Starting a business? Start a web site, too

Given the economic disruption caused by COVID-19, many entrepreneurs are deciding to take the plunge and start their own business. Not only are more people looking for alternative employment, but the pandemic has created new shifts in consumer behavior, created new needs and opportunities.

Here are two key stats from a recent Wall Street Journal report:

  • Applications for the employer identification numbers that entrepreneurs need to start a business have passed 3.2 million so far this year, compared with 2.7 million at the same point in 2019,” according to the Census Bureau.
  • Even excluding gig-economy workers and independent contractors, “new filings among a subset of business owners who tend to employ other workers reached 1.1 million through mid-September, a 12% increase over the same period last year and the most since 2007.”

Regardless of the drivers behind the decision to launch a startup, anybody starting a business needs a web site as the foundation of their marketing efforts.

Not only is a web site how most consumers research and engage with a business—whether it’s a dentist’s office, a restaurant, or a construction contractor—but it’s also a way for you to promote your brand, communicate what you do, how you do it better than others, and how to engage with your company. It’s an investment that will pay off as you grow your business and engage with customers.

Word of mouth is essential for gaining awareness, but it’s not enough. Once someone hears about your company, then what? The first thing they are going to do is look it up online, probably on a smartphone, and find out what you can do and if you are a fit for their needs.

A web site is working on your behalf at all times, especially after normal business hours, discoverable by search engines and customers when they are most likely to be doing their own research. You can provide all the information a customer or prospect needs to know about the brand, product features, services, hours, location, experience and more through your website. Your web site can answer common customer questions, saving both of you time.

Not having a web site for your business can work against you when customers are evaluating their options. Research by Verisign, a web domain services company, found that 56% of people don’t trust a business without a web site. Think about your own online research habits: if you are looking for a business online, are you really going to do additional digging to find out about a business that doesn’t make it easy to find out about their products or services?

People also pay attention to the quality of a web site. A Stanford University study in 2019 found that customers will judge a company’s credibility by their website design. An outdated web site, or a web site that looks homemade can be a strike against you. A web site that doesn’t display information easily and cleanly on a mobile device is also a negative.

If you are starting out, you may regard a web site as an expense you cannot afford until you have grown. But if customers can’t find you, it will be hard to grow. A web site is not as expensive as you may think, and when balanced against the cost of acquiring customers it is one of the more critical marketing decisions you can make when starting out.

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COVID accelerates demand for online communication

When in-person shopping is not possible, how can you continue to market your business and engage with customers?

The coronavirus pandemic has shown many businesses that they need to develop online capabilities in the event of another crisis that shuts their physical location, interrupts their supply chain or restricts the movement of customers. Having a web site that provides critical information enables businesses to innovate in how they serve customers, engage employees and grow their business.

As the coronavirus pandemic emerged, Michigan ordered the closure of many businesses throughout the state in mid-March leading to a statewide stay-at-home order on March 23 for all non-essential workers. To maintain operations and employment, many businesses sought to pivot to online sales and marketing—but those that lacked an online presence risked being left behind.

Examples of the regional impact on business of a web site and online tools during the pandemic in Michigan include:

  • Many restaurants in Leelanau County that had online ordering systems in place as the pandemic shutdowns occurred in March 2020 were able to continue to serve customers with online menus, curbside services, and assurances about their safety practices. Restaurants that lacked a web site or online e-commerce systems struggled to keep business going and many shut down and laid off workers. An informal survey of Leelanau County restaurants by the Leelanau Enterprise at the height of the shutdown in early April 2020 identified 36 restaurants offering take-out services vs. 31 restaurants that closed.
  • In the tourism sector, businesses can use online tools like social media, blogs, email marketing and multimedia to build demand for their services during a shutdown, so that business recovers more quickly after any restrictions on travel, gatherings and in-person operations are lifted. See how Viking Cruises built an online video channel to build an audience and spur demand for its cruise services during the shutdown, and consider how that might help your tourism business to attract customers.
  • In the agricultural sector, farmer’s markets in Leelanau County turned to an online ordering system enabling them to continue to harvest and sell their products locally, keeping the farms’ labor force employed and productive, and keeping connections with local customers alive.

While many Leelanau County residents do struggle to access reliable and fast broadband access, having a web site to tell your story can ensure that customers continue to find your business and access your services.

How to get a professional website fast and with less cost

word press laptop

WordPress is a powerful and affordable platform for creating web sites that makes it easier for a company to get a professional web site launched quickly and at lower cost. Millions of web sites around the world use WordPress, with some estimates of as much as 30% of all web sites. From large enterprise web sites like The New York Times and Sony Music to small business websites like yours.

WordPress is flexible, well-designed and scalable through thousands of web site designs and plug-ins. Users can find a wide variety of interactive features and tools to meet most needs.

WordPress sites are affordable. While basic WordPress is available for free, additional features and customization requires additional costs and expertise to manage and maintain. Yet it is still less expensive than hiring web developers to create a site from scratch.

Not having to hire web developers to build your site the ground up also means you can launch and update your site more quickly. Spend your time on growing your business, not managing code. 

Choose from thousands of web site design templates, making it fast and easy to get started without designing and coding a completely new web site. WordPress designs are also responsive, meaning your site and its content adapt to look good on a user’s smartphone screen or a large desktop. And WordPress code is open source, meaning that it’s accessible, high-performing and benefits from innovation.

WordPress administration tools are easy to understand and use. You can take over the administration and updating of your web site without needing a degree in computer science—or let us handle those tasks for you after your site is launched.

WordPress started as a blogging tool, and expanded to become a robust web content management service. It’s easy to add blogs or articles to your site with built-in blogging tools. Blog content is an excellent way to boost how search engines—and customers—find you, learn about your business and how you help their needs. It’s also a great way to keep your customers informed and loyal.

In all, ease of use, flexibility, a robust universe of designs and tools all make WordPress a great solution for small business owners that want to get online to engage with customers and prospects.

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