Taking your business online can be nerve wracking. It doesn’t need to be.
This guide will talk you through everything you need to know about setting up your small business online.
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You’re running your company that you’ve put your of blood, sweat and tears into. You might be thinking, why would I want to put it online and potentially ruin all the good work I’ve done as a local business?
Not only does that scare you, you might have even actively rejected the idea of going online in the past. Now you feel you’ve been backed into a corner and have to go online.
Does it feel like a betrayal of the community you’re a part of?
You serve local customers and take pride in what you do, and you don’t want to open up to a wider pool that you don’t know.
You have an identity as a small business, and you don’t feel ready to expand that.
You haven’t found any benefit in setting up online in the past so you haven’t taken your business any further than the close knit neighbourhood you know and love.
But at the end of the day, there’s one undeniable truth to be found in all this:
Going online is key to growth
You might have heard it all before, but it’s true. Your customers are online, and you can meet them where they are when you’ve got a website to profit from.
If you don’t, you’re likely to miss out on expanding your profit margin and forging connections that really matter.
The typical customer of today likes businesses that are convenient and who can be accessed from the comfort of their own home. This is why it’s so important to at least consider using the internet to make more sales.
A lot of small businesses think that they’ll be fine just operating locally but it rarely works out that way. We’ve seen so many well meaning and well staffed companies go down the pan as a result of this mindset.
Let’s put your worries about going online to bed
Getting your business online doesn’t equal the end of your local customer base – you can still serve them!
Once you’re up and running, maintaining your online presence will form part of your normal day to day tasks. You’d be surprised at just how easily your website will fit into your current schedule.
Physical shops on the highstreet can set up an ecommerce website
For physical shops who love the high street, you can easily set up an ecommerce (where you have a basket and people can buy straight from the website) store front.
Running your business from your home
If you’re offering a service or selling products out of your home, you can benefit from having an online profile as well. It could be ecommerce or what we call a brochure website where you show off what you can do and get people to enquire.
Even operating a social media page alone goes a long way for people working from their home.
People will be able to find you online and learn all about what you can offer them, even without any conscious effort from you.
Here’s the long and short of it
Running a business takes a lot of effort. Going online could take some of the effort you usually do when interacting with customers.
Let’s walk you through the steps it takes to go online to make this process much more convenient for you.
How can I put my business online?
We’re not going to sit here and say it’s the easiest thing in the world, because it’s not if you’re not used to the online world. But it’s not as hard as you might think it is. Once you get your head around it, it’s easy enough to do with some time.
With modern website builders and domain hosting websites it’s actually easier than it’s ever been to go online. You can even get up and running within just a couple hours, but you’ll have to keep updating your website for years to come to see it become a success.
If this sounds intimidating right now just keep in mind that you’ve been running a business successfully for a while now. The online world is just another marketing platform you can make good use of.
How do I change my business from offline to online?
It’s not as big a jump as you might believe. You just have to take everything you do right now as an offline business and then list it online.
Once you’ve got a website to operate, you can open up an online shop that’s entirely made to order. You’re just making your services or products easier to access and have a wider reach.
There are very few changes you’ll have to make.
Can I start a business online with no money?
Thanks to just how far the technology has come, you don’t need a large budget to make a website for your business. You barely need a budget at all – most website builders have a free tier you can take advantage of.
You may have restricted access to some important features, but once the website starts making money of its own you can upgrade your subscription model.
What is the first step to starting an online business?
Here’s the typical step by step process of what you’ll need to do to get a website up and running.
Pick and register your domain name
The domain name makes up the core part of an online URL, also known as your website’s address. When you type in www., the domain is what comes up next. For example, our domain is tjcreative.co.uk.
As such, the name you come up with is crucial as it represents who you are as a business.
When people look up the products or services you offer, you want to make it to the top of the results they get. Your domain name is a big part of that.
Seeing as you’ve already got a business name you can just use it as your domain name here. But you can choose to change it slightly to make it more online friendly, such as shorten it or include a geographic location like the town you operate in.
Wherever you go to purchase your domain you’ll be able to check if the name is already in use or not.
Sites like GoDaddy are a one stop shop that’ll allow you to both come up with a name, check the price for it, and see if the name or variations of it are already in use.
Now we move onto registering your domain name.
You do this through a registrar and can pay for a certain period of time to hold the domain name for. Most websites will require you to hold the name for at least a year, but you can stretch this period up to 10 years if you’d like to secure the name for the foreseeable future.
Typically, the longer you buy your domain the cheaper it works out to be – there’s usually a discount.
Currently it can cost anywhere between £4.99 and £20 to register a domain.
Some registration sites will discount the domain for the first year but then ask for full price for every year after that.
Think about what you need and want your website to do
Now that the most technical part of taking your small business online is out of the way, it’s time to think about what you want your website to do.
Is it purely a showcase of what you have to offer? Or do you want it to act as a shop too? Or maybe it’ll be a bit of both.
Define your goals from going online and keep them in mind throughout the following steps.
