Are you spending too much money to update your small business website each month? Would you like to cut down on maintenance costs? Join hosts Gene Marks and Elizabeth Larkin as they discuss budget-friendly ways to boost your online presence and manage your website.

Show Notes

Welcome to another episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast. Sign up for the weekly newsletter so you never miss an episode.


Elizabeth: We’re back. This is Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks with another edition of the Small Biz Ahead podcast. Gene?

Gene: Yes.

Elizabeth: I just got back from vacation, so I’m in that post-vacation “oh my gosh I have 500 emails” lull right now?

Gene: Where did you go on vacation?

Elizabeth: I went to Jamaica.

Gene: You know what’s really sad? Were you at a resort in Jamaica?

Elizabeth: Yes, I was.

Gene: Right now, as you’re sitting here in Hartford, Connecticut, you know all those people who work at that resort? They’re all still there right now working in that beautiful resort.

Elizabeth: I know, I know.

Gene: You left it behind. They’re there. They’re living it.

Elizabeth: It’s almost sometimes not worth it going to those resorts because the last day, it’s so sad to leave.

Gene: Depressing to leave. I totally agree.

Elizabeth: It’s so depressing.

Gene: That last day is always messed up. I always think if you’re going to leave, you leave first thing the last day because your whole day is like you’re just moping around.

Elizabeth: Yup, yup. When we were leaving, a lot other people that were on our bus to go back to the airport, they had already booked going back to that resort. The people there were like, “We’ll see you back in October.”

Gene: Oh my gosh.

Elizabeth: I’m like, “I’m never coming back here.” We go to the Caribbean every year for a week and I always think, “I don’t want to go to the same place twice.” Although there are those people who love going back to the same place, they feel really comfortable with that.

Gene: Sure, sure.

Elizabeth: It is really sad to come back. Our bonus question at the end of the episode is going to be about coming back from vacation.

Gene: Sounds good.

Elizabeth: Keep that in mind. We will be back with question one after we hear from our sponsor.

QUESTION #1: Updating Your Small Business Website on a Budget

Okay, we’re back. Question one is from Ben in Illinois.

“I have a website that I paid someone to set up years ago. Every time I know I need to make an update, I have to send in a ticket and wait until they respond to me. I hate paying for this,”  “but I have no computer skills and no idea how to make changes to a website. Is there an easier way?”

I have a lot to say about this.

Gene: Yeah, I want to hear it.

Elizabeth: This is a very common question. Websites are necessary, but very elaborate websites are not necessary. I know a lot of small businesses get into this trap where they pay a web developer or a web designer or some company to design a really elaborate custom website for them that is out of date three months later, and then they have to pay this company to continually update it. Don’t do that if you’re starting out. Do the opposite: start out with a really, really simple website. I always recommend doing a WordPress theme because WordPress is just really easy to work with.

Gene: Do it yourself or have a designer do it for you?

Elizabeth: I recommend actually doing it yourself. What you do is, and we’ll put all this in the show notes and we’ll talk about this I’m sure pretty extensively, but simply you buy your domain name. You go to a site called, I think it’s called Site Ground. This is how I set up my website. You buy the domain name there. They ask you “Would you like a WordPress site?” and you say yes. They just, bam, the WordPress site appears. You go and buy a theme, which is pretty much what the design of your site is going to look like. Then, you just start populating it with your own content. Now you could also hire someone to do this, maybe for about $100 an hour for a couple hours.

Gene: Sounds about right.

Elizabeth: They’ll fill in your content for you. You can also hire a company called WP Site Care which is $79 a month and then they’ll make any update to the website that you want, but don’t ever pay a designer to design a really elaborate custom website for you. A lot of small businesses really only need a Google listing and a Facebook page.

Gene: You’re going to yell at me because I made the same mistake that, what’s the guy’s name from Illinois?

Elizabeth: Ben from Illinois.

