Why Your Small Business Needs Web Space

When many small business owners take their first steps into realizing their dreams, web space is the last thing on their minds. This is understandable, but it’s also a huge mistake. Here, we’ll address why you need web space and what that site will ultimately do for you.

Real World vs. Online

A common misconception among new small business owners is that their restaurant, store or other real-world place of business will be all they need to establish themselves. Unfortunately, the days when this was true are long gone. In today’s world, where consumers can do virtually anything online, the lack of an internet presence can be a huge disadvantage. The online community has become part of the ‘real world,’ and your business needs to be a part of that world.

Consumer Trust

Years ago, it was considered a big red flag if a company did not have a phone number displayed someplace in their storefront, catalog or on their product. This displayed a lack of openness, and made many customers wary of trusting the company.

These days, the lack of a web space has precisely the same effect. Imagine that your friend stumbles across a brand-new restaurant, has an incredible dining experience and tells you about their discovery.  You’ll almost certainly look the restaurant up online. You may just be seeking directions, but there’s a good chance you’ll also want to read reviews and the menu. You’ll also be expecting, consciously or not, a few photos of the restaurant and perhaps the proprietor.

What if you found nothing? No website, no pictures, not even a Facebook page. How would you feel about trying out this new restaurant? If you’re like many diners, you might feel a bit wary, wondering precisely why there is no internet ‘evidence’ of this restaurant. Is it dodging a health-code violation from another area? In all likelihood, you would pass up the chance to check it out, sticking with a dining establishment you either know or can check out online in advance.

This pattern of thinking is true for virtually all types of businesses. Consumers have come to equate web space with a certain level of credibility. Given the simplicity of setting up a basic web page, there is no excuse for losing potential customers over the lack of a website. Browsing our recommended hosts will give you an idea of just how much a well-structured website can do for your business.

Consumer Convenience

In addition to trust, consumers greatly appreciate the extra level of convenience which a well-planned website can offer. In the case of a restaurant, they can read through the menu before they leave the house and, if necessary, make reservations online to save time. Other businesses can save customers time by offering e-commerce options, allowing them to purchase goods and services from the comfort of their own homes. These simple conveniences are huge when it comes to fostering a good relationship with consumers. As a society, we’ve become accustomed to the ease and convenience of online shopping, and no small business can afford to deny that convenience to their customers, would-be or otherwise.

Conclusion

Regardless of how small or new your business may be, you need web space. It adds to your credibility, fosters consumer trust and makes it more convenient for consumers to purchase from you. Social media sites are great additions to a business, but they can’t replace the reliable, trustworthy impression which a stand-alone website can create. Get started today. Our comparison tool is a great place to begin.

 

Free and Low-Cost Web Design Options

Strapped for cash? You’re not alone. In fact, a low budget is the most universally familiar obstacle to small business owners. There are many ways to safely cut costs when setting up your web space, and finding less-costly web design options falls into this category. Here, we’ll take a look at the best ways to approach low-cost web design while maintaining a polished, professional appearance.

Free Options

There are two main free options available to you—an unpaid worker and a ready-made design built into a web space package you’re already purchasing. As with any budget option, there are disadvantages and advantages to both options.

Going with a ready-made design for your web space is a reliable option. Keep in mind, however, that a creativity-based business can suffer from an obviously-stock template. If, for example, you are a painter selling canvases online, customers will be a bit confused by a standard, boring web space design. Thankfully, there are many excellent bundled designs to be found via our top hosting picks. These designs are included in your purchase price, but still offer customizable and exciting visual options.

Your next free option is to find a skilled designer who’s just starting out. They are rather easy to find if you look in the right places—college campuses are a great place to begin. Place ads on the bulletin boards—real-world and online—of some local colleges and universities. You’ll probably receive more than a few offers, which gives you a nice selection. Just be sure to check the work over very carefully before it ‘goes live’ on your web space. Taking advantage of a fellow start-up is never good business, so be sure to use the barter system—offer a gift card, discount code or even profit-sharing potential in exchange for services.

