you’ll want to clearly establish a set price before the development begins and get all the specific deliverables in writing and in triplicate – it’s amazing how often agencies and freelancers will find additional reasons to charge. Work with the agency to create a budget that will keep prices steady. A fixed ongoing cost guarantees you don’t see any surprises when the agency bills you after every month.

It can’t be stressed enough in regards to how important a website is for your small business. People spend a staggering amount of time searching for things on their smartphones, PCs and tablets.

Fortunately, it won’t be that hard building a website. There are plenty of options out there that can help you create a fantastic online representation of your business. Every option we mentioned can be used for a great purpose. Squarespace sites help customers easily shop and search for products on your site. WordPress provides a great line of communication to your customers. Wix lets you create a site that might be a little more visually pleasing. An agency can give you a staff that is dedicated to helping your online vision.

This new wave of technology can help small business owners thrive in this new era.

About the Author

Paul Nugent is a small business advocate, and Head of Marketing at ShopKeep point of sale’s UK headquarters. Paul uses his background in the startup space, along with his POS system expertise, to allow small business owners to make informed decisions within their specific budgets.