The question I get asked most often by people who are new to digital marketing, is whether their business or in fact any business, needs a website.

The answer isn’t a simple yes or no, it’s more like a probably yes or probably no based on the answers to some other questions.

  • Do you actually want a website for your business?
  • Where is your business in its evolution?
  • What are the challenges that your business is facing right now?
  • What is the priority order of the resources in your business right now?
  • Is your business established enough for you to know who your ideal clients are and how your product/service is perfect for them?
  • Do you have the skills and time or the money to maintain a website?
  • Do you even need an online presence?

Before we go any further, it’s probably useful to have a think about the basics and consider what the point of a business website really is.

What is the point of a website?

There are lots of clever things that a website can do, but at its most basic, a website is able to give prospective clients the ability to interact with your business 24/7 without any effort on your part.

Through your website, clients can find out about your products and services, prices, contact details, opening hours and service areas at a time that suits them. They can buy things, book things, learn things and download things, without having to wait for you to get back to them.

An effective website that is optimised for search, can help people on the other side of town or the other side of the planet, find and interact with you.

Your website is a virtual shopfront, that you can style to reflect the values of your brand and the experience of dealing with you. It can create the illusion that a one-business is a virtual empire.

So, with that out of the way, the first question is:

Do you actually want a website for your business?

It may sound like a ridiculous question, but one of the most important factors I consider, is whether the business owner actually wants a website for their business.

Some people just aren’t up for any level of technology and if their hearts aren’t in it, then a website is likely to become a millstone around their neck or become outdated and irrelevant.

If your business fits into the “Probably No” category in the general rules below and you really don’t want to go to the bother of having a website, then I’d wait until you feel differently before going ahead.

Where is your business in its evolution?

In the evolution of a business, its customer base will normally grow along these lines, depending of course on the type of business.

  • The first customers will usually be people you know. Friends, family, other school mums, work colleagues or ex-colleagues and neighbours.
  • The next lot of customers will be people who have heard about you from the people you know. Friends and relatives of the first group of people.
  • Once you’ve exhausted everyone you know from the first two groups, you’ll usually start looking for people you don’t know, who are situated in your local area.
  • As capacity increases, you would probably aim at casting a wider net, to include people you don’t know, in the widest possible area that you can service.

If your business fits into the “Probably No” category in the general rules below and it’s in stages one or two above, then it might be an idea to wait until you reach the third stage before you start working towards a website.

What are the challenges your business is facing right now?

The point at which a small business owner starts thinking about getting a website, is usually when the clients they have as a result of their efforts in the first two stages above, are no longer enough for the business to be profitable.

It could be that finding new clients isn’t an issue, but the business owner finds that they’re wasting a lot of time doing things that could otherwise be automated, like taking bookings, orders or payments.

So, what challenges can a website help you with, that could justify the effort and expense of building and maintaining one?

  • Do you need more clients? Better paying clients? Clients located outside your local area?
  • Do you need help managing your workload? Taking bookings, taking orders, taking payments?
  • Do you need to give clients access to a catalogue of products, that they can select, pay for and provide postage information for themselves?
  • Do you need to persuade clients or give them an insight into how you can help them? Provide more detailed information about your specialised products or services?
  • Do you need to portray a more professional image to appeal a more discerning/ demanding type of client?
  • Do you need a place to publish your writing? Recipes, reviews, educational material?

If your business fits into the “Probably No” category in the general rules below and none of the challenges above apply to you, then I’d wait until one or more become pressing issues before going ahead.

What is the priority order of the resources in your business right now?

Unless you’re Donald Trump, the available resources in your business will always be in short supply: time, skills and money.

Regardless of which stage your business is at, a website should make the best possible use of those resources and not just be built because you should probably have one.

In the early stages of your business, you will most likely have more time than money. As your business grows, you may have more money than spare time. At any stage, you may not have a lot of money or time, but you may have a greater need for better paying clients. You may also have available money, but a greater need for equipment or stock to grow your business.

