Do I Really Need a Website?
If you have a business or other project, someone has probably told you that you NEED a website to keep up with competitors or stay relevant. With the services available on the internet today this may not be the case.
Now, I don't want to talk people out of hiring me, but a website isn't always necessary. I have had to talk several potential clients out of the expense and time of a website they didn't need. If you have an actual brick and mortar storefront a website is helpful for displaying hours of operation, location or new products, etc. If you have just started a business making sock puppets, and you have just completed and sold your fifth sock puppet you probably don't need a site and can get away with selling your sock puppets someplace like Etsy or eBay.
A website is a committment, it takes time and money. If you are selling products through your site, it can take just as much work as selling your items in an actual store. Keeping track of an inventory, stocking and shipping items, etc. And, just like an actual store you will have to advertise; your specials, your newest products, who you are and what you are doing to make your customers happy. A website costs money. If you aren't selling enough to pay rent on an actual storefront, you may have to come up with a different plan.
If you aren't sure if you need a website, start out slow. Try something that offers a "free" website like Weebly or Wix, I have dealt with both and prefer Weebly, but give it a whirl and see which suits you. The drawback of these "free" services? You have their advertising on your site, they can be hard to work with, and they can end up costing you. They all have these extra services..."do you want a special gallery?" that will cost you, "do you want to sell your products in your store? that will cost you. So be wary when it comes to using these types of services, "free" can cost you.
If you are trying to sell your items online, there are sites like Etsy and eBay. These sites are great for someone starting to sell their items to the public. You can sell to people all over the world without having an actual brick and mortar store. The sites include search engine functionality that lets people find your items through search engines that aren't even on Etsy or eBay. These sites follow the shopping mall model. Put a bunch of stores in one place and customers won't have to travel far and wide to get what they want. There are also drawbacks to these sites. You are trying to sell your one of a kind hand-crafted item and their site search lists your item next to a business selling mass produced items from China at a fraction of what you are charging for your item.
Let's not forget services like Blogger and WordPress for bloggers or people who want to share their experience preparing for a marathon, feeding your family the newest kale recipes (blech) while getting your kids off to soccer practice and purchasing only world market coffee. These services are great for people who have personal sites and do offer some sales options. If you are just starting out this may be a good idea. These services also have drawbacks, you have to use specialized templates that aren't always easy to work with and if you want extras they can cost you.
Let me add DeviantArt and GoogleArt here. These are great for people who are interested in spreading the word about or selling their art, however if you are interested in protecting your images ar artwork these may not be what you want.
If you are just trying to get the word out and wat to publicize your work or your products online, don't forget about Twitter, FaceBook, Google+, etc. Some offer selling options, some don't, but they are a way to keep advertising yourself/your products without actually spending a dime.
Be aware of security when selling your items online. How much of your information is exposed? How much of your customer's information is exposed? Some online platforms are notorius for their security problems, getting hacked, etc. So do your research.
I hope this article has made you think about your options. The services mentioned here are just a short list of what is available online, there are many others. Think about what you want to accomplish online. How much of an online prescence do you need? How much time and money are you willing to spend and what type of return do you expect?
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