Today, every entrepreneur, small business owner, home-based business owner, and anyone selling products or services must have a presence on the Internet. If you don’t already, make launching a business website your key goal for the coming year.

Regardless of your other marketing methods, enabling potential customers to either find you through a Google search or learn more about you after they’ve seen your other marketing material is key to creating and developing new customers.

If you’re selling online services or products, having a website is obvious. But even if you don’t sell anything directly online, the website can serve as an extension of your business card, with information about you, your business, and services offered. Most important, your website should detail your background, experience, and other credentials to give you credibility and give potential customers more confidence when deciding whether or not to deal with you.

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Creating a website for your small business can be easier than you think. You can do it yourself if you are so inclined or need to keep costs down, you can get a friend to help, or you can hire a Web developer to do it for you at a modest cost if you use available content management software instead of having a website custom developed for you.

Whether you do it yourself or hire someone to do it for you, it will be easier if you understand these steps, which are an important part of the process to create your small business website.

1. Decide the purpose for your website

The first step is to decide what your website is going to do for you.

It may be fairly static (i.e., no new content added periodically) and simply provide more information to potential clients about your services and credentials if they want to check you out online.

Or, you may want to use it for information about your company and provide articles or information you’ve written to provide useful information to clients and potential clients. You may even chose to start a blog to interest and engage potential customers as part of your overall social media strategy.

Of course, you might also want to sell products and services directly online.

Knowing what you plan on doing with your website is an important first step because it will guide you on how to develop it going forward. Keep in mind, it’s not a static thing and even if you start off without online sales, for instance, it can be relatively easy to add that at a later date.

Whether you write a blog initially or not, you should consider how you will eventually use your website. At some point you may decide that a blog will be a good way to generate interest and attract visits who will then see your company’s services or product. It’s also a great tie-in to other social media techniques you use.

Be sure to also read What Is the Purpose of Your Website?

2. Choose your web content management software

Based on what you want to do with your website, you have several choices in software. Many of them are even free (open source) with minimal costs for various add-ons. You would probably be surprised at how many of the websites you visit use one of these solutions, either stock or customized.

E-Commerce 

If your primary purpose is e-commerce, particularly for products, you should select software which is specifically designed for e-commerce. However, if e-commerce is only a small part of your website’s purpose, you can get free or low-cost add-ons that work with the most popular free content management software discussed below, Joomla! and WordPress.

For examples of free e-commerce application, visit the following solutions:

Joomla!

Joomla! is free content management software that gives you a great deal of flexibility; however, as with all similar software, your website will be limited in how it’s structured.

While to a pure Web developer, this is a constraint they may not like, the templates available for Joomla that affect their visual appearance and functionality are extensive and it is likely you will find one that meets your needs. For live examples of Joomla websites, visit their Community Showcase

In addition to templates, there are thousands of add-ons which give you a great deal of functionality for your website with no programming and very little effort. While many are free, some of the better ones will cost you from $20 to $200 or so. In some cases the free version doesn’t have as many features as the paid version, so be sure to carefully review the features available. If you want to browse the add-ons, visit Joomla’s Extensions Directory.

As a content management system, the idea of Joomla is to avoid needing to code a website from scratch. It also enables very easy changes and updates going forward, something even you could do yourself, with a little assistance on occasion from a Web developer.

While it is possible and relatively easy to install and set up Joomla yourself, it will be time consuming, particularly if this is the first time you’ve done it. At the very least, consider finding a Web developer with experience in Joomla who can do it for you.

WordPress

Similar to Joomla, WordPress is an easy-to-use content management system. It also uses templates to give it different looks and add-ins to provide you with additional functionality.

A key difference with WordPress is that its core design is as a blog. While you can use it just like Joomla with regular webpages, its main homepage or even a specific page you select can be set up as an easy-to-use blog with all the typical features you see in the ones you might read today.

You can also get many plugins for WordPress that add functionality, just like Joomla. That includes e-commerce, social media, picture galleries, memberships, podcasts, videos, newsletters, and much more. You can browse many of the WordPress plugins at their Plugin Directory or do a Google search for the functions you want. You will probably be surprised at what is available.

As with Joomla, you may want to consider hiring a Web developer to do the initial setup for you at a minimum.

3. Choose a web host

Once you decided on your software, you need to choose a Web host, the remote location where your website and related software will be held and made available to visitors.

Your choice of website host will depend in part on the software you choose but also on the speed and number of visits you expect to receive. With some companies, you can start off with less expensive but less powerful shared hosting services and, if required, you can step up to faster and more powerful dedicated hosting. This option is something you should consider when choosing a host, even if you start with the least expensive option.

Another consideration, particularly if you are setting up your website yourself, is whether your host provides for automatic installation of your chosen content management software. Most of the popular hosting services will enable you to do this with the click of a button. And in most cases you can use the same host from more than one website.

If you are doing it yourself, the host’s support services should be an important consideration. While few, if any, will support the software, the hosting application and related issues can be complicated.

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Michel Theriault is an author, speaker, and consultant focusing on topics relevant to Managers and aspiring Managers in businesses of all sizes who want to get results, get attention, and get ahead. He is the author ofWrite To Influence (from the Quick Guides for Managers series), Win More Business – Write Better Proposals and Managing Facilities & Real Estate