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Why All Website Packages Are Not Created Equally

OK before I even begin. I have to warn you – this is a big topic and a big post. I have been avoiding this, but I’ve had so many people ask about this, I just decided to tackle it all at once. If you don’t have time, bookmark this one!

As a small business owner myself, I can say with a fair amount of confidence that the small business owner’s biggest fear is getting talked into buying something and then later finding out they bought the wrong thing AND to boot – they’ve been fleeced.

The fear is that you will make this mistake one too many times and it will eventually cost you your entire business.

We also like to go after the “latest and greatest” thing. How many software apps or pieces of office equipment along with the 20 or 30 sales brochures, do you have buried in your office somewhere?

The digital space is notorious for taking advantage of unsuspecting small business owners who have not yet begun to traverse the steep learning curve of marketing online.

In fact small businesses often find the web so confusing they just throw their hands up in the air and go back to what they know best. I’ll admit it – it’s much easier just to print a flyer or hang up streamers on ‘Opening Day” but is that really doing anything new for your business?

Are new customers coming in by the truckload from that flyer or banner hanging outside your store? It doesn’t hurt – but I doubt it’s getting you the results you want, otherwise why would you be here?

Let’s face it – the internet is here to stay. That means more and more businesses will have access to new customers, in ways they never did before – including your customers. This also means you have the potential to gain {or lose} market share even more quickly than ever before in some cases, without you even knowing it.

Times have changed. We’re all participating in a global marketplace whether we like it or not. So ignoring the reach and power of the web just isn’t a good idea anymore.

OK – I know what you’re thinking by now. That’s all well and good but I’ve got a business to run and “this stuff” keeps changing all the time!
How am I supposed to keep up with all of this stuff and run my business?

In short. You can’t keep up with all of this stuff. That’s why you’re reading this blog – let me {or somebody else} keep up with all of this stuff for you.

The first thing you’ve got to do is give yourself a fighting chance and choose the right tools to build a scalable and affordable foundation for your business online. One that can grow with you so you won’t have to start from scratch and that begins with your website’s hosting package & platform.

So in this post – I want to give you the “low down” on why all website packages for small businesses aren’t created equally and what you should look out for.

So here’s the skinny on some rather “convenient” situations you may come across. These are other business services who use websites as a “bonus” to get you to sign-up with them.

The “Do You Want Fries with That?” Package
This is the sales tactic of choice for the telephone guy, the print & promo guy and the merchant account rep. We’ve seen these before. The guy comes in to talk you about your business phone package and offers you a cheap or a free website with email. You jump at the chance because it’s convenient – so why not?

Well take a look at the fine print.

In a span of 10 years a website has gone from being an expensive luxury to something you can get for the cost of a Venti Latte from Starbucks.

Most of these companies providing “free web hosting packages” are pushing software so dated – they ought to be ashamed of themselves. In short this stuff is just crap that you can’t do much with.

They rarely have any features that allow you to update or change your site’s content without paying a ridiculous fee to get their “support” team to do it, if they offer any support for them at all. Remember they’re in the telecom, print & promo or credit card business.

These free websites have hosting packages that are typically overpriced. The fees buried in your bill could be as much as $65/month just for hosting in a $185/200 bill.

Web hosting from a reliable independent seller (like GoDaddy or Blue Host) go for on average $3.99 to $6.99/month. That’s a 10th of the price and you can get web design services for much cheaper and with more choices and flexibility.

What about those free templates or site builders? Again, these templates are usually made with horrible old, dated software (that nobody wants anymore) that they can get (in bulk) on the cheap. They’re rarely user or mobile friendly. So what’s their motivation?

Usually they want to upsell you custom design package or service (crazy expensive ones) or SEO or PPC packages – that’s the MO of choice for phone companies and some web hosts even.

Getting a website up and running is beneficial for the “print & promo” guy and the credit card processor because hey – you’ll need stuff to sell on your new ecommerce site right? Aren’t you going to need someone to print-up those t-shirts and mugs? Aren’t you going to accept credit cards – which means more trans fees for the credit card processor to collect?

See what I mean? They’re not doing it out of the “kindness” of their heart – if they were, they wouldn’t give you such crappy software to begin with.

“But They Write the Content for Me” Package
And what about those companies focusing on a niche and they do the content for you?

