A Small Business Website Primer

If you have an existing site, then you already have a registered domain name and someone hosting your site. For those new to the process, that is step one. Decide upon what you want your site name to be. This can be anything that is not currently in use, that is, that has not already been registered by someone else.

Websites are fully named by combining the name with a suffix, as in 'name-dot-suffix.' As an example, you are probably familiar with Google. You get to their site by typing 'google.com' into your browser's address bar. The name is 'google,' the suffix is 'com' or as some prefer to call it 'dot-com.'

There are a standard set of internet suffixes that define, roughly, the purpose or intent of the site. These are referred to as 'generic top-level domain' suffixes. Commercial business sites almost always elect to use .com, as this is the most common suffix, one that everyone types almost automatically. There are others. Here is an abbreviated list:

.com indicates a commercial or business site
.net from 'networking' but has come to have a generic meaning
.biz same as .com
.org an organization, often charitable, but not necessarily
.us indicates a site in the United States
.edu indicates an educational site, as of a college
.gov indicates a government site
.mil indicates a military site

Suppose your company name is My Great Big Shoes LLC. An obvious choice, then, for your site name would be mygreatbigshoes. So, most likely, you would want to register as mygreatbigshoes.com. Now, suppose there is already a site named mygreatbigshoes.com. You could elect to use mygreatbigshoes.biz, if that is not already taken. Otherwise, you must come up with a different name, one that is not being used. I would not recommend using anything other than .com or .biz for a commercially oriented site, if that is possible.

Then you must register the name with the governing body that oversees internet domain names. This is most frequently done through the company you choose to host your site. The hosting company maintains a large set of servers (computers) that are directly connected to the internet. You place the source code, images, files, and other resources on one of their servers, and, voila, you're on the internet.

When looking to find a company to develop your site, be careful that they will also assist you in the initial step. This is something that I do routinely, as I can register a name for you and also provide site hosting.

As you know, nothing is for free anymore. You can expect to pay $10 to $15 per year to maintain the domain name registration, and hosting companies are in the business of "renting" you space on their servers and charging for other services. These are not huge costs, on the order of $5 to $20 per month for basic hosting, but you should be aware of this overhead.

The next step (which, probably, should be combined with the first!) is to hire a developer, meet with him or her, and discuss what you need, what you want, and what is possible. Most things are possible, but not everything. Generally, it is a case of refining your dream until it can fit within the confines of the real world. Cost can be an issue in this process. As I noted, most things are possible, but the expense of some can remove them from the realm of what is reasonable.

Since this article is aimed at the small business owner, I would presume your budget for a website is limited. So, your budget may not be in the tens of thousands of dollars, or even thousands of dollars. You can certainly expect to pay at least $500, up to perhaps $1500 for a good, reliable commercial website. It all depends upon what you want to use the site for.

The most basic site I refer to as an "informational" site. It announces who you are and what you do, where you are, maybe directions to your place of business, and maybe showcases some of your products. But, it does not allow for online sales, nor does it support the heavy use of database driven applications. It is a way to establish a presence and support your customer base.

Many businesses wish to sell online, a process known as ecommerce, and this entails the addition of a shopping cart and, typically, a products database. Shopping carts are a non-trivial undertaking, and I always make use of a 3rd party solution when building a site for a client wishing to conduct online commerce. There are many to choose from, but the one I find most versatile and easy to integrate into an existing site is called SnipCart.

Once your site is delivered, the transaction between client and developer is not over. You will need support to cover issues that arise, and issues always arise. You may find you want to change something. You may discover a bug in the site. You may find that future changes in operating systems or browsers cause your site to not behave or perform as it originally did. This is the way of the world, I suppose, and you should expect it; nothing remains the same for very long. Look for a developer with whom you can establish a long-term relationship, measured in years at the very least. It's a little like picking a family doctor or dentist, though not nearly as serious an issue.

Well, that's it in a nutshell, the basic ins and outs of taking your business to the internet. It is in some ways daunting and in others quite simple. One typically does not encounter problems in the process, it can actually be fairly straightforward, but one should always plan on dealing with the unexpected. Hope this helps!