How to create a business website
Creating a business website is one of the easiest first steps you can take towards building a business, and one of the most effective ways to start promoting it. In many cases, it’s the first record of your business’s existence, and the first place people can visit to learn more about it.
This step-by-step guide will explain how to create a business website using two very different methods:
a website builder and a web designer.
With a website builder, you can launch a website within minutes for around £3 – £40 per month. A designer is a much more time and resource-intensive process, but it also enables you to create a truly unique site. We’ll cover both methods in detail, including tips on everything from creating an online store to how to adequately communicate your vision to a web designer.
Unsure whether a website builder or a web designer is best for you? We’ve created a free quiz that can help you decide. All you have to do is answer a few questions about your business and we’ll match you to the most suitable option. Not only that, we can then help you find website builders or web designers that suit your particular needs.
How to create a website using a website builder
If you’re budgeting between £0 and £500 for either a promotional website or online store, a website builder is the best option for your small business website. A website builder is an online tool that allows anyone to create a professional-looking website, without the need for coding or technical skills. All you need to do is create an account, choose a template, and start editing.
Although you’re restricted to certain designs and features, using a website builder is still the cheapest and easiest way for anyone to build their own website.
The key steps in using a website builder are:
- Choose a website builder
- Create your website builder account
- Choose a template and start editing
- Create an online store
- Publish your new website
Let’s get started!
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1. Choose a website builder
There might be hundreds of website builders to choose from, but only a handful are actually worth using. We’ve tried, tested, and ranked the top website builders for small businesses so you don’t have to.
All of our recommended website builders have ecommerce functionality. So, whether you want to launch an online store or just need a place to promote your business, you’ll find everything you need is available. Also, each builder offers either a free plan or a free trial, allowing you to get a really good feel for its tools and features before parting with any cash. In the table below, you can see a breakdown of five great website builders, including their strength, rating, and monthly cost range.
That ‘Best…’ row is key to choosing the right website builder. If you’re new to building websites, check out Wix – it’s our top-rated builder and a great all-rounder. If you’re keen to have absolute control over the design of your website, give Squarespace a shot. Or, if you’re intending to build an ecommerce empire, Shopify’s superb ecommerce features will make sure your sales soar.
For more information, check out our comprehensive reviews of the Best free website builder 2021: Easy-to-use
2. Create your account
With most builders, all it takes is your name, an email address, and a password, and you’re away – you don’t even need to supply credit card details until you sign up for a paid plan.
You can then use this one account to create multiple websites, all of which can be paid for separately or allowed to expire. This is really useful if you want to try out different designs and compare them side by side.
Finally, you may have to confirm your email address. Check your inbox for the confirmation email (or your spam folder if you can’t find it in there).
3. Choose a template and start editing
Using our top two website builders as examples, we’re going to talk you through two different ways to create a business website.
- Option A) The first uses Wix’s Artificial Design Intelligence (ADI) tool, which is great if you’re new to website building and you want a machine to do all the hard work for you.
- Option B) The second, the Squarespace editor, requires more input from you, but gives you maximum freedom of choice.
A) Wix ADI
With Wix ADI, all you have to do is answer a few questions about your business and your preferences, and the algorithm will create a website for you. You’re then free to stick with that site, or edit it to your heart’s content.
Here’s how it works.
After you’ve filled in your email and created a strong password, you’ll be asked whether you want to use the ADI or the editing tool. Choose ‘Let Wix ADI Create a Website for You’.
Firstly, you’ll be asked: ‘What type of site do you want to create?’ You can search for the most appropriate ‘type’ in the box provided. We chose ‘Business Consulting Firm’.
You’ll then be taken through the following steps:
Remember: everything can be edited later, and you can skip any steps you don’t yet feel sure about, so don’t worry about choosing the ‘right’ pages/theme/design. Once you’ve reached the final step, select which pages you want on your site, and then click ‘Edit site’ to be taken to your very own, fully customisable business website.
It really is that simple.
Be warned, however, that this last part can take a while to complete. As tempting as it can be, don’t refresh that loading screen. It will work. Eventually…
B) Using Squarespace editor
Once you’ve filled in the necessary details, you’ll be taken through to a page featuring hundreds of beautifully designed templates. To help narrow down your choices, you can filter by type (online store, portfolio, blog) and topic (art & design, health & beauty, travel etc.).
Find one that takes your fancy and click ‘Start with (name of template)’. We chose ‘Pulaski’. Now you just need to name your site, then read through a few handy editing tips, and you’ll be presented with a fully editable website template.
