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How to get your small business set-up online

Launching a small-business website needn’t be expensive – and it should give your company a boost.

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Get an SSL certificate if you want to offer online shopping

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In this digital age, some two million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) still don't have even a basic website. That may be because many overestimate the expense of setting one up. But the process has become much cheaper in the past few years, so in many cases even a very modest sales uptick from an online presence will now deliver a positive return on investment.

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SMEs contemplating their first online presence typically have two options. One is to hire a professional website designer, who will do all the work for you according to your specifications. Alternatively, you could build the site yourself, using one of the many website builder platforms now available online; these are usually very simple to use, even if you have no particular technology expertise.

The former is more expensive. A basic website might cost you between £500 and £1,000, depending on your requirements; if you want e-commerce capabilities so you can sell online, expect to pay more up to £2,500 or so. The most complicated and interactive sites, normally designed for larger businesses, will be pricier.

In addition to these design costs, there will be some administrative charges, such as the cost of your domain name your business's address online. These vary according to the desirability of the name they can range from around £2.99 a year for a "common" .co.uk address, up to £9.99 for a more customised alternative. You'll also need to pay a hosting service to make your website accessible to internet users. Here, you're effectively renting space on the web, with costs starting at around £10 a month. Bear in mind too that you'll want the site updated regularly, so bank on spending a modest sum on this say £50 a month.

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The DIY version Website builders are cheaper but you need the confidence to use them. Many provide free services if you want the most basic online presence, but most firms will need more. The paid-for services typically cost from around £5 to £10 a month, up to around £30 a month for the most comprehensive versions of the plans. In return for that regular investment, you get access to a broad range of templates to help you design the site, along with additional features such as help with search engine optimisation to ensure you achieve greater prominence in web searches. The ability to update the site continually and full e-commerce functionality are other possible add-ons.

It's worth researching several website builders to find the one that offers the best fit for your business. But a recent survey by the Startups.co.uk website deemed Wix's Unlimited service, costing £8.50 per month, the best all round web builder for SMEs. It also suggested Weebly and Squarespace, which are slightly more expensive, as excellent alternatives.

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One final cost to consider is an extra investment in the code required to get your site an SSL certificate, particularly if you want to offer online shopping. It ensures people can log on securely by encrypting sensitive data. The cost of this code and certification starts at around £15 a year but will give your customers important reassurance and boost the quality of your site in search-engines rankings.

Common mistakes to avoid

Research conducted by the marketing firm Vistaprint last month found that most SME websites fail to stand out from the crowd. A third use the same adjectives over and over again particularly "friendly", "independent", and "family-run". While these are all admirable attributes, if all businesses claim them, they lose their value.

Similarly, almost half the sites in the research use blue as the single colour in their logo, risking blending into the crowd, while many others use more than three fonts, which looks messy and inconsistent.

Finally, remember that a picture paints a thousand words. Many SMEs use no imagery at all on their websites or images irrelevant to their businesses.

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