Creating a 24/7 Sales Machine
“The sooner we drop the ‘e’ out of ‘e-commerce’ and just call it commerce, the better.”
Bob Willett, Former President, Best Buy
Before the pandemic, websites and e-commerce were “nice to haves” for many small businesses. A year later, it became pretty evident that the shift from physical stores to online ones accelerated by at least five years during this historic event. Consumers expect to be able to shop online, if not place an order online. They value the safety, security and convenience of visiting a website, finding just the product they were looking for and completing a transaction without even grabbing the keys to the car.
This trend will accelerate in the years to come, and businesses will need to adjust their strategies to deal with it.
By 2023, experts predict almost a quarter of all retail sales will be online. Global e-commerce is already a $4 trillion sales machine. As you restart and rebuild, you need to think about building a website and e-commerce strategy into your business model. The Internet is going to continue to transform the way we conduct business. As the former head of Best Buy said so well, we should all just remove the ‘e’ in front of e-commerce because it is just commerce now. The lines between traditional and online commerce are becoming increasingly blurred to the point of irrelevancy.
Sadly, 6 out of 10 small businesses don’t have at least a rudimentary web presence yet. Worse, almost 75% don’t have the ability to conduct online sales. The numbers don’t lie. Eighty percent of Americans do online research before making a purchase, whether on a business’ website or in their store. That’s roughly 230 million people researching products, services and businesses, comparing prices and making purchasing decisions.
That’s just in the United States. Ninety-five percent of all customers and two-thirds of the world’s purchasing power is overseas.
A website is essential for any small business these days. It serves as a lead generation tool that allows you to build relationships and attract new customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It expands your reach from a customer down the street to one who is halfway across the world.
When managed and marketed effectively, a website becomes an extension of your physical business, allowing you to compete against even the most well-known and well-financed companies out there. Websites and e-commerce are great equalizers in many respects, as no one knows how big or small your company is; you are judged on your image, service, selection, pricing, support and execution.
If you were to look behind the curtain of many of the businesses you buy from online, you might be surprised at their size. Some are even one-person shops, but you would never know it, in large part because you see a terrific website and online store, not the kitchen table and garage that serve as the company’s headquarters and fulfillment center. That is the beauty and power of the web and e-commerce.
You don’t have to break the bank to be online either. Building a website is a lot easier than it used to be. You don’t need to be a coding whiz. Everything is pretty much plug-and-play these days. And if you don’t have the time to do it yourself, you can hire someone at just about any price point imaginable.
We’re not going to bore you with all the nuts and bolts of building a website. We have created an excellent tutorial that walks you through that process in-depth. Your takeaways in this lesson should be that 1) a website is a vital part of your business and marketing strategy, 2) it is easy to set up and maintain, and 3) done right, will give you a strong return on your investment.
Let’s begin by going over some of the basics.
- Start with a clear goal
Before you go another step, think about the purpose of your site. How does it fit into your business? Is it meant to generate leads? Influence consumer opinion? Increase awareness? Communicate with stakeholders? Provide education? Build relationships or increase sales? Understanding what you want your site to do before you go any further will ensure that the finished site supports your business model and focus.
- What you’ll need
There are several parts to a website. You should be familiar with these terms since web design firms will use them in conversations with you. You don’t need to become an Internet whizkid, but you don’t want to look like a deer in headlights either when they are used.
- Domain name. This is the name of the website. Think microsoft.com, cnn.com, facebook.com. It serves as the business address on the Internet.
- This is where all your files are located for your website. It’s like a warehouse for data. You rent this space from a company known as a Server Host.
- Internet Protocol (IP) address. This is the numerical address of your server. When you enter a domain name, the Internet uses it to find the corresponding numerical address for your server (126.96.36.199, for instance) and loads the files that create a web page into your computer’s browser. It’s a lot like a post office where the mailman delivers the letter with your name on it (domain name) to the street address (the IP).
- Content Management System (CMS). Your content, images, videos, etc., are all individual files stored on your server. The CMS stitches all of these together and turns them into a specific web page that someone requests. The most popular CMS is WordPress, which drives about 40% of the web these days.
