How to Create Your Own Small Business Website for Free
Why does your business need a website and is it really that important? The answer is simple: your company should be where your customers are. As far as the prevailing amount of consumers currently tend to go online for many reasons, it’s obvious that your business should also have a trusted web presence.
Kasey Kaplan, the founder of the marketing-focused KWK Studio and the co-founder of Urban FT, told it best in his “Forbes” article:
“Showcasing your brand to your prospective customers is one of the most important things that you can do. By clearly establishing who you are, what you represent and what you stand for, you increase the chances of your customers buying from you.”
As an entrepreneur, I cannot but agree with that. In today’s digital age, having a website is essential for small businesses looking to establish an online presence. A website does not only help promote your products or services, but also enables customers to find and connect with you easily.
However, creating a website can be a daunting task, especially for those who have no experience in web design. That is exactly why I decided to write this article as a step-by-step guide through the process of small business website creation based on my personal experience.
1. Define Your Website’s Purpose
Before you proceed to the very process of website creation, it is crucial to define its purpose first. Obviously, your project purpose should align with your niche specialization as well as with your business objectives and goals.
As a web design expert, I clearly understood that I need a project to highlight my professionalism, expertise rate and to help users find the info they are looking for. Similarly, you should identify the major reasons to get a website. Some of them may include:
- Building brand awareness and credibility;
- Providing information about your products and services;
- Showcasing your professionalism;
- Generating leads, growing customer base and sales volume;
- Providing customer support etc.
2. Identify Your Website Type and Goals
Once you’ve defined the website’s purpose, you need to identify its type and goals. Small business websites generally differ with regard to your niche, available offers and general project implication. Having explored the market, I figured out that the major types of small business websites are as follows:
- Informational projects: These websites provide information about your business, such as its history, mission and values;
- eCommerce websites: These are online stores offering various products/services for sale;
- Portfolios: These are websites showcasing your work and skills in various niches like photography, arts, graphic design or web development;
- Blogs: These are sites that let you share your expertise, ideas and opinions on topics that tackle your business.
That’s a quick overview of the major website types. As for the goals, these may differ with regard to your business requirements and intentions. The most widespread goals users expect from their websites include traffic/lead generation, growth of sales volumes, profit increase etc.
3. Determine the Target Audience
To create a successful website, it’s essential to understand who your target audience is. Who are your customers? What problems do they want to solve? What are their requirements and preferences? What exactly do they expect to avail from your website?
Answers to these questions will help tailor your project design, content, parameters and features to meet the expectations and needs of your audience.
As for me, I clearly understood what I expected from my website and who my target audience is. My website is a project created by a web designer for web designers or just for people interested in website development, looking for DIY web design platforms/hosts, willing to find out more about the niche in general. Understanding of these things lay a great foundation for my future website.
4. Choose the Web Design Platform
Suppose, you have identified the type, purpose, goals and target audience of your website. What’s next? The next step is to pick a web design platform that will help you get started.
Seems quite simple, right? However, you will quickly understand that this is a real challenge, especially if you are a non-techie with zero web design background. The thing is that there are multiple systems out there. Each of them has its own parameters, specialization, pricing etc. You need to consider them to pick the best software that will absolutely comply with your needs and project requirements.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Website Builder
If this is the first time you face the need to choose a web design platform, I recommend you sticking to the following factors:
- Ease of use: The website builder should be easy to use, even for those with no web design experience. It should also ensure quick and easy set up procedure;
- Customization options: The system should offer a diversity of design customization options, such as templates, layouts, design elements etc.
- Template versatility: The more themes there are in the template collection, the more personalized and one-of-a-kind your project will be. Template switch option is highly preferable as well;
- Functionality: The website builder should provide essential features and functionality, such as SEO optimization, mobile responsiveness, blogging, eCommerce capabilities, stats tracking etc.;
- Preview feature: Availability of the preview mode always makes a difference, especially for beginners. Some platforms let you only preview the result of your work on various devices, while other systems make it possible to edit desktop and mobile versions of your project separately;
- External integrations: You will surely appreciate the opportunity to integrate third-party extensions into your website based on its type and specialization. It is desirable that a website builder should come with the built-in app market, allowing for external integrations as well;
- Cost: The website builder should fit your budget, with affordable pricing plans and no hidden fees. Availability of a free trial/plan is always a pleasant bonus.
