Not every small business can afford to hire someone to create or maintain a website. So let’s go over some relatively easy do-it-yourself ways to build your site, kind of two by two. It just so happens that these are all free, or nearly so.
2 Free Website Builders
High up on the cool factor is Roxer. It’s all click and drag, and easy to use. Very Web 2.0. They will let you use your own domain name, like allensretail.com.
Less “wow” but still very easy and polished is Google Pages. One neat feature is that it will automatically make a version of your pages optimized for mobile phone browsers. It will not let you use your own domain name.
To make up for that, I’ll offer a bonus tool: Microsoft Office Live Small Business. One of our rural friends, Shady Hill Farm, uses this tool for their websites. A domain name is included for free your first year, but there is a small annual fee to renew it.
2 Blogging Tools
This is my favorite way to build your own do-it-yourself website!
A blog is just a special website made up of stories or articles, kind of like a newsletter. It also gives customers and readers a chance to comment on stories, building conversations. The two blog services I like are Blogger and WordPress. Both offer a platform for your own blog, and both will let you use your own domain name. The platform includes all the behind the scenes software that does the work. That lets you focus on writing stories, which works about like writing an email. Feeling brave? A blog can also include audio or video clips, not just text.
This is what I use for my liquor store’s website. It provides all the basic contact info, plus I can update it with new product announcements, articles about wines, and drink recipes. You probably already teach customers about your product every day, so you could easily add that info to a blog and share it with your new potential customers.
2 Social Networks Ready to Go
Remember Yahoo! Groups and a dozen other similar group sites? Here are two new ways to do something similar for your fans and community, but in a more business like way.
Ning lets you build a complete social network, with profiles, forums, and everything else. Check out the Small Town group, part of The Society for Word of Mouth at Ning, for an example.
Google Sites are designed for group work online, and offer a bit more collaboration, though a bit less social.
2 Business Site Profiles
If you fill in your business information, your user profile on services like JumpUp or LinkedIn can serve as a website. They are designed for business, so these profiles give you room to include your contact information such as phone and email, details about your line of business, even hours or directions. You want customers to find your profile, so also check the privacy settings to make your profile public. Don’t worry about people mis-using your email or phone number. The truth is that it rarely happens. If you feel more comfortable, use a secondary phone number and email address.
2 Important Tips
1. Get your own domain. Go to any registrar, and you’ll probably pay less than $15 a year for your own domain name, like beckymccray.com. (Sometimes, it’s way less than $15.) Then forward that domain name to the page you’ve created. The way you do this varies with each provider, and a few website tools (like FreeWebs) charge a fee for allowing you to use that domain name.
2. Be find-able. To make sure that customers searching for you can find you, you need to make sure search engines can find your page. Two techniques: keywords and links. Include the right keywords in all of your online presence. Your keywords are your name, your business name, your line of work or brands you carry, and your hometown or service area. Think of the words a customer would be thinking right before they search for a business or solution like yours. Then find other local websites to link to you, and link back to them. Submit your site to a few online directories for your industry for some additional links.
This was all a very basic two by two approach to free web presence tools. I tried to keep it basic, because that’s my point. Keep it Simple.
Plenty more examples, techniques, and ideas can apply to creating your online presence. I’d love it if you would share your stories and links in the comments.
This article is part of the Small Biz 100, a series of 100 practical hands-on posts for small business people and solo entrepreneurs, whether in a small town, the big city, or in between. If you have questions you’d like us to address in this series, leave a comment or send us an email at email@example.com. This is a community project!
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.