Getting your business on the Internet
Someone asked on a Facebook forum if someone could build a quick web site for them. My reply which asked them to contact me was then swamped by recommendations for web developers who have Facebook pages but apparently no actual web sites of their own.
Think about that for a moment. Web site developers with no web sites of their own, and all probably experts in WordPress and not much else. It reminds me of the early days of the web in Australia when newspaper classifieds (remember them?) were filled with people with no email addresses or web sites who were offering advice about using the web. (Here’s something I wrote about this almost two decades ago.)
Here’s what you need to do if you want to start using the Internet for your small business.
1. Get a domain name that matches your business name. A .com.au name is easy to get if you already have a registered business name and an Australian Business Number (both of which of course you have) and costs very little when compared to the other costs of running a business.
2. Find somewhere to host both a web site and your email address. Nothing shouts “amateur” more loudly than a business using a free email service (like Gmail or Hotmail) or the address provided by an ISP (eg firstname.lastname@example.org). Make sure that the hosting place allows several email addresses at the same domain (preferably an infinite number) so that you can filter incoming mail according to use and priority (as well as peter@ I have several other addresses at gebesse.com.au – sales@, accounts@, info@, …). This also means that employees can have their own individual email addresses.
You can legitimately use free services provided that you never tell anyone the address. As an example, I have an Outlook.com address that is used to send messages from the Help Desk system directly to my phone. (The Help Desk system communicates with users using hdesk@, not the Outlook.com address.) You can do the same with a real email address and have it directed to Gmail for example, as long as you can make sure that any email messages you send have the public address set as return, not Gmail.
If the above sounds too complicated, get an expert to help you set it up. It’s not hard to do if you know how to do it.
3. Get a web site using the domain name. This can just be a landing page with your company name and logo and a link to send email. You can always build a great site afterwards. I had an accountant as a client who did just this – he had no interest in having a web site with content that needed to be updated so he had a single page with enough content that meant he could be found by search engines and a link for email. He only wanted the domain name for email.
Note that you will be told that you shouldn’t have email links on web pages because spammers will find them. If you get a professional to do the job the links will display correctly to visitors and will be interpreted correctly by browsers but will be unreadable to web site source scrapers. Don’t believe everything that non-professionals tell you.
4. There are several ways to develop and maintain web sites, and the choice depends on what you want and need for your business. If you are offered no options except WordPress you should look for a professional web developer who understands that different work requires different tools. WordPress is very good software (and you are looking at something made with it right now), but its strength is for sites where comments and conversations are allowed for all or almost all pages. I use WordPress for this blog because it’s the right tool. The rest of the Gebesse web site is built and maintained using Microsoft Expression Web, because that is the right tool for that job.
If you do decide (or are convinced) to develop your site with WordPress there are two options – WordPress.com and WordPress.org. With WordPress.com your site is housed on servers at WordPress and some, but not all, of the maintenance is done for you. It’s free if you don’t want much but can become costly if you want to make things look the way you want. WordPress.org provides the software to run WordPress on the machine that hosts your web site and email and gives you a lot more control over what you can do. As you are already paying for web hosting (see point 2 above) it makes sense to run the blog software there, and any reputable hosting company will provide an easy way to install the necessary software. It used to be the case that self-hosted systems required the owners to do all the updates and maintenance themselves, but my three sites all automatically upgraded to the latest WordPress version earlier this week.
I could write a few hundred more words about this but someone has already done that, so I recommend you go here and read it.
By the way, I came up against a restriction in WordPress while writing this very article. I had to manually edit the HTML code to get the paragraphs to lay out the way I wanted because the WordPress editor decided that it knew better than me how to do what I wanted done.
5. You might come across some “expert” who will tell you that all you need is a Facebook page. A page at Facebook should only be an adjunct to what you are doing elsewhere on the web. Even if you have thousands of people who “like” the page only a small percentage of them will ever be notified of anything you post there unless you pay Facebook lots of money, and you will have to spend an inordinate amount of time there responding to comments and criticism. Also, your page could be removed at any time without notice if you manage to breach some arcane Facebook rule or some competitor decides to make a complaint. One very large technology company spent a year in legal action to have their Facebook page reinstated and were never told the nature of the complaint that had it closed. Facebook can be useful but it must not be all your business has.
If you want some help setting up or managing your web site you know where to find me. There’s a bit more detail at https://gebesse.com.au/web/.