Must-Have Features for a Small Business Website
When it comes to small business website creation, you should clearly realize that you need a project with long-lasting objectives. Thus, it requires specific integrations and tools that will let you complete the tasks you set.
Listed below are the features I was focused on when choosing the system for my website:
- Simplicity of Website Creation and Maintenance: As a beginner, you need a simple system that quill let you set up and then manage/update a small business website;
- Business Features: You don’t have to pick a website builder used for business projects only. This may be a simple DIY system with a list of business-specific features available in stock (customer interaction tools, CRM platform, niche-related elements, online forms, built-in calculator, testimonials etc.);
- Brand Logo: Your business definitely needs a trusted online presentation, so, a professional logo is a must;
- Business Templates: The system you will pick should offer a diversity themes divided into several categories to simplify the search;
- Multilingual Support: If you aim to target an international audience/partners, it is crucial to have a website available in several languages;
- Blog/Forum/eCommerce: Depending on your goals and business type, make sure the software allows connecting a forum, a blog or a web store to your website;
- Affordability: As a beginner, you may not be able to invest a lot into your website creations and maintenance. Thus, the system you will select should offer affordable and versatile subscriptions along with the free trial/plan to test the features and to practice your skills.
That being said, the choice of the best small business platform will hardly be easy. For your convenience, I have already picked three popular systems that offer diverse functionality and parameters.
Best Website Builders for a Small Business Website
If you have explored the web design market and tools available there, you have certainly been impressed by the variety of platforms to choose from. Personally, I have tested many of them and have eventually concluded that Wix, WordPress and Shopify are the undeniable niche leaders.
Wix – is a user-friendly DIY website builder that offers a range of templates and customization options. It works well for small businesses of all types and sizes, from eCommerce stores to blogs and portfolios. The software does not require programming proficiency, which is a bonus for beginners. The list of its business-related features includes:
- Small Business Templates. Wix has a collection of quality templates, which encompasses hundreds of free, responsive, customizable themes for various business categories;
- Ascend by Wix. The Ascend platform is the all-in-one business solution, which grants access to more than 20 professional tools for easy, convenient and hassle-free business management and promotion;
- eCommerce/Blogging. With Wix, you can connect a blog and a web store to your business website, if it has a corresponding specialization. Online store connection is realized via Wix Stores widget integration;
- Wix SEO Wiz. This is another widget Wix has in its App Market. It provides simple guidelines on quality set up of your project SEO parameters;
- App Market. This is the place to find free and premium extensions for any business website you run.
Wix has one of the most generous pricing approaches. Along with a free plan, users may choose from two types of packages, each encompassing more detailed plans. As a business website owner, you need to access the Business/eCommerce package with three plans to choose from. The cost starts at $27/mo.
WordPress – is a popular open-source platform that ensures a high degree of website customization and flexibility. It’s ideal for small businesses that require advanced features and functionality, such as membership or eCommerce sites, for example. However, WordPress is not the simplest web design software and it’s definitely more challenging to use than other systems, especially for people with zero coding experience. The major CMS features are as follows:
- Small Business Designs. WordPress has dozens of business themes in its official catalog yet hundreds of them are also available online. Users may choose from free and premium templates that are designed specifically for the CMS. Just watch out of scammers who may design themes with malware threats (this mostly concerns free designs);
- Small Business Plugins. The software boasts a stunning choice of free and paid business extensions and add-ons. The most popular ones include WPForms, OptinMonster, Sucuri, UpdraftPlus, WP Rocket, MonsterInsights, Yoast SEO, Constant Contact, MemberPress, CSS Hero, LearnDash, G Suite, Shared Counts, WooCommerce etc. It’s up to you to decide which of them will work best for your website;
- Customer Interaction Plugins. In addition to business plugins, WordPress allows integrating customer interaction apps (Live Chat, Zopim Live Chat, uCare, AH Tickets, Zendesk,Support Candy, Help Scout Desk etc.). They will make your project convenient for customers.
