Why Most Small Business Websites Budgets Aren't Enough
Published Feb. 17, 2016
What makes a small business website different from a big business website? The simple answer is budget, the real answer is traditional website building budgets are focused on the wrong parts of the process. Every website project follows roughly the same process because some things just need to get done before others. For example website design usually comes before marketing activities like event promotion or paid advertising. This is especially true for small business sites which seem to all start with a great looking template, more on that later.
Budgets for smaller companies are inherently smaller and not only limit the amount that can be spent on any one aspect of the site, they fall altogether short of executing entire marketing activities. A large business can simply spend money on every part of the process and end up with a completely marketed website that supports most business activities. A smaller business spending most of the website budget on themes, graphics, and plugin integration will probably not have enough left over to hire a photographer. The smaller site will look less put together, assembling further marketing campaigns like vents or paid advertising will be more difficult and costly since critical early parts of the process were limited by budget. The vicious cycle continues resulting in either over simplified small business sites with little or no support for business marketing to half done sites that clearly delineate where the budget ended.
Complete website building and marketing using the traditional agency process is simply not feasible. Most of the budget is eaten up by website building with a traditional focus on design and templates over much more important marketing tasks that come later. By trying to imitate large business, who lets faces it can afford the eye candy, small and medium businesses burn their budgets before ever reaching the critical tasks that actually make big websites succeed. Every dollar spent by small business on achieving a sexy supermodel website is a dollar not spent on marketing a friendly useful site. Looking at the process and the three budget tiers side by side, its easy to see where small business websites stop and why big business sites get results. Its clear why website and marketing agencies like big budgets, they're big enough for using an inefficient process. Even more troubling, its clear why small business consultants charge up front flat fees for website building.
The trick to having an effective website that supports marketing and grows sales is to do actual marketing once the site is built. Focusing on eye candy and obsessing over templates early in the process is a sure fire way to never get to the marketing tasks. Instead, small businesses need a more streamlined approach that distributes the budget more evenly. Get small businesses further into the process and they get more marketing done, its that simple. The same small business budget that never made it into the marketing phase, under a more streamlined process can support significant marketing activities.
Its as easily said as done. Instead of trying to imitate big companies, small business websites should instead be built to support marketing activities directly. Design still has a place but tends towards minimalism, mobile devices don't have room for eye candy. Best practices need not be violated, just not re-invented. A landing page is a landing page, just because it doesn't have a spinning rocket in the background doesn't mean no one will opt in. Even the way websites are paid for needs to change, by focusing less on up front build tasks and more on ongoing marketing activities, businesses and consultants need to get comfortable with larger ongoing subscription fees that replace one time up front costs.
Part of the problem is tools, we'd know we make them. Website builders burn small business budgets on integrating 3rd party tools, buying stock photos, and relying heavily on relatively expensive designers. Its a trap that keeps small business owners from doing the things they really want to do, run customer loyalty programs for referrals, put on local events that create great social media stories, and connect with influencers. These are the activities that make a small business thrive, that put smiles on customer's faces, and give owners a reason to look forward to the day. And all it takes is letting go of big business dogma about what a small or medium business website should be.
It will take agencies and consultants to recognize that the fastest growing business segment in the world needs a more balanced approach. That there is value in helping small businesses do amazing local marketing campaigns. Most importantly, it will take small business owners who recognize that a website is not just eye candy to be designed and shelved. Its a day to day part of their business that needs to be actively managed as a marketing tool.