For thousands of small high-street businesses, forced to shut, moving online is the only chance of survival. However, if you’ve not done this before, building an online presence can be intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be. Taking your business online is easy and fast if you follow these four simple steps:
Step 1: Register a domain name
A domain name is the address an Internet user types into their browser to visit a website. Before selecting a domain name, you’ll need to choose a registrar. Cost is usually the key driver here. Often, registrars offer domain names for a very low upfront cost. But look a little closer, and you might find that the cost from year two onwards is higher than it would be with another registrar. Another consideration is the experience and reputation of the registrar.
Now it’s time to create your domain name. Domain names are broken into 3 sections: ‘www’ is the first part. Then comes the domain name: ‘mywebsite’, for example, is your domain body. Finally, you can choose the extension: ‘.com’, for example, is your Top Level Domain or TLD.
To select an effective ‘body’ it’s helpful to follow these simple rules. Go for something concise and easy to remember, as well as to say and type. It’s best to avoid including symbols or hyphens, as they will add complexity, and make sure what you choose doesn’t infringe on anybody else’s trademarks.
For your TLD, you can choose between legacy, generic or country code. Legacy TLDS are the original domain suffixes, including .com .net and .org. Generic TLDs (gTLDs) are used to indicate a particular industry or sector, for example: .blog .agency or .shop. Finally, country code TLDs (ccTLDs) are used to indicate a geographic location, for example .uk .fr or .us
If your domain name is already taken you could contact the current owner to see if they are willing to sell it. WHOIS checking tools are a quick way to find out who owns it. Alternatively, you can check if the domain “label” you’d like to register is available with a different TLD.
Step 2: Set up a business email address
Once you have registered your business domain, getting a business email address will be much easier. Most domain registrars also offer email solutions, ranging from basic packages for individuals and solo entrepreneurs to more comprehensive packages for small-medium sized businesses.
Email options range from very simple webmail solutions to more advanced packages that can include secure backup, dedicated hosting, and collaborative functionality like shared contacts and calendars. To help make the best choice for you, try asking yourself what you need from an email solution. For example: do you require access from your smartphone? Will you need to share contacts and calendars with your team members? How easy will it be to migrate existing email and contacts to a new email service?
Step 3: Use Social Media
Social media sites like Facebook and Instagram are a great tool for entrepreneurs and businesses to connect with customers and take control of their image online. Setting up a Facebook page for your business is much easier than setting up a website, making it a natural first step.
Do you need to join every social media site? No. Different businesses have different needs, and it’s usually best to pick one social media channel and stick with it, initially at least.
If you don’t have a website, a redirect service allows you to connect your domain name directly to your social media page. This makes it easy for customers to find you and makes your social media page look more professional. Redirect services are typically provided by domain registrars.
Step 4: Build a website
Of all the steps required to establish your online presence, building a website is the most challenging. However, unlike a decade ago, setting up a basic website doesn’t require specialist skills or a professional web designer. To have a website up and running within a day or two, you can simply follow a three-step process.
#1 Choose a website provider. When it comes to website providers, there are hundreds to choose from. I recommend choosing an experienced, reputable provider you can rely on to keep your site up and running 24/7/365, provide essential functionality (e.g., account management tools, remote backup, and security features) and charge a fair price.
#2 Choose a hosting plan. Hosting plans vary in price, based on many factors, including: amount of server space offered, availability and regularity of automated backups and website platforms and technologies provided. Other factors include expected monthly traffic and, importantly, availability and quality of security features and services. Most reputable website providers offer guidance to help customers choose the right plan for their needs.
#3 Choose a content management system (CMS). A CMS is the underlying software that powers a website. The most popular platforms are WordPress, Joomla! and Drupal. They are free and offer hundreds of pre-made website templates to make the setup process easier for first time entrepreneurs. With WordPress, for example, its 1-click setup facility completes the installation automatically. You’ll still need to select and install a template, and add content to your new website, but the most technical part of building your website is already done.
It’s worth remembering your goal is to build a website that’s easy for customers to find. Search engines like Google are great at finding new websites and serving them up to potential customers. However, you can maximise the success of your website, by installing a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) plugin or by doing some basic keyword research to find out what potential customers are searching for. Optimising a website for the most well-known search engines takes a bit of time, but it does significantly improve the chances of being found.
Finally, once you have your website up and running, you will want to keep it that way – and this means keeping it secure. You can read about basic security precautions to help keep your website safe .