Yaneek Page | Does your start-up need a website
QUESTION: Is it prudent for a start-up to invest in a website right off the bat, or should they wait until they build up a customer base first.
BUSINESSWISE: It's a pity you didn't provide details on the type of business you are starting so I could offer a strict yes or no recommendation with supporting reasons. With such a vague question, my simple answer is: it depends.
Whether, when and how much your start-up invests in a website depends mainly on the business model, marketing strategy and start-up capital.
For some businesses, the main way to build a customer base is building a website, for others, a website is not a critical customer channel or lead-generating tool. In Jamaica, there are many businesses that have operated successfully for years without a website, such as wholesales, hardware stores, bars, apparel shops, restaurants, cookshops, caterers, plumbing, beauty salons, electrical services,and appliance repairs, to name a few.
Some of these enterprises have put their businesses online with social media pages or Yello directory listings rather than building and maintaining their own websites. The questions that remain unanswered are: How long they will be able to continue without a website? What would happen if their social media pages were compromised or deleted since they don't own the social media platforms they use? Has the growth potential of the businesses been stifled by the lack of such web presence?
DIGITAL AGE & TARGET MARKETS
Frankly, in this digital age where consumers are spending more time online, making more purchases online, and conducting important consumer research online, websites have become a prerequisite for any serious business, and even more so for businesses targeting younger customers, such as millennials who were born between 1980 and 2004, and Generation Z born after 2004, or customers in markets outside Jamaica.
As an example, I am an assessor who evaluates the market-readiness of Caribbean companies for an international organisation which issues a global certification designation that can open doors to international markets for eligible businesses.
Having an up-to-date website is a non-negotiable condition for assessment and certification. Businesses without websites are not viewed as serious in the global space and will be locked out of several international opportunities.
Having an effective website provides several advantages such as greater credibility, higher visibility and search engine optimisation, ecommerce capability, easy access to customers, opportunities for expansion, enhanced engagement, better customer experience, strong platform for advertising and promotions locally, regionally and internationally, reduced overhead costs and stronger lead generation, and so on.
THE COST FACTOR
However, as you seem to recognise, a website is an investment that has associated monthly costs that continue in perpetuity. While it is true that it has never been easier to create a website than it is now, there is more pressure than ever before to ensure it is dynamic and up to date.
The investment is not simply a one-off cost of buying a domain name and paying someone to create the site as many entrepreneurs and start-up businesses often believe. Website-content creation is highly involved, requires strategic focus and expert input, and takes considerable investment in time and money if it is to be executed properly.
The investment will also span monthly hosting and maintenance and enhanced web security, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
If you have been following local and international affairs you would recognise that some of the largest local and international companies, with extensive human and financial resources dedicated to cybersecurity, have been struggling to manage the wave of cyberattacks that have threatened private customer information and sensitive company data.
Another cost for which you should budget is that of general website maintenance, which is critical to keeping your website up to date. It is as important as, and in some ways akin to, cleaning an office, servicing equipment, purchasing new technology, restocking shelves, ordering stationary, and so on.
Website maintenance includes adding new pages, deleting old information, app integration, daily updates, changing images and graphics, updating events and special offers, and other such uploads that are imperative to keep the website functional, relevant, and user-friendly and meeting the ever-evolving needs of customers.
Therefore, if and when a start-up decides to create a website, it will need to plan and budget for an expenditure that should be viewed as a long-term strategic investment.
- Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer, and creator/executive producer of 'The Innovator's TV series.