Low-Cost Options

The most readily available low-cost web space design options are, essentially, enhanced versions of free options. You can find a great deal of customizable, yet ready-made, web space designs available through many different platforms. Many of these options can be customized to the point that they are unrecognizable as ready-made designs, lending your site that all-important air of creativity.

Another low-cost option involves seeking out a talented, yet undiscovered, individual or company. These individuals are in the same boat as you—just getting started. Services can often be obtained at a significantly reduced cost, or through bartering. Just be careful to pay fairly; after all, your business is worth a reasonable investment.

For a world of attractive, professional-looking templates which don’t require an IT degree to set up, visit sites such as ThemeForest. Even those brand-new to the world of web design can customize beautiful designs with just a few clicks!

Safety Comes First

Glitches can occur when utilizing the services of a less-than-professional individual or company. However, there’s no reason to get paranoid.

In order to keep costs down and stay sane, have your web space checked over by an internet safety professional before it goes live. This can usually be done at a very reasonable cost, and very quickly. This is a step best left to professionals backed by a well-regarded company. The money you spend is an investment in your and your customers’ safety—well worth every penny.

The Bottom Line

With so many low- and no-cost options out there, finding the right one for you should be an easy task. However, keep in mind that a professionally designed web space is your ultimate goal. These sites are easy to spot, and they immediately foster a sense of consumer trust. They cost more but, ultimately, that cost is neutralized by increased traffic and sales. Check out our best budget-friendly picks and start building your best site right away!

Is Facebook Enough for Your Small Business?

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube are websites familiar to virtually everybody. In addition, they’re completely free of charge. While this makes them very attractive to cash-strapped small business owners seeking to create web space, there are some very important points to consider. Here, we’ll discuss precisely what social media sites can, and can’t, do for your small business.

Enough is Not Enough

The first basic mistake in assuming that a social media presence is ‘enough’ for your small business is the concept of settling for ‘enough.’ Your business is your baby, your dream, your ambition. Do you really want to settle for ‘enough?’ While your business may not be ready for a completely interactive, visually stunning website which rivals those of major, nationally-known companies, it deserves more than ‘enough.’ Even our budget picks can deliver highly professional and traffic-generating sites, so there’s no excuse to linger on social media.

Consider Your Image

Social media sites are attractive for many reasons, one of the largest being their cost—nothing. However, this also means that social media is literally teeming with pages and accounts. The public perception of social media sites varies widely from one individual to the next. Although your Facebook page may be leaps and bounds ahead in terms of content and quality, it’s still a Facebook page, just like your best friend’s tenth-grade daughter maintains.

Taking Full Advantage

This is not to say that social media doesn’t have its place. In fact, social media can be an incredibly powerful and positive tool for your small business. It’s all in how you utilize the resource. Facebook is an excellent platform for many different types of marketing, from posting photos to hosting contests to keeping fans abreast of the latest developments. Twitter and Instagram are excellent for keeping customers in-the-know without bogging them down with an overload of information; they’re also great for keeping your business fresh in the minds of consumers. Pinterest, with its photo-showcase potential, can be a truly powerful way to show off the best of your visual assets. Think up creative themes for boards and view them as a way to entertain and inform your consumers.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when maintaining a social media presence for your business is to remain professional. If you have personal accounts, keep them entirely separate from your business web space. You may adore pop music, but some of your customers may not, and seeing a long line of Gaga and Bieber attached to your page can look unprofessional. When using your business accounts, keep things professional, including views, likes, links and every other type of virtual ‘trail.’

The Next Step

As wonderful as social media sites are, they simply can’t replace the solid, trustworthy impression of a stand-alone website. Anybody can create a social media page or account—a stand-alone web space shows that you’re serious about, and dedicated to, your business and your customers.

Build your website using the same themes you’ve picked up from using social media networks. Keep things interesting, interactive and engaging. Update the content of your site regularly to keep it from falling into the dreaded ‘dead’ category.

