Casual meetings with a few small enterprise owners over the last two months was an eye-opener in some way.
I had always wondered about why and how of the role of websites in small businesses. I did not know (or care) about how websites are being used. I learnt a couple of important things, and also made good with my curiosity with static site generators.
What follows here is not a structured survey but my perception of what is going on, and how the technology industry can help small businesses better. I am referring to the Indian market in particular, and in cities like Bangalore where the audience is generally considered more tech savvy.
Paid ads are a thing for small enterprises
Paid ads are especially important for businesses that cannot distinguish themselves on the street. The ads themselves are outsourced in the beginning (platforms like Google Ads), but gradually the shop takes over.
Ads directing to a website convert better than ads on a third party platform. Hence the demand for a presence on the web.
Drag & Drop Website Builders are making a killing
I could not quite believe the numbers put forward by some of the people I talked to. A couple of points there –
- They saw website building as a one-time activity, at a low scale
- Many simply get domains, link up a one-page site on the website builder, and stop at that
- They do not approach professionals since that will be an additional setup and maintenance cost. Many are under the impression that this costs 25K+ to setup, and 10-20K of maintenance per year
So, businesses create their own pages, get their nieces and nephews to whip up a static page, and pay 6K – 15K per site per year to the website builder company. A few “figured out” that customers do not care much for a site – a subdomain should do just fine. For e.g. super-services.weebly.com.
Some of the popular site builders here in India –
A couple of them just built the site on GoDaddy since they believed everything else was complex, laborious, and includes additional costs. But most of the owners seemed to know what they are doing.
Full-fledged sites are almost always on WordPress
No surprise there – WordPress and its theme/plugin ecosystem delivers the goods at cheaper cost, quickly and looks professional.
In the WordPress world, there is a heavy reliance on drag and drop themes and plugins – Elementor, Divi etc. There have been more than a few sites with pirated copies – the owners do not know/don’t care. Sites often are put together by the niece and nephew group, or “a friend of a friend” did this at a small flat fee.
Online presence is not online commerce
Smaller enterprises just did not care about scaling businesses through eCommerce and online services. They viewed the web as a channel to get customers to their shop. This was a bit of dampener for me after I had learnt about their plans to be online.
The owners I spoke to saw the following as a challenge –
- Costs – setup and changes/maintenance
- Ability to reliably measure ROI
- Low-quality leads
- Competition in the online space
I see the below as related challenges for the segment –
- Lack of awareness on how the web can transform businesses – when used as a channel or otherwise
- Lack of interest to take the middle-man out of the system, and “run businesses on the web”
- A cycle of “bad sites -> frustrating user experience -> no/low quality leads -> distrust on investing money on websites”
- Not enough importance is given to a professional website – probably a combination of factors leading to this outcome. It may be the technologist/online shopper in me, but it is just natural to place trust on a well-designed website run by a shady guy as compared to a shady website run by a well-run business 🙂
From a technology perspective –
- A sample of websites that had a good UX do exist but charge a premium as compared to others in the segment
- The WordPress sites are a security nightmare since they don’t get updated regularly. Pirated scripts increase the risk
- Performance is a big problem. Cheap hosting does not help at all
There is no one solution, of course.
If you are a small business and looking to create a website, I see two choices that can be cost-effective and also solve many of the problems outlined above.
Create a static site
Get your tech army to have a look at static pages (like Grav) or static website generators (like Hugo or Jekyll). This can be cost-effective, better performant than the sites created through site builders.
- Static sites are incredibly fast
- Secure – no databases involved
- Can be completely free of any recurring costs on infrastructure
I had published a free book on how to start with Jekyll – have people try that out.
Or, you could contact us and we can get you set up :). Have a look at a sample static website here.
Use WordPress, but invest resources on performance
Make parts of your website static (there are plugins available to do this) and use a free CDN like CloudFlare. In fact, if you are not doing anything substantially dynamic (e.g. provide content to users based on their region, collect orders etc., ) you can convert your entire WordPress site to a bunch of static pages that can be hosted for free (or for minimal cost). This will improve performance without increasing the cost substantially.
Upgrade hosting if possible.
Use drag & drop builders as the last option
There is a place for the drag & drop website builders. Certainly prefer them if you cannot afford to or don’t know anyone who could whip up a static site, do not want to spend on WordPress hosting. Prefer using standard templates rather than change colours or fonts!
Consider Web for Scaling your Business
Consider platforms like Shopify, Etsy etc. (not to mention the online eCommerce stores) to move your goods to far and near.
- Offer discounts on social media platforms. Invite people to join in – people are all for door-step service (your representatives/couriers can help)
- Enable online payments – with platforms like Instamojo, CCAvenue have predictable costs (e.g. commission of 2-4%)
- Go beyond the free ad platforms – Google, Facebook ads certainly help. Do measure ROI carefully
Enjoy doing what you are doing!
This is the best era for doing small business in a long time. You are creating history.