SME operators are often very time-poor, and setting up (let alone maintaining) a website takes a lot of effort.

Having a website isn’t just about making sure people know where to find you.

Research has found at least half of consumers who made an online purchase bought an additional product even though it offered no extra value. Selling products on your website offers consumers convenience and increases your potential customer base.

However, getting a website up and running isn’t a walk in the park. Roughly 20% of SMEs who had a website in 2010 abandoned it a few years later.

So what’s going wrong? Here are some things to keep in mind so that your journey into the online sphere isn’t a flop.

1. Don’t rush

Many business owners rush to get a website and in doing so make mistakes that could otherwise be avoided. It may seem obvious but you should be clear about your ultimate objectives.  

In an ideal world your marketing plan would happen before your website.

Reardon says a business owner will see a competitor ahead of them on Google’s search results or stumble across a similar business with a really nice website and think they have to get a website as soon as possible. In doing so, the business risks blowing their budget.

“A really critical thing is small businesses spending 50 times what they need to on their website because they had the wrong platform,” he says.

“It’s really important that the right platform is chosen. You need truly impartial and holistic advice on this stuff. Specialists are great if you know that’s what you want, but most small businesses don’t know what they want.”

Reardon’s tip is to go to what he calls a “digital generalist” if you don’t know where to begin. This is someone who has a wide range of knowledge and can point you in the right direction if necessary – similar to how you go to a GP first and then a specialist doctor if need be.

2. Have a digital strategy

Reardon’s other key piece of advice is to have a plan – similar to how you would plan ahead for any other aspect of your business.

“It never ceases to amaze that how back of mind [having a website] really is,” he says.

“The digital world is just so complex these days – it gets put on the backburner because it’s just so hard. Most want to get their head around it but by the time they do it changes.”

Reardon says having a digital strategy means your website is more likely to work effectively with your social media channels as well as your bricks-and-mortar store.

“Digital is a result of business and marketing planning – it’s not a stand-alone thing. If you’re doing digital planning without those it will never happen.”

SME operators are often very time-poor, and setting up (let alone maintaining) a website takes a lot of effort. Reardon suggests working on a digital strategy during a business’s down-time or quieter moments.

“Whatever the quiet period in the year is for your business, make that the time to pull out your business plan,” he says.

“The digital world isn’t in isolation, it really is part of the marketing mix. They need to be pulled together so they’re talking to one another.”

3. Treat your website as more than just a phone listing

Fiona Stager, co-owner of Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane, knows all about putting the time and effort into building a website.

“About three years ago we decided to put a lot more resources into our website,” she says.

“It took a lot of time, energy and expense. But now our stock-listing is available on our website and we use it a lot for our events.”

Her advice to fellow business owners is to treat their website like an online community. That way, customers will be more inclined to come back to the website. Avid Reader does this by ensuring the website is updated regularly with events and reviews.

“We always try and have something that is community-related and book-related on the website like the local school fete,” she says. “We try and make it more than just a bookshop.”

Avid Reader’s website also links to the businesses social media accounts, encouraging an ongoing relationship on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

Andy Williamson is the co-founder of BeerBud, an online marketplace aimed at making it easier for Australians to find and purchase craft beer. Because the business is entirely online, a key strategy is having a website that customers enjoy visiting.

Williamson says while he is still learning and by no means an expert, his journey into the online sphere has taught him a lot.

“A website has to be so much more these days than just purchasing a product and checking out,” he says.

“That’s what we’ve considered best practice and that’s what we’ve done.”

4. If outsourcing, find the right option

Williamson says there were definitely some hurdles to overcome when building the BeerBud website, something that is not uncommon for SMEs and startups.

“We’ve been through all these trials and tribulations,” he says. “We tried to outsource it initially to a bunch of developers in Argentina that we thought were competent.”

Eventually, Williamson ended up paying a local web developer to build a “completely bespoke” website.

Avid Reader also paid an external developer to build their website and look after it if something goes wrong.

“Find someone who can speak non-geek,” she says with a laugh. “Our guy is really good and understanding.”

Stager says business owners should also shop around and should know what they’re getting for their money.

“You really do need to get quotes and be very particular,” she says. “If something goes wrong who pays for that? It’s easy to spend a whole lot of money and not get what you want.”

Stager says another good tip is to look at websites for similar businesses, discuss what you like about them, and forward the notes on to the person designing your website.

5. Be prepared for something to go wrong

The online world isn’t perfect. Just like a bricks-and-mortar store, something is bound to go wrong eventually.

Stager says websites can crash and sometimes you realise a section of the website isn’t quite right.

“It’s about having a contingency plan – making sure your data is backed up so if you do lose an email list you can restore that,” she says.

“Do a little bit of homework and ask a lot of questions.”

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