So assuming you decide that building a website for your business is the best use of your resources right now, will the money required to build and maintain one be justified in the new business it will bring in, or time it will save you by doing things that you’d otherwise have to do yourself? Would it be cheaper to pay someone to take those bookings? Could you add all the information that clients could possibly need, to a Facebook page instead?

Unless a website is the next logical step for your business, I’d wait until you’re sure that it is.

Is your business established enough for you to know who your ideal clients are and how your product/service is exactly what they need?

You’ll only know how important this question is, if you’ve started to build a website for your business and have had to come up with the words and visuals that will have the desired effect on your potential clients.

If you’re not 100% clear on this yet, I’d devote some serious time and thought to the matter as you’ll need to know this information before you can create the content for your new site.

Do you have the skills and time, or the money to maintain a website?

The thing with websites is, like garden beds, you can’t just create one and hope it will thrive without any further effort on your part.

Websites need to be maintained to keep the virtual weeds out. And if you want the plants in it to grow, you might want to water and feed them every now and again.

There is a cost associated with maintaining your website, either in terms of your time if you have the skills to do the work yourself, or in money if you need to pay someone each year to host, maintain and keep the content on your website current.

If you can’t justify the cost of maintaining a website, then it might be an idea to postpone building one until you can.

Do you even need an online presence?

The answer to this is a hell yeah

Whether or not you choose to have a website for your hobby business, small business, freelancing or consulting business right now, or while you’re taking the time to build one, I think it’s essential that your business and every other business at least have:

  • A Facebook page with all the information that a potential client would need
  • A Google My Business listing, with a pin in the map where you’re located

Why?

  • Both those services are free and require minimal upkeep.
  • If you have a Facebook business page, your friends and family can point other people in your direction by tagging you in local or community Facebook groups when people ask for recommendations.
  • If you have a Google My Business listing with a pin in the map where your business is located, your details will often be shown above other sites if you are located close to the location of the person searching.

Conclusion

It might sound ironic that someone who builds websites is putting people off the idea of having one.

In a perfect world, I’d tell every business owner that they should have an effective, targeted website that will portray the best version of themselves and their products to the world.

But it’s not a perfect world and building a small business is hard enough, with no shortage of priorities to focus on at any given time. I’d rather see a business put all their resources into a great Facebook page to begin with, while they work on figuring out how they can stand out from the crowd and who their ideal customers are, than put a whole lot of money and faith in a crappy website, that’s the digital equivalent of them arriving at a networking event in fancy dress and then hiding under the table.

Good websites take time to build, and time costs money. If your business isn’t at the stage yet where you can’t afford not to spend money on the best website you can afford, then don’t. Start saving up for the time when you do,

General rules

There are a few general rules which I think apply to the question of whether a business needs to have a website.

PROBABLY NO

A website probably isn’t essential to your business if all/most of the following apply to you:

  • You’re selling to individuals rather than businesses
  • Your business proposition is based around being a small, local, accessible, community-focused solo or hobby operator
  • Your service/product is commonly understood/ uncomplicated eg. lawnmowing service, cleaning service, resume writing service, mobile car mechanic, clothing alteration seamstress, babysitting service
  • Your service/product isn’t within a regulated industry eg. financial advisor
  • There is no online selling/payment taking place except in payment of invoices eg. Xero
  • The cost of your service/product is low

PROBABLY YES

A website is probably required if all/most of the following apply:

  • If you’re selling to businesses
  • If your business proposition is based around offering a specialised, premium, luxury, nationwide, state of the art service/product
  • If your service is complex or specialised eg. Commercial landscaping, nationwide cleaning franchise, big-brand copywriting, car dealership, clothing retailer, childcare centre
  • Your service/product is within a regulated industry eg. bank
  • There is online selling/ payment/ booking/ downloading required
  • The cost of your service/product is moderate to high