Choose a website builder
As a small business going online for the first time it’ll be best to work with an online website builder.
You could hire a website designer, developer and all round webmaster, but this will be a lot more pricey. A website designed and built from scratch can cost anything from £5,000 – £50,000 depending on what it is you need your website to do.
Going down the website builder route
Builders like WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, or GoDaddy are all popular options but have different features to benefit from.
We highly recommend using WordPress or Wix for your small businesses.
You can use Wix entirely for free for as long as you want to, whereas many other builders only allow users a 14 day free trial.
They also have a lot more design templates to use which allows for much greater customisation.
Then choose your layout carefully
Once you’ve signed up and got your domain name in place, you’ll be faced with needing to actually design the website itself.
First off you’re going to need some staple pages for visitors to click on. Your homepage is an obvious one, but you’ll also need an about us page, a contact page, service pages, product pages and an online shop portal.
You’ll then need to consider how you want your website to look.
What colours do you prefer? What font will you use? Do you want it to be image heavy, featuring a lot of your products? And how do you want people to read it? You can draw the eye simply by using the right format.
Most websites choose the ‘F Pattern’, where viewer focus is pulled to your header, subheading, and then the text body in that order.
Your website builder will do a lot of the heavy lifting here. But the final layout is up to you and can be changed as and when you want to try something new.
It’s so important to make sure your website is nicely structured and easy to look through.
Create content to draw customers in and guide them through your website
What comes first, design or content? Ideally, we say content first. Entirely focusing on writing for your customers has to always be first. Design will elevate the copy and your content will support the design too.
If you’re building your website on the likes of Wix then it may be that you choose a design layout and then write your content.
After putting the general layout of the website together, you’ll need to create some content to fill all of that whitespace.
Your content has to be relevant and relate to your target customer. Imagine you’re in a room with them and write as you would speak with them.
If you’re not sure where to start with creating high quality content that draws the eye, check out our website content writing service.
Boring content will form a bad impression of your business and it won’t draw customers in. You need to get people’s attention and make sure you keep it and want them to read your content.
After all you only have around 2 seconds to impress someone who clicks through to one of your pages.
Let’s help you to create something unique that’ll really leave an impression on your customers. To the point where they have no option but to enquire or buy.
Make your website mobile friendly
Around 50% of all internet traffic comes from mobile searches so you won’t want to forget about these users!
It’s also quite easy to keep them in mind when designing your website.
Within the website builder you use you should be able to preview the way your website looks when accessed from a mobile device.
Make sure you can be found
When your website is up and running, you’ll want to register it on review websites and online directories (such as Google My Business Profile). Not only will this prove you’re a real company, but it’ll help you to build a reputation you can benefit from.
Search engines also tend to use information listed on these sites as part of their search results when someone is enquiring locally.
A customer will be able to read your name, address, opening times, and average reviews.
Connect on social media
If you don’t already have a social media profile, you’ll need to create business pages for your new website. Facebook makes this quite easy, so does Instagram.
It’s best to start off with one or two social medias and really focus on creating content on these. Test different content and see what connects with people – what do people react to, comment on, share or end up following your account.
Make sure your handle is the same or as similar as possible across them to allow your following on each platform to seamlessly integrate.
You can then use these profiles to run adverts, post promotions, and talk to your customers directly.
Your website builder will allow you to include social buttons on your homepage. A user can click on these and be taken straight to your business profiles elsewhere.
Now that’s not all you need to do to be ready for the online world but we’ll get to that later! For now we’re going to answer your next burning question:
How can I make money online?
Now that you’ve got your website set up and ready to work, is it capable of making money? Not instantly, no.
Dedicate enough time into regular content and it could easily begin to get your business seen online and making you cash.
Once you’ve got an online shop ready to use, you just need to focus on the traffic (visitors) your website receives.
The more traffic your website gets, the more money it’s likely to make. What you’re looking to do here is drive up your monthly visitors.
Thankfully there’s a lot you can do to increase your site’s popularity.
Set up your online shop
If it makes sense to sell your service or products straight from your website, set up your online shop.
If people can’t buy directly from the website, or you don’t make it clear how they go about making a purchase, it’ll be hard to drive your traffic up. So make sure you’ve attached a store front to your main page. This can once again be done within the website builder you choose.
Some builders will have their own ecommerce portions you can use, but you’ll be mostly working through supported third party (offsite) merchants. These can include Shopify, Squarespace, and Wix.
You just need to head into settings and find the ecommerce tab and follow the onscreen instructions from there.
If you can’t sell your service or product straight from online
If you need to control the service or product you’re offering; say you have to chat to the customer before they can buy, then don’t go ecommerce.
Make your website informational and show clear ways to contact you.
Link to other marketplaces
You already know you can connect on social media, but did you know you can connect your shop to other marketplaces as well?
For example you can use the Amazon storefront to sell your products whilst still selling them via your own website as well. And once your name is on the Amazon homepage, your business will be out there for millions of new potential customers to see.