Gene: Ben from Illinois. I have the same thing going on as hi By the way, [inaudible 05:24] while you’re listing out some tools, great service called Donuts. D-o-n-u-t-s. What Donuts is is they provide you and consult you very inexpensively a not com address. There’s hundreds of not com addresses from .wine to .group to .company. There’s a whole bunch of the Instead of having your business being, you can actually be your company name like if you’re a wine store, or if you’re a restaurant.

Elizabeth: Oh cool.

Gene: The whole domain is that. There’s no .com, .net, no nothing. It’s very, very cool.

Elizabeth: Oh neat.

Gene: When it comes time to doing your own site, you and I have talked at length Elizabeth about outsourcing and delegating, focusing on what you do and having somebody else do stuff for you. Your website is very important, and I realize that. You know what I found? I had a website designer set up my site and my site’s really not that complicated. It’s not that crazy, but I had a website designer do it. Looking back on it, I could’ve taken your advice and done the whole thing on WordPress. The time that I spent with the designer, just explaining to her and discussing what we want to do because sometimes, designers get pretty out of control. They want to justify their value so they’ll spend all this time-

Elizabeth: It’s like IT. You don’t really know what exactly they’re going to be doing.

Gene: Yeah, they’re just trying to make sure they understand you’re getting your full hundred bucks an hour’s worth. I look back and I was like, “You know, I spent as much time with that designer as I probably would’ve spend if I’d just designed it myself, if I just did like a do-it-yourself type of website.” Now again, if you’ve got the kind of site where it really doesn’t need to be expanded and you want to sell stuff off your site or have more interaction or more engagement and more plugins, like anything else it gets to a certain level where you’re like, “I’m not going to be spending any more time on this. I need an expert to do it.”

Look, if you’re a pizza shop, if you’re a restaurant, if you’re an individual business owner that your site needs to look professional and updated but doesn’t have to be too complex, I think what you’re recommending makes absolute sense to do because I do think when all the smoke is cleared, that you’re going to wind up spending as much time developing your own site initially as working with a designer. I’m with you on it.

Elizabeth: Yeah. I really feel like a lot of times, people think, “Oh, custom site. This will be great,” but as soon as something changes, like for instance, now you really need to have a mobile responsive site. Couple years ago, that wasn’t a requirement from Google, but now in order to show up in search results, you have to have a mobile-responsive site. All those people that spend ten, twelve grand on a custom site-

Gene: Are now redesigning into a mobile-optimized site. That’s right.

Elizabeth: If you get, I like to call it an “out of the box site,” so you go to Shopify, you go to WordPress, you go to Squarespace. People love Squarespace.

Gene: Squarespace is great. Yodel, I mentioned them earlier. Excellence.

Elizabeth: Yodel, they will keep up with the technology. I can’t even speak today, technological changes. Then you can just hire people to tweak things for you. Also, the other thing I want to mention about business sites. This drives me crazy. Again, like Gene said, you don’t have to have everything on there, but you do have to have your address on the first page.

Gene: Kind of helps.

Elizabeth: If you are like a brick-and-mortar business, you need to have you address there. A lot of times, I’ll look at a hair salon or something-

Gene: You’re like, “Where are you located?” You’re drilling down through six pages to find out where they are.

Elizabeth: I end up having to go to Yelp or Google to find it. It’s ridiculous to not just have your address right there.

Gene: I just read there was a survey that was done recently, literally within the past few weeks of this date, where it still sounds like half of small businesses don’t have websites, even today. Again, if you’re running a restaurant or gas station, maybe you don’t need to have an actual website itself. You don’t necessarily have to have one because there are other avenues. Some people say, “Listen, my whole site is on Yelp,” for example. Everything drives back there, or, “I just have a Facebook page. That’s my whole thing,” and you go, “Because there’s so many people on Facebook, you drive back to Facebook.” I have a very simple site setup and I spend most of my time on the services that drive people back to my site. If you’re a restaurant, you’ve got a simple website but you’ve got a menu site or GrubHub for delivery and Yelp to give your reviews. I think that those are more valuable than anything else.

