The combination of economic impact from COVID coupled with an abundance of time due to sheltering-in-place has would-be entrepreneurs around the world pursuing their passion for starting a business. Many of these new ideas centralize around online platforms to allow growth while social distancing.
Social Media is a great place to start, however, you’ll quickly find that it is limited in what it can offer to support with your online business needs. It’s time to look for a hosting platform for your small business. You’re going to have to spend money to make money, however, your choices need to be cost-effective while making sure that your hosting capabilities aren’t so limited that you fail to accomplish your goals. As you review your choices for hosting companies and what type of hosting to utilize, it’s crucial to balance value with functionality.
First Things First: Establish Your Goals
Steven Covey famously advises to “start with the end in mind”; this is solid advice for aspiring business owners. Maybe your site is initially created simply as a landing page to announce that something exciting is coming. Perhaps you’re ready to launch your eCommerce business. Maybe you’re promoting your new consulting service. Just like your overall business plan, you’ll want to have clear goals regarding what your site should accomplish.
Are you trying to establish yourself as an expert in your industry by sharing your professional opinions?
- Then you may need to set up a blog.
Are you more interested in creating a one-stop location designed to inform your clients about your business?
- The website is perfect for that, probably combined with an actively-managed social media presence.
Are you going to be selling goods directly to your customers?
- You’ll need to consider eCommerce hosting options
In all instances, you will want to check your metrics regularly, establish a baseline for your expectations, and check those metrics against the expectations to see if you’re accomplishing your goals. Often this is centralized around cashflow, but for a new business, you might find more immediate success in setting goals that lead to sales such as page visits, newsletter signups, sales leads, or clickthrough rates.
Decide on the Right Budget
Different hosting services offer packages at different prices. Carefully review your options and determine whether you’re going to have access to the speed, resource capacity, and customization options appropriate to your business needs. Hosting companies may offer reduced rates in contrast to their competitors at different times just like any other business, so check your services out to see what they have to offer.
For example, a web hosting company may offer a variety of services all with unique features, differentiated by the additional benefits, such as SEO tools and a dedicated IP. Typically, the price for these plans varies dramatically by the level of commitment you have, either paying a premium month to month or getting a much lower price by paying annually or for several years at a time.
You’ll want to make sure that your host is providing you with the proper level of capacity for your resource needs. A site that uses a lot of high-resolution photography is going to need greater capacity. Likewise, you may find your host limits the number of email boxes you’re provided. You may also consider how much traffic you anticipate your site to get or what initial sales volume you anticipate. All of these things can impact your decision-making when looking at hosting services.
Number and Type of Sites to Host
Depending on the goods and services you provide, it may be more appropriate to separate out your presence into more than one website. You’ll need to make that distinction early on. This could determine your eligibility for a cheaper plan, but may also require you to upgrade plans if you change your mind at a later date.
In general, if you are developing a personal branding website at the same time you are building your business website, you may want to separate those on different hosting plans. Should you find success and someone wants to buy your business, they’d take your personal branding with them if it was on the same site. It’s advisable to keep personal and business clearly distinguished, financially and otherwise.
Ideally, the purpose of paying for an outside host rather than hosting your sites yourself is to reduce the cost in technical expertise. Your service provider is the subject matter expert here. If you do have a web guru, they may want to preview the control panel provided by the host to make sure that it’s intuitive and user friendly. Often you encounter a “get what you pay for” scenario where cheaper hosting with smaller providers limits functionality and customer support. More established brands often have live chat or solutions on forums, which will allow you to better troubleshoot without hiring additional help.
Know Your Security
You’ll benefit from making sure that your web host offers Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption, especially if you plan to sell goods from the site. SSL keeps data private and offers visitors a level of trust that their data is secure; sites without it may give visitors a warning that the site is not safe, which likely loses that potential customer indefinitely.
To protect against attacks, your web host should also have clear plans in place for Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks. Access to the server should be appropriately restricted to prevent unauthorized exploitation of machines.
IT security services are like the fire department; you may not actively use them, but you’ll be glad they are there when an emergency comes. The network should be actively monitored and you should be immediately notified of any malware found. In addition, your webhost should provide firewalls, domain name privacy, spam filtering, virus and security protection.
This is an area where a more in-depth service agreement with an established service provider can come in handy, as there are often more resources dedicated to security.
How Fast is Fast?
Various hosting services have a speed based on milliseconds (ms). The higher the number, the slower the service will be. This can impact site performance in general, as well as how well the website functions. After all, if your site is loading slowly, you may suffer page abandonment as visitors walk away. Check your prospective host to see what their speeds are in comparison to other hosts.
These discussions may leave you with more questions than answers, however, hopefully it provides insight on what considerations you need to take when establishing your website. You don’t know what you don’t know, and now you’re more equipped to build your business.
Michael Magnus is an advertising lecturer and digital marketing consultant with Magnus Opus.