You can do this with other sites as well, such as Etsy and Ebay.
Offer exclusivity to online customers
This is a good way to get your offline customers to check you out online. They’re even likely to spend more money when they can just visit your website; once again, it’s far more convenient for them!
Run some promotions via your website that are entirely exclusive. A discount here, a free sample there, and these promotions cannot be accessed in person.
It’ll help you to build your online profile by integrating it with your already established customer base, and who doesn’t just love a bargain?
Connect with your visitors
Once someone has visited your website you have the chance to form a connection with them.
Check your analytics to get started here; these can be found within your website builder or via Google’s own analytics page. Just search for Google Analytics to register your business through it and get measured. Google Search Console is another nice free tool to use to see how people are finding your website (what they’re searching for).
You do this to find out where your customers are coming from. You should be able to check how they found you, and where the greatest amount of traffic is coming from.
If you know what site they’re sourcing you through you can start to target (make content for them) right there.
Establish a mailing list
This is another great way to connect with your visitors. Ask them to leave their name and email address and you can keep them updated on how the site is progressing.
It’s not much to ask of someone, as this information isn’t all that personal, and you can use it to send promotions, offers, and exciting content their way.
This is a form of direct marketing (selling to a person straight from your business) that really works. You deliver something tantalising straight to their inbox they can just click through to make good use of.
You’ll need to make sure you also include the ability to unsubscribe to ensure you comply with data protection laws.
Start running ads
This is one of the most effective ways to put your website in front of your audience (potential customers).
Paying to place your business front and centre on search results and social media can mean you’re the first click a person will make when looking for a company like yours.
You can also sponsor bloggers to write about a select product or two. If you send them something to try out they can review it, or you can pay them to try out your services in front of their audience.
It’s a good way to capitalise on niche specialisation and often works out cheaper than paying for impressions (views) on social media sites.
Should you set up a blog as well?
Now that you’ve monetised your website you’ll have to consider something else: whether to write your own blogs or not.
Starting a blog is a huge part of targeting your audience and it ensures you’re regularly checking in with your website. Why? Because high quality content attracts more views than a paid ad ever will.
Not only that – blog content also attracts a regular stream of traffic.
Content is so important!
Compared to an advertising campaign, which often results in traffic that dips down when the campaign runs its course, regular content has a much stronger chance of pushing your website to the front page.
It helps you to build a steady following across all platforms and it may even result in backlinks. This is a link someone else posts on their website that leads to yours, and it’s one of the best signs that your content is valuable and popular.
What happens next?
You’ve got it all: the domain name is registered, you’ve designed a website you’re proud of, you’ve taken your ecommerce platform live, and you’re keen to get blogging. What do you do now?
Keep creating content
You already know just how important your website’s content is, and guess what? Your website always needs a fresh stream of content.
We know this can be overwhelming, so we highly recommend following a content schedule. This will ensure you stay on target and always have something to publish through your blog.
Then, when you’ve had a good run of content it’s time to analyse your content and measure its success.
Creating a content schedule
Do you know how often you can writer and publish new blogs on your website?
How many times a week do you think you could post on social media?
For now you’ll likely only want to build your traffic numbers and boost engagement (how much your audience interacts with you).
Don’t worry too much about what channels you’ll use to do this; focus on your blog for now and use your social media profiles to promote this.
As for the schedule itself, most businesses start with once a week as this ensures there’s a regular stream of content for readers to pick from. But you can steadily build this to two, three, or four times per week as you get into the rhythm.
Take some time to find the optimum number by posting at different times and at different rates.
Create an SEO strategy
Now we need to focus on getting your website and blog found. To do this you’re going to need an SEO (search engine optimisation) strategy.
SEO is the method through which websites get themselves ranked on Google and other search engines.
When a user taps in a search term the engine will then ping back a list of results that most often mention the same term, or slight variations of it. It’s an entirely organic way of generating traffic without needing to pay for any placements or visibility.
Known as keywords or key phrases, these help you to define your business and the content you create through it.
When someone uses the internet to search for something, they’re likely to tap in these core terms. Doing some research into your related keywords and which ones have the largest volume (searched for the most by people) will help you to pick what to target.
Our SEO content writing service can help you to find the best strategy for you.
We use SEO to market our own website – it’s our main source of new business – so we know just how important it is to get it right.
Within our service we’ll be able to help you research the right keywords to use as well as integrate them into your content, and then monitor the results to see just how many more clicks you’re getting.
Update your website regularly
Once you’ve got all of these key elements in place, you need to keep on updating your website.
For example once you’ve published a post on your blog, check it again in a few months time to see if the content is still accurate and relevant.
Make sure you’re regularly reviewing the website content on your homepage and associated tabs. You want it to reflect your business as is.
You don’t want to just list what you do or how well you do it, you want to be able to show visitors that your products and services are worth it.
Would you feel better if you had someone by your side to get you started online?
We’d love to help you start the next chapter with your business.
Scroll on down to our contact form and reach out to us.
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