Small business owners understand that having a web presence is imperative in today’s market, both to provide a means of simple contact information and grant legitimacy to your business. Often times, the very first thing an interested prospect will do is Google your business to get as much information as possible to help with their purchase decision. This is especially true for Millennials.
While there are way too many topics on organizational web presence to cover in one blog post, one that children’s music studio owners have constantly asked about is “What is the best kind of web site format for my business?” The options available can be daunting. When it comes to deciding on which format to go with for your music studio business, there are three major factors to consider – Budget, desired functionality, and autonomy/ownership. Typically, as desired functionality and autonomy increase, so does the necessary budget.
- Social Media Profile or Page – There has become a trend of companies using one or several social media profiles in place of a web site. These pages are quick and free, making it perhaps the lowest cost option for businesses. It can also be a good way to build brand loyalty with customers. There are some downsides, however. For one, social media profiles offer limited page layout design, and have rules concerning content. Social media by nature also allows input from your audience in comments, likes, etc. This can be problematic if one disgruntled customer wants to badmouth your company on your own profile page. Lastly, smaller businesses, such as children’s music studios, can be eclipsed by the deep pockets of larger organizations that spend thousands to place numerous ads on your profile page.
- Licensed Company Web Templates – Many organizations provide their dealers or franchise partners with a predesigned, web site template that is already branded with the corporate color palette, fonts, logos, etc. These often come at a small per month expense, including hosting, and are relatively easy to set up. Most also include Content Management Systems (CMSs), which provide password access to a Wysiwyg editor (simple toolbar of icons like in Word) so that content can be added and edited with copy, pictures, links, etc. Some of these sites also provide some functionality that are specific for the industry, such as children’s music class sign up forms and calendars. Also constrained by the template design, ultimate ownership of these sites belongs to the corporate entity that provides the license.
- “Free” Web Site Builders – Web site builders have become very popular with start-ups and small businesses. GoDaddy, Wix, and Squarespace are popular providers of this format. While still considered “templated” web sites because the overall structure of the site is already provided, they tend to offer many options for different “look and feel” templates, depending on your particular tastes. Site builders also offer a large variety of Plugins, or modules that can be added for certain functionality such as online chat, class scheduling, or ecommerce. While they may come across or marketed as “free,” however, there are very often hidden costs to these sites such as hosting and domain fees, ad-free versions, and other upgrades such as email service and increased functionality. Finally, if you become unhappy with the provider of your site builder and want to take your business elsewhere, you have to leave your web site behind.
- Open Source Templated Web Sites – Open source refers to a coding language that is available to anyone out there that wants to program a web site. There are several open source templated site platforms out there that are very popular, with WordPress being the most well-known. Offering virtually tens of thousands of pre-made site templates that can be bought at a relatively low price than custom programmed sites, they also offer a large amount of Plugins for all kinds of functionality. Being open source, these templates can be highly customized, tend to work well on mobile devices, and offer robust Content Management Systems (CMSs). Building these sites is not as easy as it sounds, as you must learn each template’s CMS with particular quirks. But because they are so popular, there are a lot of resources and programmers available for building and maintaining them at an additional cost. Having full ownership of these sites, you will be able to host and move them just about anywhere you like. However, also because they are so popular, open source templated sites are popular targets for hackers, so constant security patches must be installed.
- Total Customized, Hard Coded Web Site – If highly customized design and functionality is what your organization needs, a hard-coded custom designed site offers the most flexibility to “stick build” a web site. These sites, depending on how much customization is desired, can run from the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars for small to medium businesses. For industries that have very unique offerings that require unique functionality, this may be your only option. For example, a fabric company that wants to offer online customization of its fabrics, as well as showing inventory in real time might need a customized solution. Custom web sites also offer scalability of and security, which comes at a price.
While the multitudes of web site format options out there might make your head spin, for small businesses such as children’s music studio owners, it is often best to start by determining what kind of budget you have for your web site. It is often good to start small when launching a web presence. Weigh that budget against how important functionality and autonomy/ownership is to your business needs. Something as simple as a social media profile may not be enough to tell your entire story. Also keep in mind that on average, web sites need to be updated or redesigned about every 5 to 7 years in order to stay in step with trends in technology. So, starting small is a good way to learn about web technology without breaking the bank.