Fortunately the process for getting your business online isn't as complicated as it may first seem to be, and can be broken down into these simple steps:
1. Research and Register a Domain NameIdeally, you’ll find a suitable domain name for your business at the same time that you choose and register your business name. Use an online domain name registrar to search for and purchase the preferred domain name for your business as soon as possible.
2. Determine What Your Website Will Need to Do for Your BusinessYour website is a tool and should only exist if it provides some kind of value for your business. If all your website needs to do is provide basic company information and contact details, then a simple brochure-style website will suit your needs. However, if you need something more extensive that incorporates a blog, third-party plugins, or e-commerce functionality, then the scope of your website project will be much larger.
Make sure that you are very clear about what you need from your website – separating the “must haves” from the “nice to haves” – so you can make an informed decision about picking a website platform to suit those requirements, and to make sure that your website project stays within scope and on budget.
3. Decide Whether to Hire HelpTo create a website, you have two choices: you can do it yourself, or you can hire someone to do it for you. If you decide to build your website yourself, pre-designed themes for self-hosted WordPress sites and fully-hosted services such as Squarespace will allow you to do so with little or no knowledge of HTML or other coding languages.
However, while the DIY route may be cost-effective, it can also be very time-consuming. If you would prefer to hire a web designer or developer instead, you have a number of options. On the less expensive end, you can hire a student. Having a student build your website should cost less than hiring an experienced web professional, but keep in mind that they may lack certain skills and their availability may be limited by academic commitments.
Alternatively, you can also hire a freelance web professional, or if your websites requirements are extensive (and your budget can afford it), you may need to hire a web design agency for the most comprehensive set of resources, skills and services.
See How to Design and Build Your Website for more information on how to make the best decision about who to hire to help you build your business’ website.
4. Find a Hosting CompanyIf you plan on building your website on your own, you’ll need to look at web hosting providers. A web host provides space online for you to store and serve up your website files to visitors.
There are many hosting options available – the host that you choose will depend on how your website is built (for instance, if you’re building your website on WordPress, does the web host support that platform?), and how much bandwidth you will consume every month (do you anticipate a lot of traffic, or do you plan on posting large media files on your site?).
While changing your web host after you’ve launched your site is possible, try to pick one now that supports your current needs, as well as your anticipated future needs.
If you’re working with a web developer or designer, they may provide web hosting as a part of their services. Be sure to confirm this at the outset of your project.
5. Determine What Content Management System You Will UseIf you hire someone to help you build your website, they may have a content management system (CMS) that they prefer for website development. A CMS provides a way for you to log into and simply update the content on your website without any knowledge of HTML. Some widely used CMSes include Drupal, WordPress and Expression Engine.
Before you proceed with development, make sure that the CMS will suit you needs (ask your web designer or developer for a demo before you’re committed to it) so you can have the control you need to update content on your website without constantly relying on external support.
6. Develop Your Website ContentUnfortunately, website content doesn’t appear out of thin air – somebody has to create it. Never assume that your web developer or designer will do it for you. If you don’t feel comfortable writing effective content and copy for your website, then you may want to hire a copywriter to work with you.
Keep in mind that content includes more than just words – it also includes images, audio, and videos. You’ll want to make sure that any media you post on your website is professional and appropriately placed for the context. Also, avoid stock photos wherever possible. Your customers want to see images that are a true representation of your business.
7. Research Legal IssuesKeep in mind that the rules that to a normal business apply to online business as well, but there are legal concerns specifically related to doing business online, so be sure to consult your lawyer. A legal professional can help you create relevant contracts, website terms and conditions, end user agreements, and anticipate and intellectual property issues.
8. Integrate E-commerceDo you plan on selling goods or services through your website? If so, you’ll need to decide how you will collect the funds, and if you’ll need a merchant account or payment processor. You’ll likely need a shopping cart tool as well, and you’ll want to verify that the web host you chose can support it. Above all, you’ll want to make sure you have business processes in place to manage and fulfill online orders.
Consider consulting with a web developer for qualified advice on what e-commerce solution will best suit your requirements.
9. Launch and Maintain Your WebsiteThe switch is flipped and your website is live! Now you need to make sure that people can find it and that you’re measuring your online growth.
See 5 Myths of SEO Busted for tips on improving your website’s search engine optimization, and see How to Install Google Analytics for information on how to set-up analytics for your website so you can track your visitor traffic patterns over time.