The editing interface is front end, meaning you’re editing the page as it will appear in a web browser.
To start editing, just double-click on any element, which will bring up a box full of customisation options. Rewrite copy; change font, text size and colour; add a logo; add a background picture or video; change or move any element around the page – you’re free to tweak everything to your specifications.
As you can see in the example image below, all we’ve done is change the homepage copy, add a ‘Book an appointment’ button, and add a stock image to the background. In just a few simple steps, even though we started with a template, it’s already shaping up into a unique and professional-looking business website.
Now you just need to repeat that process for every page on your site. To do this, just click on the relevant button in the navigation bar (e.g. ‘Contact me’) to visit that page as if you were using the live site.
You can preview your site in full-screen at any time by clicking the arrow in the top right corner.
4. Create an online store
If you want to add ecommerce functionality to your Squarespace website, click on ‘Commerce’ in the sidebar. You’ll then be asked to provide some details about what and how many products you intend to sell.
Next, as with your homepage, you’ll find a fully editable online store. It will feature stock products with images and prices. You just need to click into them to add your own products.
Above is the online store template with stock products.
Below, you can see the before and after images of an individual product page.
All we’ve done is change the product images and info, add an additional product per line, and there you have it – the beginnings of your online store.
And here’s how the online store front can look once you’ve added in your own products and imagery…
5. Publish your new website
Once you’re happy with your website, you’re ready to publish. You’ll just need a domain name – the online address of your website. You can either register a new domain name through your website builder, or you can transfer one you already own. Find out more about buying and registering a domain name here.
And if at any time you need to add or change anything, just click ‘Edit’ again.
As you can see from the above, using a website builder to create your website can be really quick and easy. As long as you’re happy to work within the parameters of the builder’s designs and features, you can create a professional-looking business website or online store in no time.
Those unfamiliar with website editing might occasionally get stuck – we couldn’t for the life of us work out how to change the pricing to £ instead of $ – but all of our top rated website builders are, generally, very intuitive. It shouldn’t take you long to find a solution, and if you do find yourself struggling, you can make use of their extensive knowledge centres or phone/email support.
How to create a website with a web designer
If you have more bespoke needs (and the necessary capital), working with a web designer to create your small business website will allow you to build something truly unique, and to your exact specifications.
Rather than minutes, with a web designer, you’re looking at a timeline of weeks or even months to completion.
We’re not just talking the talk, either. Startups.co.uk has been around for more than 20 years, and in that time has been through several iterations – each requiring us to work with web designers on an extensive creative and redesign process. Check out the grid below to see how we’ve evolved from 2000, to 2005, to 2010, to 2020.
And now, in 2021, after more than a year of work, we’re proud to have a brand new, user-centric website that represents who we are in 2021.
The 3 stages of web design are:
You might think that hiring a web designer allows you to just hand over the reins and await the launch. In reality, the web design process requires a lot of input from you throughout.
Is it worth the cost? That’s the main concern for a lot of small business owners like you who are trying to decide whether or not to use a web designer. Simply complete our quiz, and, based on the details your provide us about your business and its circumstances, we can help you decide.
The initial phase of web design is called the discovery phase. As its name suggests, this is the development team’s chance to discover everything there is to know about your business, in order to create a website that fits your requirements. You may not even know exactly what you want, but this stage of the process is designed to help you figure out what you need.
For best results, you should do your homework. Make sure you can coherently explain what your business does, who your customers are, and what your goals are, and spend some time researching competitor websites.
Every designer will have a different approach, but the discovery phase will probably involve a combination of the following:
A discovery session
As well as you, the business owner, this should involve key stakeholders and decision makers within your business. The discovery session will probably require you to answer some or all of the following questions:
- What does your business do?
- What makes your business different from the competition?
- Who is your target market?
- What keywords will be used to find your website?
- What features will your website need?
- Do you need a URL, website hosting, security etc.?
- What is the deadline for launching your website?
- What is the budget for your website?
Analysis of competitor websites
A chance to evaluate what kinds of features and design elements rivals are using, so you can decide the extent to which you want to emulate or improve on them.
ACTION: Research competitor websites and make notes of what you do and don’t like. How do their design choices appeal to your shared target audience? Do they work?
This involves developing typical user profiles, essentially fictional people that represent the kinds of users that will visit your site. This helps the designers to create a user experience that aligns with their needs and expectations.
