There are two words most small business operators wish they would never have to hear again.

No, not ‘tax time’, but ‘new website’.

Because as much as websites represent an exciting channel to market, source of free leads and ultimate proof of capability, the truth is that to most smaller business operators a new website is a source of considerable pain dealing with the myriad of technology, creative, content and of course cost challenges.

Just how professional does your website need to be-

Not to mention the twice daily cold calls telling them that the caller is going to give them the best website this side of Silicon Valley.

A ‘piece of string’ question

Which only inspires the business operator to ask: “Well just how professional does my website actually need to be?”

Particularly when there is so many vendors promoting ‘Do It Yourself’ websites.

Unfortunately many of these DIY website vendors make some pretty ambitious assumptions.

Like assuming that you have a good eye for design, that you are pretty handy with operating computers let alone graphics, that your copy will appeal to both real website visitors and search engine ‘robots’, that you have time to bone up on what a good website actually looks like, among other things.

Not to say that with some reasonable skills you can’t come up with a serviceable website, but having the correct balance of design, copywriting, website structure, SEO and other skills is hard enough for professionals let alone a business operator dabbling in it in their ‘spare time’.

Who can afford it?

“But I can’t afford to pay all of these professionals” some of you protest.

At the end of the day, that’s a very valid argument. There is absolutely no point getting yourself into hock before you even start.

But beyond cost, there’s another key factor when it comes to working out just how much time and money to put into your website.

That factor is: How good is my main competitor’s website?

Keeping up with Jones?

Providing a website that is better than your main competitor isn’t just a matter of keeping up with the Jones’.

There are very sound and well documented reasons to ensure this is so. Apart from attracting more visits and in turn leads due to better Search Engine Optimisation, once visitors arrive at your page its critical to provide them with the aesthetics, content and language that is going to appeal to them.

Website visitors have been recorded as judging your website in as little as milliseconds. So it’s important that when they do get to your website, you don’t make them bounce away like a scared rock wallaby.

It’s your job as a business operator to ensure the visitor stays around as long as possible, or at least as long enough to call you, email you, brief you or better still purchase from you via your website.

Resonate with your prospect

To do this, you need to ensure that your website ‘speaks to’ your customer better than your competitor’s website. Better still, ensure your website is so good that the prospect feels that you fit their bill perfectly and there is no need to search elsewhere.

In the absense of any other clear differentiator between two competitors, this fact alone may well provide the tipping point do to business with you instead of your competitor.

Given the importance of ensuring your website is better than your main competitor, it then stands to reason that your investment should be ‘as much as it costs to have a better website than my main competitor’.

You can arrive at exactly what this figure is by visiting your main competitor’s website and working out how you could improve on it.

Name your poison

For some it will be a better appearance. For others it will be more professional photography. Others still a Facebook link or news feed. There are literally dozens of factors that might appeal to your prospective customer.

Ideally you’ll be able to identify at least a few areas where you can do better than that competitor.

Once you know these, you can then create a briefing for your web professional so as to get a quote.

Obviously you will need to check their track record and folio to ensure they are capable of delivering the website you need.

But its safe to say that the more competitive your industry or niche, the more you are going to have to invest to come up with a website that is going to bring in the traffic, and in turn the sales.

It’s yet another reality of doing business in the digital age.