Elizabeth: Absolutely. I always talk about my dog-walker because she’s a sole proprietor. She doesn’t have a website. She doesn’t have a Facebook business page. She said, “You know, I really want to have more of an online presence,” and she should because when someone recommended her to me, the first thing I did was Google her business and I didn’t find anything. I still hired her and she’s fantastic. Happy Feet Pet-Sitting if you’re in Hartford.

Gene: You mentioned you Googled her business. The other thing I just want to make sure that you’re clear, whether you have a Facebook page, a website, a simple website setup, even just a listing on Yelp, Google has something called Google My Business. You ever go on Google and you Google a company, and all this information comes up about them on the right side of the screen?  If you’re a business owner with a simple website or, again, a place on Facebook or Yelp listing, you go to Google My Business and fill out the form there where you share a bunch of information about your business. Google is Google, they want to know information about you. It’s fine. They ask you for your name, address, last five years of tax returns-

Elizabeth: Let’s be honest, Google already knows everything.

Gene: Your social security. No, they ask you basic information about your business in the description. That way, it gets listed on Google search. They will find you. You just have to have a link back to something so that when people do find you and they do a Google search, they’ll find you. Yahoo Business has the same thing, Bing Places has the same thing. By the way, Bing and Yahoo still make up 29% of searches in this country-

Elizabeth: Oh wow, I didn’t know that.

Gene: So don’t ignore Bing and Yahoo. Bing in particular did the search for Facebook at one time, and also for Twitter. Those search engines are less expensive than Google. You want to be listed on Google My Business, Yahoo Business-

Elizabeth: And it’s free to do that, right?

Gene: Completely free. You’re filling out the forms and sharing information with the Then when people are trying to find you, now the search engines know that you exist. Wherever you pointed them to, that’s what your URL will be, even if it’s just a Yelp site or if it’s something like a Facebook page. Doesn’t necessarily have to be a website. It’s nice to have a website though, just a simple website.

Elizabeth: It’s nice to have a website that looks professional, how to contact you, the basic services you offer, and your address. Really a lot of times, I feel like you could just ask yourself, “Can I just get away with just a Facebook page?” A lot of times, yes. If you’re just starting out or you don’t feel like you want to dive into doing a DIY website, but really the reason I say WordPress is because you can Google anything about WordPress. “How do I sign up for WordPress?” There’s a blog post on that. You can Google basically how to create an entire website. It’s just so user-friendly. Don’t go the custom route.

The other thing you can do is could hire a designer for about $1800 to customize a WordPress theme for you. You could buy a WordPress theme which, again, it’s the design of the website. Or Squarespace, or probably Yodel or any of those, and a designer can go in a tweak it so the colors match your brand and the font matches your brand. You can do that for about $1800 and they’ll usually throw in a logo for you too.

Gene: Just be careful when you do that. My experience was you’re still going to spend time with that designer.

Elizabeth: Yes, definitely.

Gene: They’re going to be asking you a bunch of questions. Brace yourself for that.

Elizabeth: Typically, they’ll send you about a five-page questionnaire that has every question about your business. What that does for them is it just tells them do you want a more elegant design, do you want a more family-friendly design or child-friendly design. It just covers them so they really know what you’re looking for. If you have a retail store, I would consider getting a designer because you want to put a certain aesthetic out there, but if you have a pet-sitting dog-walking service, you probably don’t need to do that. You just need a website where people can contact you and a list of your services.

Gene: Agreed.

Elizabeth: Now we’re going to hear from one of our sponsors.

QUESTION #2: Do I Need to Be on Social Media?

Okay Gene, we’re back with question two from Kathy in Arizona who owns a dry cleaning service.

Gene: First of all, I have to say these people that are sending in these questions, Kathy from Arizona, I need cities. I need towns.  I’m picturing Kathy riding on a horse with a cowboy hat on all around the state. All right, Kathy? I don’t know where you’re from, but next time you send in a question, just tell us where you’re fro

Elizabeth: Yeah. You can also give us your business name too, and then we’ll Google you.

