How to spend as little as possible on a small business website: Options for Local and Global Entrepreneurs
Entrepreneurs, freelancers, individuals and small companies all know the struggle: trying to grow and become known in a harsh economic climate. Here in South Africa, starting small is even harder when you don’t have a large amount of capital backing you. The economy is rough – unemployment rates are higher than ever – and businesses are suffering because they cannot charge what their work is worth: nobody can afford to pay.
Still, growth and success is very possible if you reach the right audience and maintain the right image. You might realize that you need a website. Even when you engage on social media, more serious clients want to see a fully funtional website to help them commit to your brand. Search engines want to find your website and index it, so that you get more customers looking specifically for your service. But how do you get started? How do you maintain a professional and functional online presence without spending too much on building and maintaining your website? Will you stress less if you pay less? Quite likely!
Cheap websites VS cheap overheads: the difference
Be smart about the costs you cut. Hiring a web designer to design and build a website at a very cheap rate might not yield the results you want. You may end up with a website that is badly designed, slow, not user friendly and not useable across all device sizes (phones, laptops, tablets, desktop computers etc.) There might be other problems with the code and function that are hidden behind the scenes, but will cause a negative experience for your users. Good web design and good website development take skill to execute. It is a better investment to have a reasonable budget for the design and build of your website, than to look for the cheapest web designer around. (Look out for a future article about hiring the right web designer.) Instead, the best way to cut costs is on your website overheads. Static development instead of dynamic full-stack development, future proof design, the elimination of web hosting costs, alternatives to well-known dynamic solutions and email hosting are all areas where your small business can save thousands of rands a year in the long term - without sacrificing anything in the way of speed, design, user experience or function.
If you are a small business, there is no reason why you should pay the same website overheads required by large businesses.
What if the only thing you had to spend money on was your domain name: (, for example) and the development fee charged by your website developer? What if you could then forget about it, and have no recurring costs for web hosting or business emails?
The abilities of ‘static’ are changing.
You may have heard of static websites and dynamic websites. Static websites are created without backend servers or databases. In contrast, dynamic websites make use of databases and server-side scripting to manipulate and deliver their content. In brief, static websites would have fewer options for user interaction, data retention and on-the-fly content creation than dynamic websites. However, website development technology is changing rapidly and today there are more options available for static websites than ever before. There are many APIs (application programming interfaces) providing amazing abilities to static websites. A good website developer will be able to integrate a variety of APIs into a static website, giving it functions that were traditionally only associated with dynamic websites. Furthermore, static website generation technologies are improving the way in which website developers can structure and build these static websites efficiently.
Why would I want a static website?
Most importantly, speed. Because a static website is delivered directly to the user’s browser without having to communicate with a database first, pages can be delivered as quickly as possible. It can be hosted cheaply or even for free, which is not possible with server-side dynamic websites. (We discuss hosting later in this article.)
How about dynamic websites?
WordPress is well-known. Most people have heard of having a WordPress website or blog. By definition, websites built with WordPress are dynamic. So we know that the code within the page has to be parsed on the web server before displaying the pages in the client’s browser. But did you know that you don’t need a WordPress website to have a blog? Or an eCommerce content management system to run a small online shop? What if it could all be a little simpler, cheaper and faster? Well – it can.
But what’s the problem with WordPress?
In short – for most small business and freelancer needs, it is bloated and slow. With WordPress, you end up with an entire content management system that is over-engineered for what you require. This causes the user experience to be slower than necessary. Your website developer then has to install plugins to speed up said user experience. If your website developer is not experienced in WordPress, customizing a bespoke WordPress website can be a time consuming and inefficient process.
Now, your website developer can build your small business website from the ground up, exactly as you want it, without it costing an arm and a leg.