Lame! They usually offer to write you 1 blog post a month which is useless because it won’t build you any SEO. You have to write a lot more content than that and promote it on a regular basis to get any real traction online.

All of these so-called services and “bonuses” are overpriced gimmicks – that make you feel better in the short term but will pick your wallet clean, further down the road.

OK So All This “Free Stuff” is Bogus – So Now What?
Don’t get me wrong, there are some more-than-legitimate phone companies, niche content marketing firms, print & promo and credit card services out there that “educate” their customers on how to market and promote their businesses the right way.

But here’s the thing – what if you decide to go with a different phone company? What if you want to switch credit card processors? They now host your site and all of the content that you’ve worked so hard to produce?

What if that company goes out of business or merges with another company and they decide to drop the “free website thing” altogether? Where does that leave you?

Sometimes it leaves you in the lurch and other times it leads you to web designers like me, who have to tell you that you’re going to have to start over. Ouch! It’s painful but true.

If you learn anything from this blog post learn this. You don’t want anyone to own your website, your content or data but you. No one. Not Facebook or Google or the phone company or the credit card processor or even me.

Nobody should manage your website but you with a reliable and preferably established web host – because you never know what will happen to the other guy.

Trust me, I’ve heard everything from web hosting wholesalers “hijacking” their clients websites to people dying and having their clients sites hosted in another country with no way for them to easily reclaim them.

You want as few people between you and your customer as possible. OK – so now what? I’ve told you all of this free stuff is bogus, so what should you actually get instead?

A simple straightforward web hosting plan with a well-supported CMS (content management system).

I would recommend WordPress or Joomla and if you’re desperate and have no patience – Squarespace. You can get a very capable and scalable website for as little as $6.99 a month and if you catch the web hosting companies running a special you can get it for as little as $3.99.

I often sign my clients up for GoDaddy’s Managed WordPress hosting plan (you can learn more about that plan here) and I am NOT an affiliate by the way. I personally don’t believe in them.

SquareSpace as of this blog post, starts at $8 a month if billed annually and $10 a month – if you go from month-to-month, with some limitations on features and functionality {that’s a techie for how things work on the dashboard}.

By the way – you also don’t need a ton of extra data for storage, you don’t need a hosting package for 3 or 4 websites. Always ask the sales rep to give you the name of the package and have your computer handy so you can look at EXACTLY what they are offering you – don’t just take the sales rep’s advice at face value their job is to sell.

I once had a client who was paying $2000 a year for extra storage, when all she needed was a plan that cost about $400. The sales rep had picked her wallet clean – that’s before she met me. We got on the phone, changed her plan and made them give her a credit for the money she had already shelled out.

The other fees you may incur are a “domain transfer fee” for anywhere between $12.95 and $18.95 depending on the host. This is a fee you pay to move your website from web host’s server to another. You may have to do this more than once. Some people register their web address {aka their domain} with one company and have their website actually hosted with another company.

In this case here it could be your telecom service, your cable company, your print and promo guy or your credit card processor whose giving you space to host your website. It’s totally doable and legal, but like I said earlier not the most reliable or cost-effective way to host your site AND don’t forget your email too.

Also keep in mind your email. Some of these companies have separated your email from your web hosting account, but the tightwads keep them together. It’s a bit deceptive, because email and websites are not hosted on the same server.

So if you get a sales rep on the phone and they tell you you can’t separate your email from website. Be suspicious – hold your breath and ask to speak to their supervisor or someone higher up in tech-support. Once you move from one web host to another (unless you did it through Google Apps or Microsoft 360’s Outlook) you will lose your email history – so back your email up first before you even mention that you want to move to another company.

Conclusion
As I said at the beginning of this post – choosing the right web host package and platform for your website is critical in giving yourself a chance to build a scalable and affordable foundation for your business online.

I know it can be really confusing and frustrating. Your head is probably spinning right now if you made it this far – and I applaud you. At the very least I hope this post has educated you and given you the confidence, whether you strike out on your own or not, to have a more productive and informed conversation.

For those of you who aren’t tech savvy I would suggest hiring a professional to set this up for you. Remember, this is just one part of your business and if done right you can save time and money so you can get back to doing what you do best.

Question: What do you find the most frustrating thing about having a website for your business? Is it the content? The technical side? Not knowing what your ROI really is or how much time or money you have to spend to maintain it? Share your comments and questions below.

OK that’s it for me. Wow! My own head is spinning right now. See you next week!

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