Professional Tip: It is highly recommended that you don’t go with a ready-made solution like Wix or Squarespace that makes it look super easy to build a site yourself but then locks you into a package that has limited expansion potential and can’t be moved to another server host if you become dissatisfied.
- Theme. This is what makes your site visually appealing. It is all the digital files that create the look of your site. A great choice is Divi by Elegant Themes. Every bit of it is customizable, so your site will look original. Best of all, it lets you update your site visually on the front side, so you can see what you’re adding or changing in real-time before you save it.
- Plug-ins. These add specific features to your website that add functionality to your CMS like customer support, e-commerce, automatic backups and site security.
- This is officially known as a Secure Sockets Layer. When you see ‘https’ at the beginning of a website or a lock icon that is closed, it means the site is secure enough to handle customer data and credit card transactions.
- E-commerce. This feature lets customers buy products or services from you in a secure, real-time environment, including the ability to accept payments. We have a great tutorial on e-commerce and how to sell online.
- Hiring an expert
Building a website from scratch is not something you want to tackle on your own. There are plenty of excellent web design companies out there that you can hire on a fixed-cost contract. The costs vary widely, so you’ll want to shop around a bit. To get an apples-to-apples set of bids, you’ll want to create a detailed outline of what you’d like to have on your website since there are many ways to accomplish the same thing, some at higher cost than others.
If this sounds daunting, don’t worry. We’ll give you some inside tips in this lesson to help you work with a design firm and maximize your ROI.
So let’s start with the central question: Who’s going to build the thing?
There are two ways to go here. First, you can hire locally. This is an excellent option if you want to be a little more hands-on and support other businesses in your community. In smaller communities, these firms can be very affordable. If you live in a suburban or urban center, you may want to stay away from the larger design companies as they are set up to handle larger accounts. You want to choose someone who will be able to do a bit more hand-holding, such as a boutique design firm or even a freelancer.
If you’re open to working with a firm remotely, you can find some terrific talent on freelancer sites such as Upwork.com or Guru.com. These sites give you access to experts all over the world, so you may find a great company or gig worker in another country that can provide you with expertise, value and service.
One of the great things about sites like these is that clients provide written feedback on the contractor and rate them so you can get a feel for their ability to deliver on your project. These sites also hold your money in escrow so you can hire someone with confidence, knowing that your funds are held in trust.
Before we dive into how you should work with an outside provider, let’s review a few quick tips that will make the job easier and allow you to get the biggest bang for your buck.
1. Always get at least three quotes for a project. Prices, capabilities and services can vary widely. If you can’t compare two bids item-for-item, ask the bidder for additional clarifications.
2. Require all bids to be fixed cost. If you’ve done your homework, this should be easy because you’ve already outlined what you want. Whatever you do, don’t go the hourly rate route. Many companies will try to lowball you with a low rate and then nickel and dime you at every step along the way. You will also want to specify how many rounds of reviews you get to make changes since this will affect the price.
3. Make sure the potential contractor breaks out all the costs for the initial build, hosting fees, additional site upgrades if you are phasing the work, such as adding e-commerce later, etc.
4. If they pay for the server setup, SSL certificate, plug-ins or anything else on your behalf, be clear that you want access to the logins and be listed as the legal owner of these features.
5. This is particularly true for your domain name. If you haven’t registered a domain name yourself, ask your contractor to point you in the right direction to do it. Never let your contractor register your domain name for you. Some sneaky companies do this, and their name ends up on the ownership record, not yours. If your relationship sours, it can be a nightmare to get the ownership changed to you.
6. Ask for references and contact information for other clients the bidder has worked with so you can get feedback firsthand. If they are reluctant to give these to you, find another contractor.
7. If you are adding e-commerce, make sure you hire someone who has created other e-commerce sites. There are a lot of steps involved here that a first-timer shouldn’t tackle.
8. Ask that the copyrights and ownership of all design work, programming, content and imagery be assigned to you that is not proprietary to the company or third-party vendors.