IT and the web will be the foundations of your business – so make sure you’re building with the right materials!
It’s incredible to think that the web has only existed for a couple of decades, so utterly has it transformed almost every aspect of our lives. Today, it’s all but unthinkable that a new business, regardless of its nature or sector, wouldn’t have a web presence of one form or another: sales, customer contact, marketing, product delivery and a host of other activities can be run in whole or in part over the internet, opening up even the newest, smallest business to the world.
Of course, supporting any web activity is information technology; a company’s IT is its skeleton, and encompasses not just web-related endeavours but vital processes such as email and other communications, databases, creative design, word processing and countless other things without which your business simply couldn’t function. For many people IT is still an arcane science – but an inability to provide coherent, sensible, functional (not to mention affordable) IT can scupper even the most promising enterprise, so there’s simply no alternative: optimising IT, whether by oneself, by taking on staff or by outsourcing it, is a critical factor in getting your business up and running, and taking it to the next level.
Over the next few pages we take a look at some of the most important aspects of IT and the web for business, including how to take a sensible approach to social media marketing, and how to negotiate the murky waters of web hosting. As with any aspect of a business, mistakes can be extremely costly, so make sure you have all the information you require before setting out into an often-confusing but potentially game-changing arena…
In the domain
Your first step into the sphere of the web begins with your domain name – which for those of us not familiar with internet vocab, is the website name (i.e. www.yourbusiness.co.uk). Deciding the name of your website might not be as easy as one would hope, however. Most people use their business name as their site name, but if somebody’s already taken that domain, then you’re going to have to have a rethink. Many people now look at available domain names when choosing a business name and purchase it right at the beginning, to prevent such mishaps at a later date – you may have your heart set on a particular name for your business but if someone else, even on the other side of the world, already has that domain name you will be better off choosing a different moniker, as otherwise all your hard marketing efforts may just go to swell someone else’s coffers.
Bear in mind that in certain circumstances, domain names ending .com can have advantages over those with more localised suffices like .co.uk – for one thing, it adds to your business’s global appeal – but if you are going to set up as a UK retailer (or indeed anyone doing business primarily in the UK) it is extremely advantageous to own the .co.uk suffix as you will rank higher in UK-specific Google searches. The best solution here is simple: buy both. You don’t need to build two websites – both (and indeed countless more) addresses can point to the same site – but owning both domain names will tick a multitude of boxes including protecting you against someone else setting up a site with the same name.
To find out which domain names are available, there are plenty of online registries from which you can purchase them; two well-known sources are 123-erg (www.123-reg.co.uk) and Nominet (www.nic.uk). You may be surprised how cheap domains can be – as little as £18 a year (you will have to pay for this yearly) – so along with buying multiple domains to avert the aforementioned .com/.co.uk problem you may even wish to purchase a few others such as common spelling mistakes of your name so you can re-direct any lost customers to your site.
Even though there are domain name providers that will offer you an email service, when you buy a URL (domain name), in order to have a fully functioning website you need web hosting. Web hosting, essentially, is the server space where your website files are.
There are a wide range of web hosting services ranging available for small businesses, from basic hosting for personal sites (which are typically just HTML and graphics) to the more advanced hosting which accommodates facilities like databases for complex sites (like news sites and e-commerce).
Hosting prices can range from £30 per year to hundreds of pounds a month depending on the type of hosting (shared or dedicated), maintenance, security etc, so it’s worth shopping around. Remember: most hosting providers can provide you with your domain name too, so it may be easier to tackle both at one time (although this does not mean that you can’t purchase them separately).
When purchasing hosting, you will typically be sent access to a control panel; this is an area of your site (that is not visible to the public) which allows you to configure your hosting services, i.e. create/modify email accounts, back up the site and add third-party apps and content management systems (like Joomla and WordPress). Proficiency with this is crucial, so whether you’re doing your own IT or you have someone else running it for you, ensure you are in full control of your control panel!
Words: Jamie Liddell
This article was first published in Your Business with James Caan in January 2012.