As a non-self-starter, it took me longer to start an online business than necessary. I wanted to write this article to help others get organized for their new business websites. There are a few things one must do which you might not think of right away, and there’s lots you can do, essentially, all at once. These steps should help, and serve as a sort of checklist to make sure you have everything covered.
Obviously, first thing’s first, you need to decide on a name. This can be a trickier prospect than initially anticipated. Not only is every obvious name already a website, but you’ll have to make sure the domain name you can nab up also matches the business name you settle on (if you’re setting up an LLC, or a form of a corporation, which I’ll get back to). The two places you’ll have to check will be the preeminent domain name registrant, to whom I’ll give no free advertising here (but you know the one… with the teasingly sexy Super Bowl ads), as well as your local government’s site responsible for business name registration–this may vary by state, but for me, it was my state’s department of finance. You can check names and domains all you want until you find something you like, although I’ve heard odd internet rumors that domain searches may alert certain companies who grab up domain names, thus driving up your price, which means you might want to act quickly when you find what you want.
After registering your domain name, you’ll also need to find a web host (the people who will maintain your files on their servers for all the world to see). While the above mentioned domain registrant also offers hosting services, I’d suggest finding a company that specializes more in hosting only, and there’s lots out there to choose from. Find something not too distant from where you live, with a rate or ideal that suits you. For instance, I settled on a company that powers itself with wind energy, since I’m kind of a hippy like that. They also had a nice sale going at the time.
This is where things start to overlap a bit. Since business name registration may take a week or two, you can get that processing while you start up your website design. There’s a few ways one can go with this. A lot of web hosts may have a simple site editor included in their services (often of the ‘drag and drop’ variety). There’s also options for those who may know html, like KompoZer (freeware) or Dreamweaver (expensive). At the top of the food chain would be hiring a professional web development company (very expensive). The simpler the method, the less options and features you’ll have, so you need to decide what’s best to complete the vision for your site. The drag and drop editors might not be able to include contact forms, for instance, whereas you can find simple code online to include one with an html editor if you know a bit about how to do that. There are plenty of free templates online for one to use in an editor, as well, which can be a nice middle ground to save you a ton of time. Lots of tutorials are available on the web if you need to learn about html, CSS, or PHP, so don’t feel you need to know it all from the get go!!
While you’re juggling these things, you can toss one more ball into the mix by consulting professionals to address any other questions you might have. Unless you’re working for a larger entity that covers these aspects for you, you’ll want to talk with an attorney, CPA, or small business consultant to make sure your vision will keep in line with your local, state, and federal laws (not to mention simple, reasonable business practices). They can give you advice about how to best set up your company (LLC, S-Corp, Corporation, Non-profit, etc.), what you might have to worry about for tax purposes, or what hiring practices will work best if you need additional employees immediately or in the future. Certain accountants can get you a deal on QuickBooks, too, which helps. Of course, just an hour with any of these professionals can cost as much or more than what you’ve spent setting up your business thus far if you’ve stuck to the cheap route, so be prepared for that. Their knowledge will save you in the long run, though.
After all this, and once you have your site put together satisfactorily, you can upload to your web host and sort out anything else you might need (email addresses, PayPal accounts, etc.). Having your site on the internet isn’t the end of it, however. It takes time for the big search engines to index your pages, which is to say, get them available for people to find using keywords. This can take a few weeks, or longer with some. Now’s the time to start promoting to speed up the process. Getting your site on directories can help, such as the Open Directory Project, since search engines often review these pages to find new sites. Article Marketing, writing blog comments, or posting in forums related to your business can also help get free links to your site out there, which is crucial. Just don’t get too spammy. No one likes that.
As a final tip, while creating your site, and after it’s live, you’ll want to keep referring to Google’s Webmaster Tools to make improvements and keep track of how your site is doing. This one reference point can really help make your site something Google and other search engines will find ideal, thus bumping it up in the search results.
All told, this may take a month or two, but keep in mind, like Rome, a new business website cannot be built in a day.
So to recap, here’s a quick list of what I detailed above:
Step 1: Brainstorm business names
Step 2: Check online for domain names and business names already in use
Step 3: Buy a domain name, and register your business name with your local government
Step 4: Select a web host
Step 5: Develop your website
Step 6: Consult an attorney, accountant, or business consultant for all the important stuff
Step 7: Upload your site online and take care of any last details
Step 8: Promote, promote, promote!