If you’re a business owner or self-employed, having a digital presence — a website and matching email address — makes you look more professional and means customers can always find you.
Here’s how to get your business online and avoid common mistakes.
A website can be your shop window, retail outlet, information centre and marketing tool. It’s available 24 hours a day to customers around the world.
No business, whether you’re part-time, self-employed, a start-up or you have a large staff, can afford to be without a digital presence.
Getting your own domain name — your unique online address — can also give you matching email addresses. Studies show customers trust emails that match the business name over those with generic email addresses, eg firstname.lastname@example.org instead of email@example.com.
Think about why you want a website. To keep costs down, your site should only do what you need it to. Ask yourself if your business is:
Also, think about the people you’re selling to. Ask yourself:
The answers will help you work out what you want your website for, including:
The first thing you’ll need is a domain name — a unique online address — before you can have your own website and branded email addresses. Ideally, this will be your business name or a keyword related to your business. If you are self-employed, it could be your own name and what you do, eg Johnsmiththebuilder.co.nz.
To get a domain name:
Use our ONECheck tool to see if one that matches your business name is available, then register it (do an online search to find a provider).
If you want to operate overseas or attract overseas customers, think about a domain name ending in .com or other country code, eg com.au or co.uk.
Use ONECheck to see if your business name, web domain, trade mark and social media usernames are available — it only takes one search.
For years Debbie has used the same email address for home and for her beauty products company Organic Beauty — firstname.lastname@example.org. When her business takes off, Debbie realises she needs more professional-looking email addresses for work.
So she registers the domain name organicbeauty.co.nz, and sets up separate email addresses for sales (email@example.com), admin and invoicing (firstname.lastname@example.org), and one for each staff member.
She sets up a website at organicbeauty.co.nz for local sales and also registers the domain name organicbeautynz.com to sell products around the world at a later date.
Your first website doesn’t need to be expensive. If you’re self-employed or a small business, you may only need a simple, clear and attractive homepage to start with. Several online services offer free and low-cost templates ideal for a site with just a few pages of information and images.
As you grow, you’ll want your website to grow too. When it’s time to build a new site, eg one that can take orders or requests for quotes, get a professional developer and designer involved. Before they start work, be clear about what you need the site to do and how much you can spend.
Whatever the size of your site, there are rules it pays to follow. Your customers and search engines will thank you for it.
10 common website mistakes (external link)
— Digital Journeys
If you offer after-hours services, eg for plumbing emergencies or IT support, include a call-out number on your homepage.
Social media can be a great way for small businesses and self-employed people to talk to customers. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram help you reach a vast potential audience, often more intimately than through your website. No wonder companies big and small use it to build their brand.
Social media can help you:
Plan how you want to use your social media account, eg to offer daily specials or to encourage people to visit your website. Also think about how much time you or an employee can give to it, eg once a day or week.
Think about the tone of voice for your social media posts, eg a law firm may use a more serious tone than a party planning company.
Over-using social media can be seen as invasive, eg posting too many company updates or information customers can live without.
It’s worth remembering everyone sees feedback posted by your customers — good and bad. Also, you may have obligations if you’re collecting information about customers and storing it digitally.
But one where customer complaints have clearly been resolved can build trust.
Design your website from the outset with both mobile and desktop users in mind. Think about what they will do on your site, eg quick visits to find contact details or longer sessions to compare products.
Customers must be able to find you easily online — if they can’t, your competitor is just a click away.