You can have a fully functional website with an option to publish new articles; yes, you can blog. You can have reader comments on your articles. You can have an integrated contact form that filters out spam. You can have an eCommerce API that charges a fraction of what eCommerce giants like Shopify charge. You can have all of this without resorting to WordPress, without hiring an expensive full-stack developer, and without paying the extra yearly cost of web hosting for a dynamic website! Another bonus is that every time you or your website developer make changes to your website, it can update automaticaly so that your users are always seeing your latest content and offers.
But what about SEO? Does Wordpress not have plugins for that? Won’t that help me?
Wordpress does have plugins for SEO, but – to function optimally – they all cost something. The free versions of these plugins often prompt the user to insert outdated SEO into their pages. Even the paid versions of SEO plugins for platforms like WordPress cannot replace the expertise of an SEO consultant – an investment you may want to consider further down the line. Search engines are continuously adjusting the way they index websites – so an SEO solution that is adjustable on-the-fly is better. Now, your website developer can build your small business website with all the functionality for great SEO without having to use any third-party plugins. Your website developer can also alter the setup of your SEO delivery ad hoc, for example when search engines make changes to how they index, or when you employ an SEO consultant to help you go even further. Isn’t that great?
How about Weebly, Wix, Squarespace or other website builders? Can’t I just do it myself?
Many small business owners and freelancers gravitate towards services that offer you drag-and-drop, build-your-own-website solutions. While this may seem great at the start, there is a lot of ‘fine print’ you may miss. Some of these solutions, like Wix or Weebly, put their branding on your business, unless you pay for an upgraded plan. Squarespace has no free tier at all. This boils down to another monthly fee, paid either monthly or annually – the cost of which is on par with having your website hosted with a hosting company (discussed below.) So you’re not truly saving money with these.
Then, as easy as you think a drag-and-drop editor may be, the fact is that your website will be limited to the options they give you. You may find yourself having to rethink your content to fit into the precreated templates, or worse still – publishing a website with empty sections or dead links, because you don’t know how to remove the elements you don’t need from the template. (I have personally seen this on pages I’ve visited.) If you want to use specific colors they don’t offer, or change specific parts of the design, you’re still going to need some coding skills. If you don’t have those, you’re stuck with what you get. Perhaps you can learn the code, but doesn’t this seem time-consuming and unneccessary? It is. As a small business owner, entrepreneur or freelancer, won’t you rather spend your own time and resources on client work, networking or study in your specific field?
Rather hire a website developer who can build you a custom website from scratch, who will solve the design problems posed by your project in a professional manner, and who won’t display their own logo all over your business website.
And what do I do about web hosting?
You don’t need to pay for web hosting. A small business website can be deployed and hosted on a CDN (content delivery network) for free! CDNs also offer great speed advantages, even adjusting to the location of your users. This is by far the fastest, most modern deployment solution for static websites today.
But what about business email?
Surely having “email@example.com” email adresses for you and your team should cost something? Indeed it should - if you are running a larger business with a bigger income. Services like Gsuite or Office 365 for business make sense if your business has grown past a certain point. But if you’re still small or just starting out, they don’t offer you any benefit and will end up draining your resources. If you plan on remaning a solopreneur, paying for plans like these make no sense at all. Email services are normally part of hosting packages at hosting companies, but – if you don’t need hosting for your website, why would you pay for it to only use the email service?
So what if you could have up to five business email accounts, without paying a cent extra? I’d certainly take that. What if you could send and receive business emails on your computer and on your phone, without any costs? You can.
So what happens next?
Technology is evolving, and the possibilities to make great static website experiences for businesses and their clients are increasing. You might be a small business, but your clients need never know!
Here at Grateful Heart Design, we have switched to the solutions we discussed above. We are developing and deploying our website in-house without Wordpress, without paid plugins, without backend databases and without hosting costs. Our contact form deposits submissions directly to our business inboxes, and our team members have professional email adresses – everything you would expect from a business. And we have access to all of this no matter where we are in the world.
Now, we are offering our clients the same experience.