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Create a small business website on a small budget

The barriers to enter the online world are pretty low, but to actually make an impact, you may very well invest a reasonable amount of money in your website.

Building a website

Though you can, in theory, build a website for free, you'd rather invest something into it, because it can make a huge difference. Before you spend a penny, you need to know what all you'll need to do, right? Here you go:

  • research your customers
  • research your keywords
  • plan your website
  • get a content management system
  • get a website template
  • improve template usability
  • make the template accessible
  • write great content
  • promote the site

While you have a limited budget, you'll still need to do some of the stuff yourself or use free available materials, but you'll be able to significantly improve your website by investing smartly.

Estimate what you have

So, you have saved a certain amount of hard-earned cash to invest in your website. How best do you spend it?

Before we go into details, you need to realistically see what you can do yourself. For example, you can very well research your customers and learn the words they use online, as you, most likely, know your industry, your people and your product.

Also, you can pretty much write all the content yourself, as you know your field and can provide useful information to your customers. Even if you haven't written an article while in business, you'll find that learning how to write great content yourself will prove very efficient for your website.

If you have a certain experience in website building, you can do some of the design components, such as make your site more search engine friendly, more usable and accessible.

In general, a good rule of thumb is that if you need to do something once, and you are not an expert in that field, you'd rather get a professional do it, than risk your website.

Got budget?

So, once you have estimated what you can do or what you can learn to do (such as write content, research keywords, etc), you can start figuring out what you need someone else to do.

This brings us to several options:

  • a professional template design: should cost from $200 to $1500, depending on the designer
  • a content management system: Drupal is a good choice, and it is free
  • while you can do initial keyword research for free, you can buy full versions of WordTracker or KeywordDiscovery for $30-50 per month. You can even buy a day or a week of WordTracker for around $7 and $21 respectively.
  • making your site usable, by getting a usability consultant look at your website, should cost you from $300 to $1500
  • making your site accessible should cost from $100 to $700, as it is pretty simple
  • basic paid site promotion methods cost from $50 per month or occasional $100-$200 (throughout the year)

Let's look at the options in more detail.

Suppose, you have talked to your customers and, generally, know what they need. So you don't need to hire anyone to analyze the market (which you should do, nevertheless).

Creating site design

Designing a professional template doesn't cost much, if you find a good, but yet unpopular designer. Mostly, however, a graphical template will cost around $1000-$1500.

I'd recommend getting a web designer, who also understands search engine optimization, usability and accessibility. This will ensure that you will not have issues with your website at all - you will only need to fill it with content and promote it afterwards. Having a visitor-friendly, usable and search engine friendly website is the most important moment about creating a website.

Rremember that a designer, who also takes into account website usability, will cost more. Same for a web developer, who not only knows website usability, but also search engine optimization and website accessibility - which are related, of course.

If he does, he'll make your site human and search engine friendly immediately during integrating your template with the website, so you won't have to pay for additional services.

Not only these web designers/developers will cost more, but they are rare to come by. Luckily for you, I know Steve and Joe. Steve is a designer with an accent on search engine friendliness, and Joe has a knack for website accessibility.

Once you have chosen a content management system, or you decided to create physical files yourself (which should be advised for web-experienced people only), you (or your web designer) can create the template for your general site layout.

Creating content

Before creating content, you can spend $21-$50 to have full access to a keyword database for a month on any of the keyword research tools. This will give you a better understanding of how your customers view your industry and how they search and what they are interested in.

Of course, if you have hundreds or thousands of products, and you have all the business to worry about, you can hire a copywriter. This way you will not only get excellent, customer-focused product descriptions, but extra content to attract visitors from the search engines with.

Also, you can either write well researched articles yourself or get your copywriter do it. This should be a smart investment, as it will get you targeted search engine traffic, more natural links and authority in your field, which means trust.

Website usability and accessibility

If you didn't find a trusted, professional designer to create a human and search engine friendly site, you'll need to work with a website usability and accessibility consultants or developers to improve your current design. This should cost from $500 to $2000, depending on how much they'll need to work on, their work load and such.

That being said, you can read these great usability checklists:

You can either read them yourself or give them to the web designer you have chosen, so that the design, the template and site structure should be more or less alright.

Learn more about usability on a budget from Jacob Nielsen.

Also, you can read more usability checklists from Nielsen Norman Group.

Promoting your website

When paying to promote your website, there is never enough money to spend on. But you need to invest your money smartly, which brings us to only a handful of laser-precision promotional methods:

  • read the SEO book: learn why sites get more traffic than others and how you can do that without thinking of the search engines
  • if you sell something not so expensive (under $30) or just want people to sign up to receive free information - in short, people don't hesitate to do what they/you want - then buying traffic via Google Adwords may be worth it. Look at about $50 per month and this article on working with Google AdWords
  • if your product is absolutely useful, makes people buy it and you communicate a lot with people via your website (a blog, a forum), then you can consider paying for people to spend their time review your product via such services as ReviewMe, PayPerPost and SponsoredReviews. You'll look at $20 to $500 for these, depending on the site. A good rule of thumb is to give the review complete freedom and see what happens (and befriend him/her, too).
  • if you have any money left, you can buy links in a visible page area (top-left, no scrolling) via Text Link Ads. If you are a web expert, you can find the right sites yourself. If not, you can use the link buying guide or ask their support to find the right sites for you. It'll cost from $20 to $300 (and you get $100 of free links on your first order)

When paying for website promotion, you need to focus on paying to deliver your great content to your most targeted audience. It can be a blog review, a Google AdWords ad, a press release about a newsworthy cause (no, not your site launch, though).

Rounding up

In general, you'll be looking to spend from $500 to $2000 on any aspect you can't do yourself:

  • graphical template
  • HTML/CSS template
  • customer research
  • keyword research
  • content writing
  • usability and accessibility analysis
  • basic website promotion.

This totals out nicely at about $3500-$14000, which is quite reasonable, considering what you get for your money. For $3500 total, you can get a human and search engine friendly website, mostly, because you'd spend most on a good web designer. For the $10k or more, you'd get solid advice and deliverables on any of the aspects and would be ready to roll.

Of course, launching a website is only a start of the journey: you'll need to research your customers, learn the keywords and write content afterwards on your blog anyway to stay successful. You can participate in online forums on your topic for the most part of this. And it is a good chance to build relations in various social networks, too.

A good direction would be to focus on the customers and forget about the search engines, when promoting your website. It sounds contrary to what most people seem to be saying, but this will give you a great perspective on where you can get noticed.

Conclusion

When creating your website, you need to find the right balance between what work you are good at and what you can do yourself, and what you can get others to do for you. Sometimes, doing something yourself will be profitable, because you just have to know your customers and you ought to write content for your website and blog yourself. Sometimes, however, hiring a professional graphic designer or a website usability/accessibility consultant will get you the extra edge to get more customers.

In essence, be yourself and do anything you can for your customers.

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