When you're setting up your business website, there are a wealth of options to choose from. But every business requires a different approach, and going for an 'off-the-cuff' template or a more bespoke option depends on what your start-up needs. We chatted to Paul Kennedy, founder of Fluecraft - specialists in chimney surveys and installations - about why he decided to build a bespoke website.
We set up FlueCraft as a limited company in January 2017 and went live in April. The company specialises in high-end domestic fireplace, flue, chimney fan and control systems, predominantly for the London market. We also carry out specialist chimney and flue surveys to locate 'lost' chimney flues in Victorian or Georgian buildings (typically), where there are no surviving records or drawings of flue routes, and where building alterations are likely to have been made over time. This is very specialist work and highly important for architects who are designing refurbishments in these beautiful buildings.
Choosing a bespoke website over platforms
We opted for a bespoke website because we wanted full control over design detail, social media and email add-ons, as well as full ownership rights for domain names and so on. Additionally, we were keen to avoid any hint of an off-the-shelf cut and paste website, as we felt that this could infer to potential customers that the company was a small set-up with limited experience and resources.
As well as the above, one of the main key features for the website was the fact that the person who created it lives nearby. There are three website designers that I know of locally and I found them by searching for and looking at websites set up for small local businesses. I knew one of these designers from my local pub (networking!). I liked the variety of his websites, which reflected the specific requirements and business types of his clients. This designer has set up our website and social media applications as well as a bespoke email package so that they are all interlinked and compatible; crucially they all have the same logo, livery and domain name.
We have not opted to include any analytic tools for the website (although they were available at no extra charge), as in my previous experience as a director for somebody else's company these tools could be very hit and miss, as well as often misleading. For example, some repeat viewers had been flagged up as interesting leads, only to find that they were competitors monitoring our latest offerings or people wishing to sell us marketing analytics!
We don't use e-commerce as we are a not a product-based business; we are more of a service-based outfit. Some years ago, whilst working for a company with a trade counter, we found that our loyal trade customers were increasingly buying similar products from the internet at cheaper prices. We decided to tackle this trend by setting up our own online retailing site (under a different trading name), which would allow us to lower the prices as the overhead for one person in a back room administrating an e-commerce site is nothing compared to the overhead for a small factory and warehouse operation. However, we soon realised that our trade counter customers had started buying the cheaper goods from this new site and then bringing the parts in to our trade counter for free advice and support as well as alterations and adaptions! Needless to say, we shut down the e-commerce site and changed our strategy.
Benefits of using a bespoke model
The main benefits of using a bespoke model are control over design and detail, complete control over the look of content and layout, and ownership of domain names. Additionally, if in time we want to create a more cutting edge and slick online presence, we can hire a larger company to create a new website without losing contact with our established customer base by simply porting the new site to replace the original seamlessly with all crucial contact elements intact.
Price was also a consideration; we had a website quote from a larger web and graphics design company before we started the business, and found that the quote from our local designer was a more reasonable figure. When starting a business the budget is all-important. We got the best website we could for the money that we had available at the time. The website is very flexible and can be added to on an ongoing basis. If and when we outgrow it we will not be restricted because we own the rights to the domain names and so on. Looking back, I don't think we made the wrong decision.
Tips for start-ups
If your business is to be run from your spare room and is only ever intended to compliment your main income, or if you are starting out as a sole trader for example, then an off-the-shelf package may suit because it's quick, easy and relatively cheap to set up. If you have a five year plan and intend to grow the business and put all of your time and effort into it, a bespoke model might be more suited. Every business will have unique needs.
Before you do, you should spend time researching existing websites to get an idea of what's out there, what grabs your eye and what bores you. Then find a format and style that may suit your business idea. Your logo, motto and livery are very important, so it's worthwhile trying various options out early on. The font style and colour schemes are crucial too - they have to work and be complimentary to the eye. Try out various combinations on your laptop or PC until you find what fits.
Everything has to be immediately appealing to the browser. She or he is likely to be busy and only skimming websites for a few seconds before moving on. Write up your draft web pages, arrange things until they sit logically and appealingly, then cut the text back until you have condensed each paragraph without losing the coherence of the message. When you have done all of this over a period of say a couple of weeks, (thinking time in between creative sessions is very valuable), then you will have a really good idea of exactly what you want for your business website.
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