How to build a website for your business

Using the likes of Facebook and Instagram as shopfronts for your business could prove costly, says David Prosser. Here's what to do instead.

For most people, this month’s outage at Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp was simply an inconvenience. But for small businesses that depend on these networks to make online sales, the six hours they were down meant six hours of no trading and no revenues.

That might just prompt some small businesses to question the extent to which they have become dependent on the social-media giants. From Instagram’s Storefront service to all the tools built into Facebook and WhatsApp, these networks take much of the hard work out of e-commerce for small firms, which don’t even need their own websites. That’s fine – until the networks go down.

Many e-commerce experts say small businesses now need to build their own web presence. That doesn’t mean dispensing with the Facebook approach, which offers genuine advantages; but also setting up your own presence online, independently of the social networks.

The good news is that you don’t need any specialist coding skills to build a website. There is a competitive industry of website builders, each offering a range of features and pricing options. Their most basic plans are free, but even for a full e-commerce set-up, you shouldn’t be paying more than £20 to £30 a month. Builders aim their services at beginners. They provide hundreds of templates for the look of your website, with tools that make it easy to customise the site for your needs. You can usually import your own photography and access the tools to start driving traffic to your site. 

In particular, website builders will help you with search-engine optimisation (SEO), the process of ensuring you feature prominently in web searches. It is also important to look for a website builder that offers the level of help you are likely to need. In particular, if you’re building a full-scale e-commerce site, make sure the help desk is available round the clock. You don’t want to miss out on sales because there is a problem with your website that you can’t fix quickly.

Most website builders offer several price plans. Their basic services – often free – will help you create a presence, but you won’t be able to do much with it. If you want a website with which customers can interact – particularly if you want to sell online – you’ll need to pay for a higher level of service. That said, the free plans can be a good way to try a new builder out. Once you’ve decided it will meet your needs, you can upgrade to the pricing plan you need.

The independent website Startups singles out six website builders, with Wix taking the title of best all-round provider, followed by Squarespace and Weebly. Wix’s prices start at £3 a month, rising to £22 a month for its Business VIP package, which offers full e-commerce functionality, continuous support and significant storage. The deal also comes with marketing support, such as the ability to build email campaigns.

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