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Small Business Website Traps To Avoid

Venus Fly Trap
When I tell people that a lamborghini oil change costs $2,000 they nod their head and say "Wow, that makes sense, it's a fancy car, glad I drive a Honda."  We inherently accept that certain cars not only cost more but require more money to maintain.  It's easy to accept that tires, oil, and tune-ups on a BMW cost more than a KIA, or that an F-350 crew cab will get worse gas mileage than a Prius.  As smart consumers, when we buy these vehicles, most of us consider not just the initial price tag but the lifetime maintenance cost as well.

The same lifetime maintenance concept is even more prominent for websites yet most small business owners fail to consider it when purchasing a site.   When I tell people, "That template looks great but how will you integrate it into your newsletter?", I usually get a blank stare like I've said something in a foreign language.  Maintenance cost makes sense for a car, it should make sense for a website.  Let's take a look at some common website maintenance traps to avoid...

Trapped In A TemplateAs I already started to mention, the template is probably the first thing most business owners shop for when building a site, it's also the biggest potential trap.  The more fancy your template the more expensive it is to modify, yet people so often buy the most eye candy rich templates.  A template that costs $200 and takes 40 hours to modify is not a good choice for a small business, just like a Lamborghini is not a good pizza delivery car. Every time you want to update the site you're spending precious hours that could be used for running your business. Focus instead on a simpler template that takes just a few hours to modify and gives you the flexibility to make changes fast.  Use the extra time and money to focus on marketing your business instead.  You'll be surprised by how much a simpler template with good marketing outperforms a fancy template without it.

Trapped In A Custom DesignCustom design and development is another website trap some small businesses fall into.  The desire for a unique site is much like the desire for a custom built car, expensive now and later.  Anytime a site or even mobile app is custom designed or custom built, its custom forever.  Anytime you want to make a change, you have to hire a designer or developer.  Something as simple as adding an Instagram button can become a big cost on a custom designed site because the button has to be customized to match the rest of the design.  Website changes are inevitable, avoid custom design and development where you can to avoid huge maintenance costs or a stagnant website.

Trapped WITHOUT A SITENot having a website at all or not updating a site is kind of a hidden trap.  Just like not changing the oil on your car will have bad consequences, failing to have a maintained website will eventually kill your business. The reality is lots of businesses are competing for customers, on search engines, using social media, and on product.  Not having a website means competitors will slowly strip away your customers.  Not maintaining a website means the search and social media will ignore your business.  Today, websites are a must have for any small business, even if you buy an economy model make sure it does what you need it to do.  That's the key takeaway, focus on what the site does more than what it looks like, within reason, you don't want a Gremlin.  You'll be surprised what you can do with a small economic website and some minimal marketing effort.

Trapped In Too Many ToolsThen there is the too many tools trap.  Yes, there is a startup somewhere that has created the best widget for your site, the best social network for your customers, or the best marketing platform ever.  The problem is that each of these solutions has a maintenance cost too.  Just like taking your car to twelve different places to do tires, oil, brakes, wash, checkup, polish, and gas can be frustrating, imagine using seven separate places to manage your website marketing.  Not fun, expensive, and counterproductive, which is why most small businesses give up on marketing their websites.  You'll end up with a half baked Facebook posting campaign that takes up too much time anyway and produces frustratingly few likes. Avoid this trap by choosing a website solution that has as many of the tools you'll need as possible built in.  It's worth the time up front to insist on integrated tools, this will pay dividends.

Trapped In FreeThe wolf in sheep's clothing trap worth mentioning, and perhaps the biggest is free.  "But Mailchimp is free for the first 2,000 subscribers and so is Instagram."  Right, and all you need to do is spend 40 hours creating templates and integrating Mailchimp into the site and all your hard work creating amazing photos sends people to Instagram.  That's the trick with free, it either traps you by forcing you to invest time, or tricks you into marketing someone else's site.  If I told you for $10 I can get every Instagram follower you have or ever will have to visit your website every time you took a photo, would you pay? I can, pay extra for a website builder that supports galleries and post the photos on your own site.  If I told you for $60 a year I can send a newsletter every week and get people to buy $1,000 worth of product from your website, would you pay?  I can, choose a paid website builder with a newsletter built in.  The truth is free saves you only a few dollars but sacrifices so much marketing.  Avoid this trap, pay a bit more for a website builder that has the tools you need built in.  If you have to use a 3rd party service, figure out what free is costing you, it may not be worth it.

Trapped In A Book
The I can do it myself approach makes as much sense for a small business website as it does for a car.  You can buy a do it yourself car kit for about $12,000, yet odds are you bought a car built by Toyota for $22,000.  You might be able to get away with building a site yourself, but marketing it is a different story. And that's the catch, a website without marketing is like an engine without a car.  The problem with mastering both website and marketing is the sheer volume of books you'd have to read to be any good at it. There millions of blogs about search engine optimization, thousands of books on website design, and hundreds of companies showing your competitors what to do next.  As a small business owner you don't have time to read enough books to become an expert, avoid the trap and hire an expert.

You and I have been so conditioned by wall posters, advertising, and Top Gear about car prices that most of us don't expect to own a Maserati.  We go to the theater and watch James Bond drive one instead.  It will take time but as small business owners we must taper our expectations about web sites in much the same manner. There are some amazing looking sites out there with huge budgets and teams supporting them.  Small business doesn't need that, the rest of us will do more than enough with the Honda Civic of websites.

Written By: Paul Kenjora

Paul Kenjora is the Product Manager and founder at AwareLabs, a company that provides the next generation website builder for small businesses. He has 10+ years product development experience, has launched sites netting millions of visits a day, and has consulted for fortune 500 companies.