A few months ago, a colleague and I presented an introductory seminar titled, “So You Want a Website”. It was attended by new business owners, hobbyists and artists, board members from local nonprofits, independent consultants, and others. We covered the basics from buying a domain names to content planning to promoting your site.
One of our slides was, “When do you NOT need a website?” This topic inspired the most conversation of the night. In fact, one of our audience members came up to us afterwards and said she felt a huge surge of relief when she realized the website that had been burdening her for years was not even necessary!
I was happy to relieve her of stress, but briefly wondered if I was shooting myself in the foot by telling people they don’t need a website? The answer is definitively no. I’m not here to *make* anyone have a website, or create more anxiety in their life. Rather the opposite, I want to help people promote their businesses, solve problems, and streamline tasks that are overwhelming, aggravating, or always on the “guilt list”.
A website is an investment, and investments should pay off. If you don’t need new clients (customers, donors, visitors, members, etc.), you might not need a website.
When you DO need a website:
You DO need a professional website* if you want to:
- Establish credibility / legitimize your business
- Showcase your products/services
- Attract new clients or customers
- Own and manage your own content
- Network within your community
Keep up withStay ahead of your competitors and the industry
- Share information (hours, events, resources, blog, how to’s, ratings, etc.)
- Help customers find and engage with you
*NOTE: A bad website can be worse than no website at all if it’s giving people the wrong impression or incorrect information. Make sure your website is accurate, and really represents the image you want to present to visitors.
When you DO NOT need a website:
You might NOT need a website if you…
- Don’t need more customers/clients/contacts (e.g., not taking on new clients, retiring, working exclusively through referrals)
- Have a hobby, not a business (e.g., want to remain anonymous or are moonlighting)
- Are generating enough sales through a site like Etsy, VRBO, or Facebook, and don’t need a separate place to establish credibility online (NOTE: Be aware that you are at the whim of these larger businesses if they decide to shut down your store or page. If this scares you, you probably want your own website)
- Don’t have the resources to invest in a website, and another outlet (see below) could work for now.
Alternatives to having a traditional website
Depending on the type of business and who your customers are (and what outlets they use), there are a few other places you can start with your online presence. If you already a website, these are great places to consider growing your digital footprint:
- Google local listing
- Facebook business page or marketplace listings*
- LinkedIn profile and/or business page
- Listings on Etsy, UpWork, Angie’s List, VRBO or other industry specific websites
- Online listing / membership with your local Chamber of Commerce
- Listing on a community website specific to your local region
- About.me page
Examples of small business who may not need a traditional website
One of our attendees was a highly specialized consultant in the sciences. All of his clients came to him from referrals within his academic circle, so there really wasn’t any reason he would need to build a full website to network. In his case, a LinkedIn page would be sufficient for people to find him online, see his credentials, and reach out to contact him.
Another attendee was an artist, who did all of her sales at festivals and art shows, and didn’t want to make any sales between shows. In her case, I might recommend that she have a one page website with photos of her art and a list of what upcoming shows she was attending. However, her website was a burden and taking away from her love of creating her art. I gave her my blessing (not that she needed it) to drop the website and continue to update her Facebook business page* and keep her artist listings up to date. I did advise her to keep her domain name, in case she needs it later. Another good strategy for her would be to have a mailing list to share her upcoming events with fans.
One other example we discussed in our seminar was a contractor like a local painter or plumber. This person had more business than he could handle, and 100% of it came from referrals. All he really needed was a way for people to contact him. In his case, making sure his Google local listing was up-to-date is sufficient for now, and having a listing in the local Chamber was a nice additional option for credibility.
In a nutshell… if you don’t want a website, that is perfectly ok
Some people don’t need or want to find new customers online, and that is perfectly ok. It may be that they are running a side business in a niche market and have all the clients they want. It may be that they are a specialized consultant and nearly all their work is with current clients, with very little room to grow. It may be someone who is winding down their business as they approach retirement.
If that sounds like you, just make sure that your current customers have a way to find your contact information online such as a local online business directory. In other words, if they Google your name, will they find you?
If none of these situations apply to you, and it’s only budget that is holding you back from investing in a website, I would recommend that you crunch some numbers. Consider the value of even one new customer (and everyone they refer) over the course of a year. You will likely find that investing in a website really does add up.
(Updated in 2018: We no longer recommend a FB business page as your sole online presence. It is very difficult to get any visibility from your followers without paid ads or posts)