Recently, my blog partner did a post urging any small business owners holding out on creating a web site to take the plunge (read that story here). He assured anyone feeling intimated that every “first try” typically lacks polish and suggested going to the Wayback Machine (a digital archive of the World Wide Web) if in need of evidence. I thought that sounded like a super fun experiment. So in the name of confidence building, let’s look at some big companies and their humble on-line beginnings. . . .
Certainly not without charm (because who doesn’t love minifigures?!), but I’m guessing the individuals in charge of this design can’t look back now without cringing.
I love a web site with a cartoon mascot that introduces himself before presenting the content of his page. Homer from Home Depot. Priceless.
Where pink, purple, and red and a dash of stars meet function.
I rememberd Google always being just a logo and a search box, so I was amused to see this early weightier version.
More cartoons. I’m lovin’ it.
This one may be my favorite. And I’m not going to lie, I wish I had the Shockwave plug-in.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE
Look at all them clouds!
Not too shabby, right? I even kinda remember this design. I knew I needed to keep looking. . . .
Here’s the gold! This relic wasn’t available on the Wayback Machine. Their earliest functional crawl of Amazon was 1999, and I had a feeling that an older, humbler version existed somewhere. Thank you, versionmuseum.com. (In amazon’s defense, this design was among the oldest within this collection with a July 1995 release date.)
Welcome to “the Facebook.”
In conclusion, I restate: everyone has to start somewhere.
I hope one day your business grows so big that someone like me searches its origins to see the beginning of your journey.
These days, every small business needs to find a suitable spot to launch an Internet site on the web. You may think you are exempt because you:
- Are already well-known in your community.
- Deal exclusively in walk-in sales.
- Have a procedure in place for responding quickly and effectively to customer needs.
- Are very satisfied with your amount of year-over-year growth.
- Have established a very hands-on identity as a brand that emphasizes personal service.
If this description fits you, I can understand that you might feel the web is unnecessary, but you are wrong.
Web Sites Come in a Variety of Sizes . . . and Can Be Complex or Simple
First, let me point out that contemporary web sites encompass a broad spectrum from the highly sophisticated ones that allow you to accomplish all aspects of a sale from presentation of the product/service to payment and follow-up . . . to the simplest variations that exist primarily to establish an on-line presence.
Recently, the WordPress Newsletter published a story about “Building Single-Page Web Sites on WordPress.com.” Frankly, seeing this article got me thinking that the time had come to post an entry on web sites for our blog because the development of your on-line presence creates an important vehicle for branding . . . while positioning you (should you someday choose) to consider taking advantage of Internet Sales.
As the pandemic of 2020 has taught us, small businesses must be prepared to adapt to changing circumstances, and on-line operations can provide a very useful alternative. Assuming you are not ready to (or do not need to) take that plunge, having the beginnings of a web site can only help create that flexibility if and when the day arrives . . . and you’ll already be establishing some history that can be helpful at a later date.
Convinced . . . ? Not Yet . . . ?
Frankly, most consumers fully expect every small business to have at least a basic Internet presence . . . and become suspicious about the solvency and reputation of a company that does not. At a minimum, you can simply put together a small web site that could have your:
- Name plus a photo of your operations.
- A brief bio of you and your staff to attach a face to a name and a voice.
- Contact information, including physical address (needed for people looking to ship items to you or customers looking to use a GPS); phone number; e-mail; and (preferably) an on-line form to submit questions/comments and collect e-mail addresses.
- Directions to your physical location (ideally tying into existing mapping services).
- Days and hours of operation.
- A clear statement and reflection of your brand and those qualities you want associated with your business – being sure to stay within the parameters you established in your Style Guide. (Click to access our article on that subject.)
Remember, this first on-line impression will start to set the tone for your brand in people’s minds . . . so choose meaningful content indicative of whom you are!
How Do I Get Started?
WordPress can actually provide many tools for developing web sites of all kinds and degrees of complexity. If you are just starting out, you really should check out that article mentioned earlier. However, lots of alternatives exist.
Consider using an existing simple template. Many web hosting services and software packages provide a wide variety of perfectly acceptable ones that are easy to use and appear fairly customized once your content and images have been added and fonts, colors, etc. have been adjusted to reflect those already chosen for your brand. Also, those same sources frequently provide widgets (i.e., application programs that can be easily incorporated to handle basic tasks like forms or searches) that you might want to include on your simple site.
Still a bit too hands-on for your taste and comfort zone (even though the camera on your cell phone can be used to generate all of the artwork needed)?
Consider hiring a local vendor or even a college student to give you a hand . . . but don’t allow yourself to accept any excuse for inaction!
In building a basic web site that incorporates the items mentioned earlier in this article, you:
- Provide a service to your existing and potential customers who search for you on the web. (You’d be surprised by the web traffic your brick-and-mortar operation will generate.)
- Have created a valuable opportunity to further define and promote your brand.
- Gain a potentially useful tool for sales prospecting.
- Feature a new method of interacting with your clients.
- Get access to a platform that can be used to experiment with expanding your operation to encompass on-line sales. (In 2020, many small business – including restaurants — displayed impressive agility in shifting focus – of necessity – in this direction. “Take-Out anyone?”)
- Can help customers engage in self-service 24/7, which can increase their satisfaction . . . while reducing your expenses.
Don’t Be Intimidated!
I was involved in building my first web site over 30 years go. The world wide web was a relatively new phenomenon, and the Internet was just graduating from the world of Archie and Gopher servers at colleges used to give users a way of communicating.
Frankly, I was too dumb and the process was too new to me to be as intimidated as I should have been though – over time – I learned better . . . and grew suitably threatened by the task of developing a good, highly visible web presence. (Besides, getting intimidated is always much easier as demands and expectations grow more sophisticated.)
While our early efforts were just “brochureware” and were hardly an important source for sales or the delivery of services, we accomplished some very important goals that served us well over time. We positioned our company as one of the first to embrace the Internet, helping to create a brand that incorporated technical sophistication as part of our calling card. As more and more operations embraced technology, became involved in web-based sales, began featuring on-line processing and service, and adopted paperless operations, this branding was extremely useful in defining our company as an innovative leader across several decades.
Remember, all beginnings lack polish so don’t be intimidated. Regardless, your early efforts are sure to embarrass you at a later date. (Need proof? Just take a trip via the Internet Archive “Wayback Machine” in about five or ten years to see some of your early versions and compare them to the current.
So, take a chance and take a plunge into the web but be sure to always keep your eyes focused ahead when defining your brand. Try to incorporate who you are now but also who you want and expect to be tomorrow. Your dreams and aspirations are as much a part of whom you are today as any current limitations that you plan to overcome along the way.
Note: We plan to address higher-end, more complicated web sites in future articles.