Guide

How to start a website business

This step-by-step guide helps you understand what's involved in starting up and running a website business.

Aerial view of person using a laptop

Do you have the skills to build websites and want to make it into a small business? Read on to understand what's involved, from writing a business plan to working on a project.

Why start a website business?

If you've got the skills to develop a professional website, it can give you the freedom to work from anywhere in the world since it’s an online business. You can choose what projects you take on, depending on your preferences and availability. Upfront costs aren’t significant, and most businesses need a website, so there is demand. However, there are many web design and build businesses in the market.

You'll need to invest in suitable software and hardware. And it's essential you have the right skills. These include expertise in HTML coding, graphic design, copywriting, and search engine optimization (SEO).

Some people find running a business stressful. However, reports found that owners of online businesses experienced less stress than owners of brick-and-mortar businesses.

Types of website businesses

As business websites have become more common, tailoring your offering is important. There are plenty of out-of-the-box websites offered by brands like Wix, WordPress, and Squarespace. These tools allow small businesses to build websites without technical knowledge.

Yet there’s still a need for high-quality sites created by experts. Start by thinking about the type of website you'd like to specialize in. These might include any of the following:

  • E-commerce websites: This type of website can help small businesses sell products in the digital space. They may need to be able to manage inventory and could integrate with an online shopping app like Shopify or Vend for online transactions.
  • Websites for restaurants: Restaurant websites need to keep menus up to date and provide seamless food ordering online. Integration partners may be worth exploring too. One example is DoorDash for easy delivery options.
  • Websites for small businesses: A business may not want to sell online; they may only want to promote their brand and communicate what they offer to their target audience.
  • Content and information-based websites: These can include anything from blogs and message boards to news and sports sites. At the center is an engaged community, which is managed through the website.
  • Portfolio websites: Portfolio sites help people to promote their portfolios of work. Your client might include writers and designers who are often asked to provide examples of their creations.

Step-by-step guide to starting a successful website business

How can you make your website business a success? Follow these steps to write a plan, start a project, and market your business.

1. Research and determine business viability

First, determine the viability of your proposed business and if there is a target market. Does it solve a challenge consumers have? Is it something people are willing to spend money on? And how competitive is the industry?

Depending on the type of websites you want to build, you'll need to find the right software. For content-rich sites, WordPress could be a good match. It includes integrated blogging options for editorial content. Ecommerce sites often use Shopify for their transactions.

Will you need to code anything yourself? It's essential to understand your expertise and if you have all the skills necessary. Outsourcing can be an option, although it does come at a cost.

2. Write a simple business plan

You may not have all the necessary information to create a lengthy business plan. So start simple with a one-pager, and you build on it as you learn more.

Begin by summarizing your business. What is your unique selling proposition (USP), and business goals? It's helpful to understand your market, so include an analysis of any industry trends. Who are your main competitors? And who are your potential customers? All this information is helpful to have in your business plan.

Additional items you may want to include are as follows:

  • Marketing plan: how you plan to market your business
  • Operations plan: details about your suppliers and business systems
  • Management team: who’s in your team
  • Financial plan: how you intend to finance your startup and the first year of business, how you plan to grow your business financially, and your pricing strategy

Try this easy-to-use business plan template to get started.

3. Choose a business name

This is the starting point for creating an identity around your brand. If you’re stuck for a good name, try a name generator on Shopify or Wix for inspiration.

4. Determine and create your business structure

You must decide on a business structure, as each has advantages and disadvantages.

Small businesses tend to choose from the following business structures:

  • Sole proprietor: One of the most straightforward setup options run by a single owner
  • Limited liability company (LLC): This is a popular structure providing limited liability
  • S-Corp: This is an LLC with a specific tax designation to help avoid double taxation
  • C-Corp: This is like an LLC with limited liability but requires more complex maintenance

Find out more in this guide to business structures. There are legal and tax implications with each one, so seek advice if you need help deciding which to choose.

5. Figure out the basics of your business

It's helpful to set up a business bank account to keep track of your company expenses and income. You may need an employer identification number (EIN) when opening an account. You can apply for an EIN at the IRS. Sole proprietors can use their social security number instead.

Some states may require specific permits or licenses, so research which ones you need. They will depend on where you are choosing to operate as a business.

Do you need help with the operational side of your business? Sourcing product suppliers or technical support? You'll also need a website for your business, which you can create yourself or with the help of your team.

Things to consider on your first website project

You've been given your first project by a client; now what? Here are a few tips to help you make your first project a success.

Main purpose of your client's website

When you start a project, ask your client a few key questions:

  • What is the purpose of their website? For example, is it an e-commerce site, or do they only want to communicate their brand?
  • Who are their users?
  • What is the end goal of the user?
  • Do they have any brand guidelines?

They may not have all the answers, but any knowledge they can share will be helpful. You can then decide on the project's main goals together before you start.

Architecture design is critical when building their website. Consider the UX (user experience) of the intended users. What journey do you want them to take through the site? And how can you help them get there?

