Top 3 Secrets for Planning a Small Business WebsiteI have to confess, this is something I’ve been itching to write for quite awhile. I’ve been designing and developing websites my entire career. And in that time I’ve had the unfortunate opportunity of witnessing some of the most epic failure from small businesses when it comes to getting online.

Don’t get me wrong, my objective here is not to blow off steam, but rather to help small business owners not make the same mistakes I keep seeing over and over again as a Web professional. I call these secrets because they’re something most Web professionals know, but won’t all admit.

My advice here is exclusively for small businesses looking to get online. I’m not talking to specialized online businesses whose website is tied to their business model (e.g. emerging social networks and online applications) or businesses with considerable budgets allocated for digital marketing.

1. Don’t Buy a Custom Website

First of all, I know how this sounds. Here, the guy who makes a living creating custom websites is discouraging them. But what’s crazier are people who believe they need something when they really only want it and Web professionals who will take their money and run. The truth is the majority of small businesses don’t need a custom website right out of the gate.

This is by far the hardest thing for small business owners to accept, especially if they have money to spend, and ironically it’s the most important thing they do accept.

A lot of times small business owners have a great idea, they’re the best at what they do, they deserve to be recognized as an industry leader and they immediately think they need the biggest, baddest website on the internet – not necessarily true.

Just as it’s inefficient to lease a building for 100 employees when there’s currently only 10 it’s just as inefficient to spend a lot of time and money on a custom website when a business simply doesn’t need one at the moment.

2. Don’t Hire a Web Designer

I’ve noticed that for some people it’s all about the design. Of course a business should present well online, a website should dawn the mark of their brand identity, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

This is about small business owners who want to hire a professional Web designer to create the mother of all website designs, the best-designed website on the internet. But unfortunately accolades from the design industry and envy from their competitors won’t bring them the sales they want. Regardless, they simply don’t need it.

There are a lot of extremely successful websites that look absolutely terrible. This doesn’t mean design isn’t important or that I condone bad design, but my point is that the success of a website has absolutely nothing to do with how good the business owner thinks it looks.

Professional Web design is expensive. If a budget is on the low side they’ll likely get what they pay for. In addition to that they probably won’t be able to use a custom design apart from custom development which brings me right back to not buying a custom website.

3. Use a Website Builder

If there’s one thing that should be taken away from what I’m saying it’s that small businesses looking to get online should consider saving their money and using a website builder instead – controversial, I know.

Website builders are online applications that help people build websites without knowing how to design or program. Although many great ones exist some of the best website builders for small businesses are Squarespace, Shopify, Wix, Webs, WordPress.com (or WordPress) and Virb.

But this sounds like a lot of work, right? It’s not. I understand time and the need to delegate. The act of using a website builder is itself delegating the responsibility of Web design and development.

Website builders offer otherwise expensive and time-consuming design and development features fast, at an extremely low cost.

The days of Geocities are long gone. Fortune 500 companies like GM, UPS and Sony have used the popular website builder software WordPress. And famous online stores like Pandora and Home Instincts are using ecommerce website builder, BigCommerce, to power their businesses. Not to mention Tumblr which is being used to support microsites and blogs for legendary companies like Nike.

With the rising popularity of next-generation website builders there’s no reason to consider them anything but professional business tools.

An Exception to the Rule

Now, as with most things in life there’s an exception to the rule. Not every website can or should be built using a website builder.

There have been times in the past where I’ve recommended a custom website right out of the gate. But like I suggested before it’s always been for specialized online business models or businesses that have considerable budget allocated for digital marketing.

When potential clients insist on custom solutions I insist on strategy because the truth is a custom website void of strategy does nothing for their business. There’s a tendency for people to think a custom website design will make them look more substantial in the marketplace. However, customers have no opportunity to consider that because they don’t know.

If a small business looking to get online is considering a custom solution I highly recommend choosing a Web professional they fully trust to dole out honest expertise, and preferably one that will consider what I already have.

Did you use a website builder to get your business online? Or did you have reservations and go custom instead? Let me know about it!