ACTION: Gather research and data on your target audience. Who are they, and what do they want?
Define goals and key deliverables
These will consist of all the key tasks and stages of development on the road to your completed website. Clear expectations and deadlines should be set, and everyone involved in the project should know who has ownership of each task.
ACTION: Outline your expectations and a rough timeline (but expect completion dates to change).
Wireframes and site architecture
The sitemap is the skeleton of your website. It provides a guide for the hierarchy of content on your site, and determines how users will navigate around it – the user journey.
ACTION: Check, review, revise and approve the sitemap.
The designers can now use all of this groundwork – including customer and competitor research, branding guidelines, user personas, functionality requests, and style references – to create prototypes of how your site will look.
ACTION: Review and give feedback to the designers, and then approve a final design.
3. Development Content creation
Technically, content creation can take place throughout the web design and development process. If anything, the sooner the better. But by the development stage, all the essential content that your website will consist of definitely needs to be ready.
At a minimum, this is going to be headings and copy on the homepage. However, it could also include text for the ‘About us’ page and ‘Contact us’ page, copy for products in your store, copy for the payments page, and even any blogs about topics your target audience would be interested in. This can edit and add to later. It should all be SEO optimised.
ACTION: Content creation is nearly always the responsibility of the client rather than the web designers.
Congratulations. You’ve done your bit.. Now it’s the developers turn to transform the designs, content, and sitemap into a website. Usually, they’ll create the homepage first, followed by any sub-pages, according to the sitemap’s website hierarchy.
There are many technical aspects we could go into here, but we’ll spare you the detail. It’s not essential you understand it in order for your website to get built. You just need to know how your site should look and work.
This is essential. Even experienced coders make mistakes, so absolutely everything needs to be checked to ensure your users are going to have a smooth journey around your site.
Any action they might take, any click they might make, needs to be checked: web forms, any point of data entry, every link (internal and external), sense and spell checking. You also need to check everything works and formats correctly on mobile.
Matteo Miele, a user interface designer, says: “When designing a website, what’s important is not just picking a good colour palette or creating great-looking visuals, but also establishing the whole development process to make sure the client knows what they need to do at each stage. If the steps are clear and explain the achievable, everyone involved would definitely know what to do at all times. Planning is key.
“When starting a new project, it’s ideal to provide everything that might help ensure the website is designed for the right audience. A competitor list, an audience report, style references, type of imagery, and eventually some branding guidelines if there are some.
“Everything is useful to fully understand what the goal is, and who we’re crafting for. We should never forget that the final product will need to be the perfect combination of all the factors shaped around the average user journey.”
Should I use a content management system like WordPress?
Content management systems (CMSs) like WordPress allow you to build exactly the site you want for a much lower price than using a web designer, but there’s a catch: you need to know how to code.
It’s as simple as that. There’s a reason WordPress.org is the most popular CMS in the world – it’s a free, open source software that gives the user complete control over their website. But trying to build a website using a CMS without coding skills is like trying to make a vase on a potter’s wheel without, well, potting skills – inadvisable. You’ll get code – sorry, clay – everywhere.
Also, we say free, but you’ll still need to pay for hosting, security, maintenance, and more. That’s why we’d recommend sticking to a web builder or web designer.
Final verdict: website builder or web designer?
These days, the burden of choice is a business owner’s greatest challenge when designing a website.
With so many options for templates, plans, and features, it can be easy to agonise over every step. Just remember to let the customer inform your decision-making, and you won’t go far wrong.
If you want to build and launch a website today, use a website builder like Wix or Squarespace – there’s no better alternative. Just follow these 5 steps:
- Choose the best website builder for your needs
- Create your account
- Choose a template and start editing
- Create an online store
- Publish your new website
But if you want a bespoke site, and you have time and resources to spare, work with a web designer. Just remember your responsibilities at each stage of the process:
- Discovery – research your audience and competitors, establish your goals, and agree a timeline
- Design – review sitemap, wireframe and designs, suggest improvements, and approve a final design
- Development – complete all content creation for your website
Both are equally valid routes to creating a small business website.
Whichever you use, follow our step-by-step guides above, and you’ll have a professional-looking business website that’ll help you maintain current customers while winning over new ones.
Still unsure about whether you should choose a website builder or a web designer? How about we take the choice out of your hands? We’ve been giving advice and guidance to small businesses for more than 20 years. Our specially designed quiz can give you a definitive answer, so you don’t need to worry about making the right decision.