Evolving Small Businesses – Web Hosting & Design

There was a time, even just a few years ago, when entrepreneurs had little choice in how they got a new website going for their business. First it wasn’t seen as a necessity (it is now), and second it looked/sounded expensive (it was, and still is depending on what you want). Thanks to new tools and new ways of doing things, this is largely no longer true… at least, not when it comes to simply building a web presence for your business.

There tonnes of web hosting companies out there, including CleverHost. Some compete purely on price, but the old adage is true – you get what you pay for. Any free web hosting service either has very strict, and harsh, limits on how much disk space or bandwidth your website can consume, or they make it very obvious that you’re using a free service through the use of ads or co-branded URLs (e.g. http://YourBusinessName.HostingCompany.com). That does not look professional, leaves a bad taste in a prospect’s mouth, and probably isn’t how you want to present your business.

Instead, you need to purchase a domain name (e.g. YourBusiness.ca). Then, find a professional hosting company that charges reasonable rates, has good customer service, references/testimonials, and is willing to answer questions before you sign up. Pre-sales support levels are usually a good indication of what post-sales support will be like. Also remember that there is no such thing as “Unlimited.” Every web hosting company offering “unlimited” disk space and bandwidth will have a “fair use clause” in their Terms of Service that states the host can cut you off if they believe you’re using more than your fair share.

At the same time, don’t over pay. $15 or $20 a month is far too much for a company to host a small website designed to get your business online and noticed.

The other thing to look for is a web hosting company that makes it really easy for you to get started. Some companies offer web design services, typically starting at around $500. Other web hosting companies take a different approach, giving the entrepreneur/small business owner the tools they need to get started like an online website builder, or the ability to install a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal with just a couple of clicks.

WordPress, in particular, has many templates (called “themes”) available that make it very easy for you to have a professional looking website up and running. All in, including the domain, your first month of hosting, and a nice WordPress theme, your small business can have a website up and on the web for under $100 plus a few hours of time spent writing content and inserting some images.
You can also take advantage of your hosting account to install your first customer relationship management (CRM) solution, like ZurmovTiger CRM or SugarCRM, and host it on the same account as your website. A CRM solution takes some learning, but there’s no reason for a small business to pay $20/month/user until you can actually afford it. By the time you have 500 or 1,000 customers in your CRM, it’ll be time to upgrade to a virtual private server (VPS) or dedicated server anyway. Now you’re in full control of your software, and your customer information – that’s not the case with many software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers, like Salesforce.com.

You could also install your own web-based analytics software (Piwik), live chat software, e-commerce solution (Magento, Cube Cart), or project management software. All available for free, and available to be hosted on the same account/plan as your website.

Now, when you’re ready for a more sophisticated website, that is when it’s time to start looking for a freelance developer, or a web design/development company to take over. Many are turning to the same tools I mentioned above, but the designs they create are entirely custom, built to your specs, and designed to really help your business succeed.

The bottom line is that, especially when you’re starting out, you have very limited capital to invest in an online presence. You know it’s a necessity these days, but that doesn’t mean you have to commit thousands, or even hundreds, of dollars to your first website. Take advantage of the tools available to you from your web hosting company, and do it yourself the first time out. Having a decent, self-designed website is better than not having a website at all.

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