By Graeme Roberts
If a business calls, or we hear about it, we Google it. If we can’t find it immediately — near the top of the first page — that’s a big red flag. A hundred years ago, you wouldn’t put your money in a bank unless it had a grand stone building with columns. Today, we look for reassurance from a substantial website.
Some distributors say they don’t need a website; most of their customers have been with them for years, and they’re like family. Fair enough, but what about new prospects, let alone the people who are applying for a job you have listed, or the new supplier you are trying to convince to come on board? They all need to see you online!
The Bad Old Days
Building and maintaining a website used to be expensive and time consuming, requiring the services of a designer, a programmer, and probably a photographer, a writer and project manager. Add in a decent profit, and even a simple site could cost tens of thousands of dollars. And not all communities had companies that did that work. Updating the site, which should happen frequently, could require more technical help and more money.
The Good News
Today, any proficient computer user can build and maintain a website, provided it is not too complicated. Online website builders like Squarespace, Weebly, and Wix have developed intelligent software that handles all the technical stuff, and guides users through the process. They offer templates, tailored to various businesses, that look great and work well.
I am not particularly technical, but I enjoyed building my business site on Squarespace, and I am delighted with the result. I can update the content myself any time. I pay a small monthly fee, and Squarespace takes care of everything.
What Must Your Website Accomplish?
You may be concerned that a website you built yourself might not be good enough. I listed the things that a website needs to accomplish, to see if a build-it-yourself website could measure up. It comes down to three things: build trust, deliver information, and (maybe) take orders.
Build Trust — We judge character from faces, so you need photographs, but people judge you primarily by suppliers and customers who trust you. List them, and get testimonials.
Deliver Information — What you sell, on what terms, how to use the products.
Take Orders — Most long-time distributors take orders in person or over the phone, but you may want to add e-commerce capabilities for ordering, especially on smartphones.
A Revolution in Building Simple Websites
Everything on that list can be delivered successfully by a build-it-yourself site. Website companies used to tell us that a unique design, corporate brand identity, professional photography, and professional writing are essential to success. Not true! Many website companies are out of business, and some photographers are, too. Not that they weren’t good, but online website software showed we could do very well without them, at least for simple sites. (We are not talking about Amazon or Grainger here, with their complex e-commerce systems.)
Little by Little
When you build your own site, you can do it little by little. Start with a basic set of pages and improve them as you learn and get feedback from users. If you want to take orders on the site, add that functionality when you have the experience. An active website is constantly improving.
You Have the Skills
I am confident that you, someone in your company, or someone you know can do the job. If you need help, there are many inexpensive freelancers who can assist with layout, graphics and writing.
Your suppliers can provide product and application photographs. You can find a huge range of stock photos online. Even smartphone shots can look remarkably good. The website builder companies provide lists of freelancers experienced with their software, and freelance sites, like Upwork, offer professionals in every possible category.
Most people find that writing is the hardest part. There is a real art to saying a great deal in very few words. Most people write too much, and then no one reads it. I am happy to send you links to good articles on these subjects, as well as to answer questions, so don’t hesitate to contact me.
Don’t Mess with Success
The professional designers at the website builder companies have developed good-looking templates for almost every application, carefully combining colors, typefaces, and design styles that work together. Choose one, and don’t try to customize it, which can get messy fast. But if you don’t like the look when you’re finished, you can change templates as quick as a click.
An Active Website is a Healthy Website
I used to ask businesses, “Do you have a website?” That was the wrong question. Now I ask, “Is your website active?” By that, I am asking a lot of questions at once:
Are your products and services up-to-date in every detail?
How about changes in the company team?
Did you list any changes under the “news” tab, and email that news out to your mailing list?
Put it on your calendar to spend half an hour on your website every week, at 3:00 p.m. every Friday, or whatever. Review every page to check that it’s up-to-date and accurate, then fix it. And make sure that every bit of news and helpful advice is sent to everyone on your mailing list, and shown on the news page. I enjoy doing this, and I think you will, too.
Checklist for Building Your Own Website
If you don’t have a website, build one.
Check out Squarespace, Wix, and Weebly website builder software online.
Learn and experiment with the software without publishing the site to the web.
Start with a simple site, and build up from there, little by little.
Get help, if you need it, from friends and freelancers.
Stick to a basic design, and don’t customize it. You can always change the template.
Update your website every week with features, news, and improvements.
Pat yourself on the back. Good job!
Graeme Roberts is a writer and editor in Rochester, N.Y., specializing in marketing for technology companies. He can be reached at www.graemeroberts.com, [email protected] or 585-794-7807.