For many small businesses, a website is one of the very first things that makes their business seem "real."  In fact, for the increasing number of small businesses that don't have a physical storefront, their website serves as their primary first point of contact for new business.  Even if you have a physical location, more and more potential customers will engage with your business online, before they ever do in person.


Here are 5 common ways small businesses screw up their website, and how to avoid them:

1. Not having a website

If you're not online, you don't exist to your potential clients.  A website is probably your most important engagement point with a potential customer, short of a face to face to conversation.  Even then, you can bet your potential customers are checking out your website before they ever have a conversation with you. 

By the way, a Facebook page isn't a website.  There's a lot of reasons why Facebook isn't an adequate substitute for a website.  For example, consumers tend to view Facebook pages as far less formal, and the impression of a company with only a Facebook page, is far less professional than one with a well designed website.  And if you needed any other reason, then consider whether or not you really want access to your online presence to be at the mercy of anyone else (i.e.: Facebook).

2. Not Making It Easy For People To Contact You

When customers come to your website, there's a few things they're looking for.  They want to know who you are, what you do, and probably most importantly - how they can get in contact with you.  Make it easy for your customers, and potential customers, to reach you, by including a contact page with your email, phone number, etc.  A lot of companies use contact forms, which is fine, but you'd be surprised how much more accessible you seem when you include your email address and/or a phone number (especially a phone number!).

3. Not Keeping it Current

There's nothing worse than a website that's completely out of date.  If the most current entry in your list of "events," is 4 months old, you're sending a message that you don't really care much about anyone who comes to the page.  Make sure your contact info is current (see #2), and if you are a retail establishment, make sure your website includes your current hours of operation.  Think like a consumer, and make sure that any of the information they may be trying to find on your site is not only available, but up to date. 

4. Missing The Mark

Your website should serve a purpose.  For most companies, the purpose is to be a tool to guide potential customers into a relationship with your business.  Think about the things that matter to them, and ignore pretty much everything else.  Resist the temptation to include features, pages and information that exist simply because it's "cool," to you.  

You are not your customer.  You already understand your product, or your company, or whatever.  Don't use language that makes sense to insiders, unless your website is only for insiders.  Carefully consider every page, graphic, link, and text on your site, and be ruthless about making sure it is geared towards your target. 

5. Designing It Yourself

Unless you're a web designer, it's probably a really bad idea to design your own website.  Sure, it's easy - there are literally hundreds of inexpensive options to build websites - but that doesn't mean it's a good idea for your business.  If your website is really the starting point for the vast majority of your customers, it's probably worth investing some time, energy, and money is getting it done right.  

Find a partner that can help you evaluate the message you want to communicate, and help you craft a design that represents - and reinforces your brand.  There's a saying, "you can pay now, or you can pay later."  You can pay a designer now, or you can pay in the hit to your brand, and business later.  Focus on what you do best, and find someone who can help you share that with your target market.


Your turn - what do you think?  Leave a comment below and let me know what every website MUST have (and what to avoid).