Five things you need to know about web design as a small business owner

Getting a new website or giving your old one a make-over can be a huge task, whether you create it yourself or pay a web designer to do it for you. I’ve just made the switch from teaching/selling digital products to service provider, so I’ve learned a lot about web design lately and I wanted to share some top tips with you.

If you’re interested in why I made the switch, I’ll explain that too.

First, here’s why I’ve made the switch from courses to services

For the last few years have been producing ready-made courses and teaching people to make their own online courses. But there was a problem.  There’s so much software out there now that anyone can make an online course, but if you don’t have the proper foundation in place you won’t get very far.

What small businesses really need is help with setting up that foundation – keeping their websites fresh, creating engaging content, having a marketing strategy and implementing it consistently.

I found many of the people I worked with didn’t have that foundation in place and didn’t have the time to set it up effectively themselves.  It was time for me to switch from ‘I’ll teach you how to do that yourself’ to ‘I can do that for you’.

(Me taking my role as a presenter very seriously. Photo by K J Photographs)

I’d been blogging, selling digital products and live training online for a few years, so I knew quite a bit about the tech already. But I needed to brush up my web design skills so I could offer the best possible service. It’s a bit like switching from being a painter and decorator in your own home to offering a service to clients. If you don’t like wallpaper you never need to put it up in your own house, but do you need to be able to hang wallpaper if a client wants it!

I haven’t written off making more courses in future, but for now it’s not going to be my main thing.

Update, November 2018: A few after I wrote this post I realised what I was doing was too broad and it was time to narrow things down. So I’ve specialised in CRM (customer relationship management software) as this is where I have experience and I really feel I can make a difference. Having web design skills is incredibly useful for this, though. 

What I’ve learned about web design that will help you, too

I came at web design from an interesting angle. I wasn’t a newbie but I definitely had things to learn. On the other hand I was rubbing shoulders with people who had been coding for years but didn’t know how to sell online. So what are my key learning points? Let me explain…

1. ‘Web design’ for small business can mean many different things

Web design is about layout, content and graphic design. Making the website (ie with code) is the job of a web developer. Designing the customer’s path through the website to make sure it’s as smooth as possible (and meets the business’ and customers’ needs) is called UX or user experience. Getting visitors to the site is digital marketing. Tweaking and testing the site so visitors buy or become leads is website optimisation.

And there are more. These are all different disciplines and nobody can be excellent at all of them.

Most small business owners won’t know about all these different specialisms and will look for someone who calls themselves a web designer, even though they may need some of all these skills.


Key point 1: When you’re looking for a web designer, try to be as clear about what you want as you possibly can and make sure the web designer you hire has the skills you need.

2. The difference between a £50 and a £50,000 website

How can a website possibly be worth many thousands of pounds when you can knock one up in a few minutes on Wix, Weebly or SquareSpace? After all, they are all made of web pages, aren’t they? Well, yes and no.

It’s all about defining your goals and having a website that meets those goals. For example, if your website enables you to land just one extra client with a lifetime value of £5,000 then it’s very likely to be worth paying £5,000 for it, especially as you’re likely to get more £5k clients. Yes, it’s possible that you can do that with a cheap site you’ve put together in a few hours, but it’s far more likely if you or your web designer (or digital marketing person) has:

  • Written engaging copy that grabs the attention of your ideal client
  • Included useful content that builds trust, positions you as an expert and helps with SEO
  • Optimised your site for search engines
  • Optimised your site for conversions
  • Tracked your site over a period of time to see where visitors leave, and plugged those ‘leaks’
  • Included a way of staying in touch with prospects, such as a mailing list
  • Professional branding that’s consistent with your marketing efforts and show your personality (no boring stock photos)
  • Made sure you have calls to action that encourage visitors to pick up the phone, fill in a form, become a lead or whatever your goal is
  • And more

All of these tasks take time, effort and skill. They aren’t things you can knock together in a few hours, which is why a website is much more than a few pages that work properly in a technical sense. And that explains why the price you could pay varies wildly.

You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg though, just decide on what your goals are than get the best solution you can afford at that time, but that gives you room to grow. And keep in mind that a cheap site could be a false economy.

Key point 2: Work out what you want your website to do for your business before you do anything else. If you need help with this, download my website planning checklist.

3. Beware. When you look at a website, what you see is the graphic design

Yep, what hits you right away is the way a site looks – the colours, the layout, the images. Which of course means that graphic design and layout is incredibly important.

web design

But it’s not the only important thing. After all, you wouldn’t buy a car that looked incredible but with an engine that didn’t start.  You need to look under the bonnet and ask questions like:

  • What is my goal for this website? e.g. to make sales, collect leads, save time on customer support, build trust…
  • Is it appealing for my ideal client (rather than just anyone)?
  • What do my visitors want from this site? And what’s the best way for me to give it to them?
  • Is it set up so that I can make changes down the line with the minimum of fuss and expense?
  • Is there an effective way I can stay in touch with people who have visited my site and aren’t ready to buy yet? (e.g. mailing list opt in, social media links, Facebook pixel)
  • Is it secure enough?
  • Is it optimised for SEO?
  • Yes, and more

True, a website that looks like it’s from 1999 is going to be a turn-off, but on the other hand a beautiful website that nobody sees isn’t much use either.

Key point 3: There’s a lot more to consider than the way your website looks. Beware of ending up with a beautiful website that nobody visits or buys from.

Which brings me to me to…

4. A website without marketing is a waste of time

Don’t work on a website first and think ‘I’ll worry about how to promote it later’. There are a couple of reasons for this, first  you may never get around to doing the marketing effectively. Second, your website will need be tailored to some extent to the marketing methods you use. So if people are coming to your site absolutely cold, you’ll need to do more to build trust than if they arrive having got to know you on a social media platform or at an event. If you’re using paid advertising you’ll need the ability to create, test and tweak a range of landing pages.

Key point 4:  Plan the marketing as you plan the website.

5. It’s hard to keep up, but you’re not alone

As I mentioned in number 1, there are a ton of different skills needed to make effective websites and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. I’ve had to face down my own impostor syndrome a good few times as I stepped into this world. But these days I see impostor syndrome as a sign I care enough to do a great job for my clients. I’m always curious, always learning, which can only be a good thing.

learning web design

So if you feel overwhelmed by getting a new website, you’re certainly not alone! My advice is to step back, focus on your goals (which are usually about how you can do the best for your clients) and having a great team around you can be a huge help.

Key point 5: There’s a lot to take in. When you feel like your head is about to explode, take a step back and focus on the purpose of your site. There are likely to be a lot of ideas and issues that aren’t as important as they first appear.

And if you’d like to have a chat about your website, please get in touch!


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