It may be helpful to have example websites to show potential clients. They can be honest about what they like and don't like and what will work for them. Brand guidelines also help make sure the design and copy are consistent in the way they portray the business.

Choose your client's domain name

You will need to do this for yourself, of course, when starting your own business. But knowing how to do it for clients is an essential part to a website business. It needs to be memorable and easy to say. Your client may already have a URL. If not, you should consult with them on what they want to name their website.

Some things to consider:

  • Avoid numbers or abbreviations.
  • Ideally, include the name of the business.
  • Decide what kind of TLD (top-level domain) you want – this is the suffix of your web address, for example, .com, .net, or .org
  • Check with a domain registrar that the chosen domain name is available. You'll also need to make sure the client's website name doesn’t break any trademarks or copyrights.

Possible domain registrars include:

  • GoDaddy
  • Bluehost
  • Domain.com
  • Dreamhost

Decide on a web host

A hosting service stores all the data of a website for the public to access at any time. The right web hosting provider depends on the type of business you are working with. Research what they offer to help you choose the right one. Some things to consider when choosing a web host for your customer:

  • Do they provide customer support and service so you can get answers to questions?
  • Do they offer an SSL security certificate?
  • What limitations are there?
  • How easy is it to add your domain?
  • How reliable is it?
  • Are there options for ecommerce and domain email?

There are three main types of web hosts:

  • Dedicated hosting: On a private server, so it's often more expensive.
  • Cloud hosting: Data is stored on virtual servers.
  • Shared hosting: Shared hosting allows multiple websites to utilize a single server. It’s the most common option and the one that most small business owners choose.

Popular website hosting companies include:

  • GoDaddy
  • Bluehost
  • SiteGround
  • HostPapa
  • HostGator

Each option varies depending on functionality and budget. Research your options to make the right choice.

Client website design and build

You need to choose a content management system (CMS) that meets the needs of the business. Think about how to build your client's website. You may want to work with a developer to assist with coding and a UX designer to help with the design. Or choose one that doesn’t require any web development, such as:

  • Shopify: Most suited for e-commerce
  • Wix: Suitable for small to medium businesses and a variety of business types
  • WordPress: The most popular business CMS; it's versatile and can be used for online stores, blogs, and portfolios

It is also helpful to know HTML yourself for hand coding. You can then make adjustments and fix things that go wrong with website builders.

As part of the website design, you must decide on the theme, color scheme, fonts, and images. If the client has brand guidelines, you can incorporate any styling into your designs.

Basic pages to include:

  • Homepage
  • About page
  • Contact page with a contact form

Other pages will depend on your client's type of web business. It could include services, product descriptions, or frequently asked questions.

A few things to consider:

  • Keep messaging clear about how your client's business solves pain points and what it does.
  • Include call-to-action buttons on each page that match the information on the page. They shouldn’t all be the same. Instead, use things like "Buy now" or "Contact us."
  • Try to use your client's photos rather than stock photos. Photos of people, such as your client's team or products, work well.

Make a case study

Depending on the business, creating a case study can tell a brand's story to attract new customers. CMS platforms like WordPress make creating a portfolio easy. For artists or business professionals, it can be a great way to showcase their work. Make it stand out with compelling copy and engaging visuals.

Ask for recommendations

A referral from another company can build trust in your new business. Once the project is complete, ask your client to recommend you to others in their network or to provide a testimonial that you can use on your website. It doesn't have to be lengthy – just a summary of why someone should use their services or try their products.

Other considerations

Depending on the business needs, there are a few other things you may want to consider:

  • Plugins are important for WordPress websites. There are many options for security, SEO, and image compression.
  • Establish a payment system for your client if they need one.
  • Link your client's business bank account to their online payment system.
  • Test the site before publishing it. Make sure it works and displays correctly on all major browsers and devices.

Optimize content for search engines

Search engine optimization (SEO) is crucial for a website to be found via search engines. Implementing an SEO strategy can help drive traffic to the site and help it rank higher in search engine results. Some things to consider are:

  • Use unique keywords on each page.
  • Use headers and subheaders with the keywords on each page.
  • Add alt tags for all images.
  • Maximize the speed of your site.
  • Optimize your website for mobile devices.
  • Add title tags and title descriptions for your website, including keywords.
  • Use a plugin, such as Yoast, to help with SEO
  • Keep the content relevant and up-to-date.
  • Keep the website architecture and design clean and simple.

Market the business

Now your client’s website is set up and optimized for SEO, it's time to market it to the target audience. There are many different ways to market a business. Research the options and put a marketing plan in place.

As with referrals, ratings and reviews can be fantastic for SEO and building trust in a brand. Does the company already have an online presence on social media? If not, consider which platforms to use and which content to communicate the brand. You could also establish a LinkedIn business page and a Google business profile.

Digital marketing can be a great way to market a new business site. If there's a budget available, consider digital advertising. Paid social media content or working with influencers may work for your business. Email marketing is another avenue to try for new and loyal customers. You may want to advertise in local papers or publications for local businesses.

Disclaimer

Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the content provided.

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