The Internet is no longer just a good idea for a business - it is absolutely essential. Despite this, a number of surveys have suggested anywhere between 10% and a third of UK businesses do not have a website. There is absolutely no reason to hold out - there really are so many reasons why your company needs a website.
Unfortunately, despite its popularity, a Facebook page just doesn't cut it! You have to have a website. No credible business operates without a website that reflects its business activity, so if you haven't got one, then the assumption might be that your company might not be credible. Not having a website is like turning up for a business meeting without a business card - it's lazy and unprofessional. Even if your business has absolutely nothing to do with the Internet, not having a website will raise eyebrows, and potentially send people to your competitors.
The days of people hitting the Yellow Pages and ringing round providers are over. Websites allow people access to your company's story when it is convenient for them to access it, and that might be the middle of the night! A website is a 24/7 advert for your business.
Keep it local
With the Internet connected globally, it's easy to see the Internet as an international medium that's not meant for local businesses. Nothing could be further from the truth. Whether you are a butcher, or an undertaker, someone local is going to need your services and the chances are they will search in Google to find them. It's worth noting that Google is no longer just Google.com - it has a variety of local versions which include Google.co.uk for British listings (the Isle of Man has its own Google!). So, obviously, Google is looking at keeping things local, and so should you - through the Internet!
Give loyal customers something to recommend
There is nothing better than a 'word-of-mouth' recommendation for your business, but the chances are that a recommendation is made by email these days. Having a website address for someone to add to email makes recommendations that much easier. Even if a recommendation is genuinely 'word-of-mouth', it will probably be accompanied with the advice to 'search for them on Google'. If you don't have a website, that isn't going to happen!
So now I have been sold, what do I do?
There is a temptation with things that you don't know anything about to engage an 'expert' to do everything for you. This is one route. If you know a local website developer who comes very well recommended, then that might be your option. However, the key elements to web hosting are a hosting account, a domain name, a website design and an email account. If one person is in control of all these elements, they essentially have control of your online identity. It's best to separate everything where possible.
Find a web hosting account
This might be alien to you, but it is simply a company that can put your website on the Internet. Again, there might be a provider that someone can recommend locally, but actually a web host could be located anywhere (although it would be best if it is located in the UK where your customers are) and with a credit card you can pay for their services online. If you are reading this, the likelihood is that you are going to set up a website for the first time and it will only have few pages. As a result you don't need much of a hosting account - usually hosts call these accounts "Starter" or "Beginner" or something similar, and they usually cost in the 5 pounds a month region. To find one, ask people and see who they use. Alternatively, join the FindUKHosting.com forum and ask people who have used web hosts' services who they think you should use.
Design a website
As we said before, there might be a designer in your neighborhood that can help you out here, but it might not be necessary to go that far. Many web hosts offer packages that include website builders - these operate something like Microsoft Word creates letters. You choose a website design that you like and this is automatically used for your website. You just fill in the gaps - add the name and address of your company and add pictures of your company premises, etc. Good web hosts offer solid tutorials to teach you how to use website builders, and if you get into trouble, good web hosts have telephone or chat support to advise you on what to do to set up your website.
Buy a domain name
This is the name that your website will be recognized by. Possibly the most famous domain names at present are www.google.com and www.microsoft.com. You need a domain that represents your business: www.mybusinessname.com. As mentioned earlier, this could be purchased from a developer or even from a web host (often web hosts offer free domain names when you start a new account) but it is best to keep everything separate if you can. If for you have to terminate your web host's services, your domain is safe with another provider, and visa versa. Like web hosts, there are countless domain name sellers on the Internet and again you can pay by credit card. These days many ".com" domain names have already been taken up, so you may have to opt for a ".uk" or ".co.uk" name, or depending on your business a ".org" or a ".net" domain name.
Get an email account
Again, your web host provides an email account for you that usually allows you to set up a number of email addresses (i.e. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc.). However, once again, if it all goes wrong, you need access to your emails, and so with the termination of a web hosting account comes the termination of your email accounts. There are a number of major email players these days: Gmail.com, Outlook.com, and Yahoo.com to name but three. If you go for a free account with any of these you will have to have an email address such as "email@example.com" but if you pay just 30 pounds a year you can add your company name to your email address - this generally instills a lot more confidence amongst potential customers. Keep in mind that the vast majority of people now use email for business purposes, and they would rather contact a company whose name is in their email address than a simple Gmail account.
With the elements outlined above you can have your website advertising your business 24/7, and who knows, you might just go international. However, again, what if it all goes wrong? Well, the most important thing would be to back up your website so that it can be used on another site. Usually web hosts back everything up, but again, they control everything too. You need a copy of your website on your computer. Usually, you can do this through your web host's control panel. How to do is it usually covered in a tutorial. Make sure you back up regularly - not to do so can cause a multitude of problems in the future.
Good luck with your new website!