Almost every small business owner I’ve met has faced the same challenge: they need a website. They need it yesterday, and they need it looking good (at the very least better than their competitors). Here’s the rub: after all the day to day small business expenses, they have zero budget for a website, or their budget lies somewhere between a Tim Card with $0.27 left on it and the $20 they just found in the pocket of their spring jacket (woohoo!).
When we’re talking websites, like any project, the project management triangle comes into play: fast, good, and cheap – pick two. This isn’t surprising considering:
- 97% of consumers use the internet for research and/or purchases and
- Most web professionals make between $40,000 and $60,000 a year
Websites aren’t optional anymore – they haven’t been for some time – and the people who make them aren’t the basement dwelling web-hobbyists they were back in 90’s; many are highly talented and professional individuals that determine the course of a business.
So, what’s a small business owner to do? Well, when you have no budget, why not go with free? Below are five great options for small business owners to get themselves online that only cost you as much time as you’re willing to put into them:
Creating a Facebook page takes all of 5 minutes, and is a tremendous first step in getting your business online. It provides all the basics: Location + map, contact info, photo albums, and ability to post any content you like. Some small business owners write off because they can’t be bothered, or think it’s just a tween time waster; this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the power Facebook offers. I guarantee most if not all your customers are on Facebook, and 5 minutes of your time to directly connect you to them is a tiny price to pay.
The good: Almost instant web presence, easy to set up and use, directly connect you with your customers.
The bad: This isn’t a ‘set it and forget it’ website; people are going to post and expect a response – neglect your Facebook page at your peril!
If Facebook is the 900lb gorilla in the social media room, Google+ is the 100 lb chimpanzee. Sure it’s a bit of a ghost town, but like Facebook the 5 minutes it takes to set up and use is well worth the effort to increase your web presence.
The good: Easy to set up and use, regular Google+ users are die-hards
The bad: Google+ has yet to really take off, and don’t forget to be there when someone posts!
If Facebook is the currently reigning social media champ, WordPress owns the Blogging heavyweight belt. WordPress isn’t just about blogging though, it’s a full featured content management system that is endlessly customizable and above all easy to use. So while you can create a blog to regularly connect with your customers, you could also create a more static site that doesn’t need as much regular tending as a blog demands. With literally thousands of templates available (free and not so free), the options for your presence online are really endless.
The good: Easy to use, can be learned quickly, tons of templates available
The bad: The best free templates are used heavily throughout the web – don’t expect your site to be unique if you’re using one
Think of Tumblr as the Facebook of blogging. Posts are broken up into common content types: text, picture, video, link, audio, etc. Tumblr is an excellent compromise between the social connection of Facebook, and the flexibility and customization of content management systems like WordPress. With tons of themes available out there, it’s incredibly easy to set up and configure your own Tumblr site.
The good: Easy to use, very user friendly, highly customizable, tons of templates (free or otherwise).
The bad: Tumblr is very social-oriented – don’t let your site stagnate, connect with your customers! (See a pattern here? Take care of your website!)
If you’re looking for a more ‘traditional’ website but want the drag and drop easy set up instead of learning to code, Google Sites is for you. Simple, straightforward and aimed at creating a site in less than 15 minutes by someone with no technical skills, Google Sites has a lot to offer the small business owner.
The good: Easy to use, What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) editing
The bad: Templates can be fairly cookie cutter.