by Devon Stone
We get many calls from contractors who ask us how to get a website up and running.
It doesn't need to be expensive and, once you understand how it works, it's not complicated. If you are running a construction business and are ready for a website, here are the basics:
You need a domain name. The domain name is your website address (ours is markupandprofit.com).
We get ours from Network Solutions, they cost about $20/year - you might be able to get cheaper domain names from GoDaddy.com or Yahoo. When you purchase your domain, you don't want email services, you don't want hosting - just get the domain name. (You'll get email services when you set up your hosting.)
Keep an eye on the renewal terms. Some cheap domain names are cheap for the first year but expensive when you renew. If you expect to stay in business, it's often smart to spend the extra money to purchase your domain name for longer than just one year. The cost per year is lower, and you'll look more stable when it comes to Search Engine Optimization.
One more issue on the domain name; in our opinion, you also don't need privacy. If someone can find your name and address on Whois, so what? It should be on your website, anyway. Privacy on a domain name isn't worth the extra expense.
- You need pages. A website is really just a collection of pages with your information, written in html language. We'll talk about pages below.
You need a host. In simple terms, a host is a company who promises to put your pages on their computer and keep their computer running 24/7 so everyone else can see your pages whenever they want.
Hosting can cost as little as $5/month. If you own your domain name and build your own pages, you can use any host you wish. Google "website hosts" and start shopping. When you are ready, they will help you transfer your domain name to their server and make your website live, and will provide email capability so you can use your domain name in your email address (i.e., Joe @ MyPlumbingBusiness . com). (We use Lexiconn.)
- You need to be found. Search engine optimization is a changing art, but there are basics to include in your website so when a potential client types "I need your specialty in my town" they can find you. Don't get overwhelmed - just understand the basics. (One source we've used for insight is Web Marketing Today with Ralph Wilson.)
You will find services that offer to provide the first three - the domain name, the website pages and hosting. These can be great services and often will get your website up and running sooner. You will, over time, pay more but it's worth it if saves you time and trouble. One alternative we recommend is Deluxe.com.
However, if you are looking for a lower cost alternative and/or want more control, we recommend you purchase your own domain name, manage your own hosting, and maintain your own website pages.
Website Pages. The difficult part is building the website pages. This is also where you will spend the most money. Your pages need two things - they need to look good (design) and they need to be well-written (content).
Design. You can hire a website designer. It will cost between $1,500 and $5,000 to build a custom website. If it is important to you to have a website that doesn't look like any other, or if you have special needs in your website, you'll want a designer.
But for many construction-related businesses, having a custom design is not worth the extra expense. Most construction-related businesses operate in a local area and are only interested in attracting local clients. If your website looks similar to the website of a plumbing contractor in another state, that's not a problem. So you can use a website template to build a website that will help you look professional and capable.
If you are reasonably computer-literate, want to easily edit and make changes to your website, and are comfortable with having a template design, we suggest XSitePro. The software program costs $197 and making changes is quick and easy. It also comes with many free templates to choose from. It's the same software we used for our last website. (Note: The same company that created XSitePro also offers a website building course for $197. It's over 30 hours of training that will cover more than what you need for your website - pick and choose the topics you want to cover. It is much more in-depth than what we can cover here.)
Content. If you aren't capable of writing decent content for your website, you'll have to hire a professional. You'll need to find someone who can clearly and succinctly tell your story. This will probably not be the same person who designs your website - it is a rare website designer who can also write content. Most designers have the ability to make the design beautiful but will expect you to provide the content.
Your website needs at least 3 pages - a home page that summarizes who you are and what you'll do, an "about us" page that helps a visitor know more about your company, and a "contact us" page that helps them reach you. (Basic contact info, especially a phone number, should in large print on every page.) Whatever you do, make sure your grammar, punctuation and spelling are correct.
These are the basics. It's not magic, it's very doable and it can be affordable. Is there more to do? You bet. Can it be overwhelming? Yes. But you have to get started, and this is enough to get you started. Any questions, let us know.
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Crystal Robinson replied on 03/20/10:
This is a great article. I haven't been on your website in a little over a year and I've been missing out! There is some great information and some new materials which I plan to purchase.
Bruce replied on 04/05/11:
Nice Job. Well said.
Joanne Costin replied on 05/19/11:
As a content writer and B-2-B journalist I appreciate you recommending hiring a professional. A person outside your company can look at your business with a fresh eye and I think that is invaluable. Business owners are often so close to the business that they assume far too much. As part of my process in developing website copy, l will interview two or three customers to get feedback on what is important to the buyer, and often come back with a testimonial as well.
The Builders SW replied on 05/17/12:
What a useful and informative piece of work. Every roofer in South Devon, where were have our building business, should read this post before embarking on a website based marketing campaign. The links to external building resources and marketing and search engine optimizations resources are equally useful. Thanks