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August 18, 2017 (Updated: January 26, 2023)
There’s no doubt that starting a business is easier than ever before. Where many people once relied on retail stores, craft fairs, and shopping channels, people today can start a small business with a Facebook page, an Etsy account, or one of the many other massive websites. These resources are wonderful; countless crafty people have lifted themselves by the bootstraps and found a reliable income using only what these companies give them.
That said, you always stand to gain more in business if you can successfully become independent. In this case, that means selling and operating your business from your own website. Not only is this far easier than you might think, but neglecting this opportunity could set your business back due to events entirely out of your control. Let’s see just how expensive or difficult it is to set up a website for e-commerce and consider why not doing so is such a risk.
Image via Flickr by JAlmon73
One of the strongest reasons to have your own website is because you’ll have your own domain. A domain name is the actual web address people type in to visit your website, and there’s something great about being able to say “mybrandname.com.” It looks snappy, it can rank beautifully if you pick a hot keyword in your industry, no one can take it from you, and it comes across as professional.
Best of all, domains are cheap. Even if the exact one you want is taken, you could choose an alternative suffix, like “.org” or “.biz.” If you’re dead set on buying a specific domain, but it’s not available, you could contact the owner and negotiate a purchase.
The biggest problem with relying on Amazon, Facebook, and other huge platforms is that everything you use doesn’t belong to you. Your profile is just one of many that is subject to change according to updates in the website’s rules and design. This is much like being stranded in the ocean, never quite sure of when a storm will come to flip the boat. If you fail to keep up with the new rules, you could be punished or thrown out.
One example is Etsy, a service for selling arts and crafts. It continuously changes its search algorithms and site design, which means that you could have a great quarter full of sales until a sudden change to the website that gives your store page fewer views or makes your best items harder to see. There is no recourse when this happens, and you can easily find people complaining whenever these sites make a change.
Most websites where people sell products give you little or no room for innovative web design. This alone is a huge setback because it’s only a matter of time before you think of something brilliant that you’d love to do to better organize your store or get people interested in a certain item, but there’s no option to do it.
Sure, you could make suggestions for improving the website you’re hosted on, but these companies get suggestions like this constantly. Take matters into your own hands and create the exact website you want your customers to see. You’ll be able to make the exact landing page you want to build a mailing list of customers, have whatever size pictures you like, and fit huge amounts of writing for a content marketing campaign.
Online selling can be a numbers game, and the idea that your customer base goes to a single website can scare you away from trying to make it on your own. But consider the other side of that coin. Big websites get a lot of attention, but they also have lots of competition. Like a digital fair, you’re sharing space with thousands of businesses that compete with yours, and they’re likely ones that established themselves earlier, can bid higher for ad space, and have more social proof behind them.
These major corporations are on your competition’s side. Sites like YouTube are notorious for making sure that the most popular videos remain popular. Whoever’s doing the best keeps doing the best because that’s how most search algorithms work. Is this wrong? Not at all. But it poses a conundrum that’s easily solved by also having an independent space to sell, one where you have no real competition aside from similar-sounding websites and where your own SEO campaign determines your visibility.
Making an inexpensive website is easy these days. Domains are affordable when unclaimed, and hosting is always cheap for simple seller websites. Even the plugins and other tools to make it profitable don’t have to be pricey. Additions like WooCommerce have everything it takes to build an online store within your domain, with product pages, checkout pages, and every other bit of functionality.
The only real expense with web design is time. If you don’t have the time to learn how to make your site perfect, you can pay a professional or find a friend who is willing to help. What matters is the cost of making and maintaining a website versus the money left on the table by relying solely on a giant, unpredictable platform where you are just one user among thousands. Also, many websites require selling or hosting fees or take some of your ad revenue.
A website is a safety net that you’ll need when the unthinkable happens. Fortunately, you don’t have to use your own website exclusively. If you already have a great business page somewhere else, use it to link to your website’s store. Take whatever you already have working and use it to build up a decent website as well; you never know what could happen tomorrow.
Make a list of what you wish you could do on your hosted site and then take full advantage of your own site by doing those things. A good content marketing campaign — such as a blog — with strong writing and a professional edge will establish your authority and help you rank in search engines. Keep up a good strategy like this, and eventually you may find your non-owned business site less important or vital to your continued success.
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