WordPress is absolutely free for download and installation. Some of its templates and extensions are free as well. At the same time, you may choose from multiple premium external plugins, themes and integrations.
As an open source software, WordPress does not offer hosting by default. This means that you’ll have to buy it from the third-party provider. HostGator is the best in its niche and this is the host officially recommended by WordPress. There is a separate group of plans for WordPress websites here.
They include unlimited bandwidth, SSL certificates, 24/7 responsive support, one-click WordPress installation, free domain etc. Access to free email accounts, free Google and Bing Ads Credits and enhanced security tools like the Secure Socket Shell Access, the SpamAssassin feature, Cron Job scheduling tool etc, is available here as well. If needed, users can transfer projects between various platforms at no cost. The price of HostGator subscriptions starts at $5.95/mo with the 45-day refund option included.
Shopify – is a solely eCommerce software that enables you to create an online store to sell products/services. It offers a range of features and tools for managing your inventory, shipping, and payments. This is an ideal tool for small businesses that want to focus on selling their products online, although the system is definitely not easy to master and use. The range of Shopify features includes:
- Web Store Management Tools. The system allows choosing from a variety of online store management options and tools. These include access to customer profiles, groups and accounts, dropshipping, email layouts and templates, order fulfillment options etc. They are needed to enhance your web store performance;
- POS Software. Opportunity to sell products online and offline is a must for modern web stores. Shopify offers a powerful Point-of-Sale (POS) software, which provides access to multiple features. These are the use of the external card terminal, offline order acceptance, ability to launch several user accounts, automatic synchronization with Quickbooks and Shopify account, report option etc.;
- Product Management Solutions. With Shopify, you can adjust product management features to provide users with a convenient shopping experience. There is an opportunity to create and update product lists, design the required amount of product cards, integrate and customize a shopping cart, add a “Buy” button etc.;
- eCommerce Integrations. The use of Shopify implies the opportunity to integrate with external platforms and even with global marketplaces. So, if you have an account with Xero, Quickbooks, Amazon and other similar platforms, you are welcome to connect it to your Shopify website for its better performance;
- AR Feature. This is one of the undeniable Shopify highlights. The Augmented Reality tool makes it possible to view the selected products in detail due to the 3D mode provided by default;
- Marketing Features. As a web store owner, you can analyze and view web store statistics, create online receipts, control the account balance, use powerful Shopify features such as App Store, BOGO discounts, Shopify Ping and Shopify Tap & Chip Reader to mention a few.
Shopify pricing policy is above average, but this is reasonable considering the eCommerce specialization of the platform. There is a free trial here that extends for 14 days and four premium subscriptions. Their cost starts at $29 per month when billed annually.
5. Design Your Website
Now that you are done with the choice of the most suitable web design platform, you may proceed to designing a project. The process generally involves several major steps, each of which affects your further website look and performance.
The must-have steps include template choice and customization, content addition and adjustment of SEO parameters. Let’s review each of these steps in detail now.
Choose a Template
Most website builders offer a range of templates to choose from. This is their distinctive feature that differs them from other web design solutions. Template selection is one of the most crucial steps, however, as this is a kind of a starting point for your website design, layout and structure.
When choosing a template, look for one that aligns with your business brand, specialization and style. Fortunately, most website builders take care of users’ convenience, dividing the available templates into niche categories.
Customize the Design
As soon as you pick a template, you will need to proceed to its customization. Most website builders offer a drag-and-drop editor that allows adding, removing and rearranging elements on your website. You should customize your project design to match your brand color scheme, font, and style.
Some systems (like Wix) may simplify the project editing approach by offering an advanced Wix ADI tool. This is the Artificial Intelligence tool that can create a website in the intuitive way, using the submitted content.
At the same time, there are more complex platforms like WordPress that require baseline coding skills to get started with your website. Keep that in mind, when choosing the system.
They say, “Content is the King”. This is the fact that does not require any confirmation. The content is what users are looking for. Thus, it should be clear and informative yet concise and engaging at a time. It should initially answer the questions of the target audience, provide value, and persuade potential clients to take action.
