Recently, a new initiative was launched by MYOB and Google called Getting Business Online. It is a very simple website creation tool called Atlas from MYOB… or is it too simple? The websites that are created by Atlas are to be frank, UGLY, and look like they have come right out of 1995. Doesn’t your small business need something better than a website that looks the same as every other one created with this tool? Yes, there is some good about the service – it is backed by MYOB and Google so it is getting reach to exactly the people that need it – small businesses that probably use MYOB to do their books and still think the Yellow Pages is the only way to reach their customers, and it is quite cheap at $60 per year after the free first year of website (plus the cost of the domain name after 2 years).
I fully agree that every business in Australia needs a website, but is having a website that has no ability to extend it to use e-commerce (yet), email marketing, SEO tools, or even just using your business’s font is definitely NOT the way to go, when there are so many other options out there.
Having to learn about Domains, DNS, MX Records, SEO, Email Marketing, CMS, HTML, and any other acronym you can think of, is a bit overwhelming to most small business owners just dealing with trying to pay the rent and staff each week. But is having a website where the only way to buy online is to download a PDF and fax it back more detrimental to your business than not having a website at all? (yes, that is one of the sample sites on the MYOB Atlas site, and another of the 3 sample sites has a spelling mistake on it’s home page).
So what is the answer? I don’t have a simple answer, because unfortunately there is no magic bullet to get you online and get great Google search results and get huge numbers of orders or new clients via the web, without understanding a little about how this all works. If you don’t take control of the process and understand what is required you will end up giving some unscrupulous website or SEO marketer thousands of dollars for a crap looking website and no impact to the bottom line.
Having a discussion on Twitter today about this, with @paulwallbank and @chieftech lead to a few interesting links. Paul has a book coming out soon to help small businesses understand the world of the Web, and runs Workshops to help small businesses get online. James gave us links to http://www.digitalbusiness.gov.au/ and a cool homepage creation site called flavors.me (probably more suited to those who have a solid business look or who are confident with design).
For me, I’m still a huge fan of WordPress.com teamed with Google Apps for Your Domain for a simple web presence and business email solution – So much so, that it’s what I use. It is quite simple to set up, as it takes the hassle out of the DNS and Email setup for you – and for US$12 per year (+ domain name costs), it is a bargain. It has hundreds of themes to choose from that require no web skills to set up, but for the adventurous, for an extra US$15 per year you can do unlimited customisations. Now there is no e-commerce available in WordPress.com, but if you are serious about doing e-commerce, you need to get serious about creating your whole online presence, and it’s outside the scope of this post (but see my portfolio showing a simple e-commerce website created in WordPress.org).
I have also done a series of posts about creating a web presence for your community group, and the tips in that series could be easily translated into your small business requirements.
So overall, my advice to small business is, take control of the process – spend some time learning some basics about how the web works, and don’t get caught out by apps that make really bad looking websites, or shonky web marketers that will rip you off.