At the same time, maintain your social media presence with the same level of dedication. Social media is not enough for your small business, but it’s a completely cost-free tool which no small business owner can afford to ignore. A great way to set your social media pages apart from the rest is to link them back to your website. This can be done in a variety of ways, and for a variety of reasons. Choose the methods which best complement the type of business you’re in, and remember to keep things professional. Get started today by browsing our recommendations, and rise above the social media crowd!

Top 5 Web Space Mistakes

For those who aren’t already well-versed in running their websites, the web hosting market can seem complicated. It’s actually very easy to avoid making the biggest mistakes when looking for web space. Here are five of those, and what you should be doing instead.

1. Placing too much importance on a single aspect.

Yes, your site may very well require a lot of large video and audio files, and that would make having a good amount of disk space available very important to you. But it’s still not the only thing that matters. Good web space needs to have a variety of different things acting in tandem; you will regret it if you pick an otherwise substandard option because of one particularly attractive bullet point. Look for a provider that boasts an attractive feature set all around, not just in the one respect that you care most about.

2. Undervaluing tech support

Things generally do not go perfectly. Your web space should always come with solid tech support as a hedge against that. If possible, that should include live support via chat or telephone; however, even if those aren’t doable within your price range, a good ticket system and a sizable knowledge base are essentials. If the tech support isn’t up to par, then you want to look elsewhere, period.

3. Taking the host’s word for things

The job of a web host’s website is to convince you to give them your custom. They’re going to accentuate the things that they have going for them, and they’re going to downplay the things that they don’t. Once you’ve found an option that looks good, look up more information elsewhere. User reviews are ideal here. See what people who’ve already taken the plunge have to say about the quality of their service. The last thing you want is to be roped into using a substandard hosting provider because of the marketing. If you need to find a good web host fast, click here to see the web hosts we recommend.

4. Paying too far in advance

Yes, most paid web space is cheaper if you pay for it for years at a time—or more, for that matter. But doing so also locks you into them for the intervening time period; this is a big commitment, and it’s one that you should only really make when you’re confident that you won’t regret it. To start out, consider paying only for a few months; that way, if you decide that things aren’t working for you, it’s no hassle for you to move. Once you’re confident in your selection, then by all means go for the best bargain available—but don’t make big purchases prematurely.

5. Using over-specialized hosts that run single software packages

If you just intend to run a blog, a forum, or some other common piece of software, it may seem odd to go to the trouble of using general-purpose web space to set those up when you could just pick one of the many hosts that will run the same software for you, often free of charge. Dodging the hassle of managing your own software is attractive, but it’s still not worth it. You have very little control over “your” site with such a host; they choose when things are updated. They choose which plugins and themes you have access to. They choose which ads you run, and make all of the profit from those. You save a little work in the short term, but you’re going to make things much harder in the long run.

How to Get an Email Address on Your Web Space

Having an e-mail address on your own domain—as opposed to a free webmail provider, or with your ISP—can go a long way in making your business more professional. It’s not as hard as you would think, either—there are all sorts of ways to pull this off.

Your Web Host’s POP or Webmail

Let’s start with the easiest of these. Most hosting providers provide webmail or POP e-mail accounts with their web space. Configuring these addresses to use your domain couldn’t be easier—you just open an e-mail account from your allotment on the desired domain. If it’s a webmail account, log in like any other webmail service; if you have a POP or IMAP account, configure your e-mail client of choice accordingly.

Google Apps

Your host’s default mail servers are free and easy to set up, but they’re also very basic, and the webmail interfaces can be lacking. That’s a shame, since a good webmail interface can give you all the bells and whistles of a dedicated e-mail client in a portable, device-independent form. Google has recognized this fact, and capitalizes on it with their Gmail business service through Google Apps. It’s not a free service, but it’s reasonably priced, and it allows you to maintain a Gmail account—with the storage space, uptime, and considerable feature set that entails—on your own domain.