Mind that each website page should complete a certain goal and provide specific information. Here are the major pages your project should include to comply with the needs of the target audience:
- Homepage: The page should provide an overview of your business and its value proposition;
- About Us page: The page should provide information about your business’s history, mission, achievements and values;
- Products/Services page: The page should showcase your products or services and contain extra details like pricing, product parameters, descriptions, photos and other special features;
- Contact page: The page should include your business’s contact info, such as physical address (if any), email, phone number, social network accounts etc.
Adjust SEO Parameters
The next point to set up is Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which is essential for driving traffic to your website. SEO encompasses website content and structure optimization for higher ranking of your project in search engine results. To optimize your website for SEO, you should complete the following steps (this is a must for any website):
- Conduct keyword research to identify relevant keywords and phrases for promotion;
- Optimize your project content with keywords and meta tags;
- Use descriptive and business-related URLs along with web page titles;
- Optimize images available on each page.
An important step is to make sure your website is mobile-responsive and has a fast loading speed. Check these parameters and adjust them, if needed.
6. Select the Subscription
Most web design platforms imply certain budget investment. This depends on the system you pick and on the goals you set.
To be able to go live with your website, you will have to select a subscription. Generally, there are several plans to choose from that include various tools, terms, features and special services.
Take your time to review each subscription and compare the available offers to finally select a plan that meets your business needs and budget.
By the way, open source CMS like WordPress are mostly free. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can set up a website at no cost here. To create a full-featured website and to go live with it, you won’t go without plugin integration, hosting/domain/template choice. Consider this in advance.
7. Connect the Domain Name
A domain name is your website address on the internet. The need to connect it to your project depends on the type of platform you choose.
Most website builders are all-in-one systems that include hosting and domain. When using Wix and Shopify, for example, you won’t have to bother about domain choice as these systems offer integrated hosting and make it possible to register a domain at once. Some platforms even let first-time users select a domain name and use it for free for the first year of use.
The situation is quite different, when it comes to using WordPress, for instance. As mentioned above, the CMS does not include hosting by default. As a result, you have to pick a third-party host for your website and follow the guidelines to connect it.
8. Test and Preview the Result
To make sure your website functions correctly and is ready for publication, you should test and preview it well. Check the website for broken links, web pages and images. Test it on different devices (mobile and desktop) to ensure it’s absolutely mobile-responsive. If needed, make the required edits and then go live with the project.
9. Publish the Website
Once you’ve tested and previewed your website, it’s time to publish it. Make sure the content and design of your project are complete and up-to-date before going live with it. You should also ensure your website is optimized for SEO and has a clear call-to-action (CTA) to persuade visitors to complete any actions.
10. Maintain and Update the Website
Setting up a website is not a one-time task. Keep in mind that the project requires ongoing maintenance and updates. To keep your website running smoothly, you should regularly update its content, adding new articles, blog posts, products/services, business news, events etc.
Additionally, you have to monitor your project performance to control the amount of website traffic, conversion and bounce rates, traffic sources etc. Maintain your website security via adding SSL Certificates and strong passwords. Another thing to remember is to regularly backup your website data to prevent data loss. These are must-have aspects for any business website.
Launching a small business website may be a challenge, especially if this is the first time you set up this type of project. At the same time, this is an essential step in establishing a strong online presence and reaching your target audience effectively.
To create a full-featured project, you need to identify your goals, target audience, and the type of website you need. The right choice of the web design platform is crucial as well. There are DIY website builders (either all-in-one or specialized) and CMS yet they differ in complexity, integrated functionality and pricing approach.
When it comes to the very process of website customization, you will have to bother about template choice, its customization, quality integrations, creation and adding of compelling content, setting up eCommerce features (if needed) etc. Special attention should be given to hosting choice and domain connection.
Now that you have a comprehensive understanding of the process, it’s time to take action and proceed to your small business website creation. Don’t hesitate to seek additional resources, tutorials, and professional help if required. Anyway, a well-designed website can significantly contribute to your business success.