After you’re signed up, you just need to use your registrar’s control panel to change the MX record for your domain to point to Google’s mail servers. The MX record indicates which servers e-mail traffic on a domain should be forwarded to. Basically, you’re telling the DNS servers to forward most traffic to your web space, but to forward e-mail traffic to Google’s mail servers.

Gmail is generally the best of the big webmail services, but many of its competitors provide a similar option, so keep that in mind. If you’re fond of one in particular, odds are that you can use it with your domain.

Email Forwarding

If you’d like to continue using existing accounts but still have the presentable aesthetic of an e-mail account at your own domain, though, forwarding is an option. Some registrars allow for e-mail forwarding, and some don’t; however, if yours does, you can just set that up, and it’ll send all e-mails sent to that domain to the account you specify. Even if your registrar doesn’t support e-mail forwarding, your web space is likely to include it as an option. There are limitations here—most notably, it means that you can’t manage multiple accounts on your own domain. But it can be useful to have a professional facade for your existing personal e-mail accounts.

Your Own Mail Server

Lastly, you can run your own mail server. This isn’t an option which is recommended for less technical people—but there’s real merit in it if you think you can pull it off. You get as much storage space as you want, and unparalleled control over every facet of your e-mail handling. Hardware and bandwidth requirements for a single-user mail server are very modest, so the logistics are perfectly workable; the question is if you feel comfortable doing things the hard way. No software is going to be linked here—if you’re capable enough to run a mail server well, you should already know where to look for these sorts of things, and what to look for. If you don’t, odds are good that you’d be better off with one of the other choices mentioned.

Windows Web Space

For a novice, Windows might seem to be an appealing server operating system. After all, it’s probably what you use on your desktop or laptop; why not choose web space that uses an environment that you’re more familiar with?

However, this isn’t as good an idea as it seems. Desktops and servers are two very different things. Windows is great on your desktop. But on your server, the standard operating system in use is Linux. In fact, when providers offer web hosting but don’t mention the server operating system, they’re likely referring to a Linux server.

Linux is a free, open-source operating system, originally based on the Unix specification. Linux distributions—typically Apache, but others are perfectly viable—simply beat Windows on the metrics that matter here. Most notably, it’s far more stable when running a large number of processes.

Processes

The Windows NT kernel’s stability degradation with process count isn’t a huge deal for personal use; you’ll never be running enough software simultaneously for it to be relevant. However, a large-scale server, like those used by the big web hosting companies, has to run numerous instances of the PHP parser, various database engines, and a host of other specialized software. Windows is significantly more prone to downtime under these circumstances.

Modularity

Linux is much more modular than Windows, too. This is helpful both for performance and security. With respect to performance, it means that servers can run a minimal subset of the operating system, with only the software they need. For you, this means that you can be allotted more CPU time and memory at the same cost to your host. On the other hand, even with the recent efforts to minimize the resource footprint on server versions of Windows, it’s still much clunkier and more bloated than its competition—which means that you’re looking at worse results for your money.

Security

Back to security, Windows has a similar problem—more complexity, in terms of the features that are currently running, means more opportunity for security flaws. Linux dodges this bullet, plus it benefits from its open-source development model, which corrects security holes with lightning speed.

Conclusion

Are there times when you want to use web space on a server that runs Windows? Well, yes; there are some limited circumstances where you need to use Windows-based web space in spite of its flaws. If you intend to use proprietary Microsoft technologies like ASP.NET, your best bet is still a Windows server. Linux-based implementations do exist for many of these, but they’re far from flawless, and as such most web hosts don’t bother. Barring special cases along these lines, though, there’s really no reason to bother with Windows as a server operating system.

Your user interface will be the same either way—typically, an online control panel. You won’t be using a desktop environment. Windows web space isn’t necessarily going to be any more familiar or easy to use than a Linux system, and it fares much worse on both performance and security. This means a greater total cost of operation, which is passed on to you in the form of greater prices or reduced service. Unless you need something that only Windows web hosting can offer, it’s better to go for Linux.