Gene: Yeah. We’ll promote you guys, come on. All right, Kathy.

Elizabeth: She’s a dry cleaner in Arizona. Kathy asks,

“I see businesses open Twitter accounts. They tweet and no one responds. I see them open Facebook pages and no one likes their posts either. Here’s my question: why do I need to be on social media?”

Elizabeth: I love this. My quick answer, and then I’m sure Gene has way more thoughts on this, is reputation management. It’s not that you need to be on social media; you just have to be on social media. You have to have a presence so that someone can’t come up with a separate presence for you. You have to own your identity on social media and online. A big part of that is having a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Not all of those are going to be right for you business, but you at least have to be on one form of social media.

Gene: Don’t agree, and I’ll tell you the reason why with all due respect. Kathy runs a dry cleaners, right? We have a dry cleaners in our neighborhood. I go there, bring my stuff in. They’re great. I don’t care that they have a website let alone a Twitter page or Facebook page-

Elizabeth: What about a Yelp presence?

Gene: Yelp presence, okay, and we’ll talk about Yelp in a minute because that’s a very, very good point. When we talk about thinks like Twitter and Facebook, if your customers are there, if it’s going to make you money, then do it. If it’s not going to make you money, there are too many other things you could be doing that will be making you money. Sometimes I think a Facebook page or a Twitter account for business that’s got no activity on it at all looks worse than just having nothing. I’m like, “Wow, these guys have a Twitter account. They’ve got nothing going on. They kind of suck, don’t they?” I don’t know, it just seems-

Elizabeth: It’s sad.

Gene: Yeah, it just seems sad. Of course, you can have a lot of activity if you want to pay for it, meaning that you want to have somebody start tweeting out the best way to dry clean their shirts.

Elizabeth: A little content marketing.

Gene: Yeah. You want to build a community of people around your business, you can do that if you spend the time and the money to engage and throw a lot of content out there to start drawing some people in. You really can. Maybe people will argue with me, but I don’t think I would be part of my dry cleaner’s community. I don’t really care how to dry clean a shirt, but some people might. A dry cleaner like Kathy might want to build a Facebook page and have all sorts of great advice about cleaning your clothes. It depends on the industry that you’re in, Elizabeth. If you’re in a business where there are potential customers out there on Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter, then yes.

You had mentioned Yelp. That’s different.

Elizabeth: I would consider that social media.

Gene: Yeah. I think you’re right there. You’re picking your social media weapon, as it is. Yelp, to me, is absolutely a social media site that you need to be on if you’re a retailer, a merchant, a service provider, a restaurant. A consumer. A B2C kind of business.

Elizabeth: Could you explain to everyone exactly how Yelp works?

Gene: Yes. Yelp, for those of you that haven’t been on it, is you create a listing for yourself with all the information about your business including when you’re open and what products you offer, all that good stuff. You’re opening yourself up to the Yelp community. When you start a Yelp site for yourself, by the way, people can start one for you as well.

Elizabeth: That’s where the reputation management comes in.

Gene: Yeah, there’s some control issues there as well. If you start a Yelp site, you’re basically saying to the world, “Go ahead and comment on me.” Hopefully, you’ll get a lot of people reviewing and making nice things about you, but you’re exposing yourself to the haters of the internet as well.

Elizabeth: The haters.

Gene: “You have one spot that didn’t come out of that shirt that I gave you to dry clean. I’m going onto Yelp and I’m bashing you on Yelp and saying how awful you are” and all of that. Yelp is a thing that you’ve got to monitor and invest time in to make sure you’re engaged.

Elizabeth: There’s something with Yelp too that if you don’t pay them, you have to pay them right?

Gene: No, not necessarily. You pay them if you want to advertise with the It’s free service, but then you can sell advertising. The idea there is that if somebody is looking for a dry cleaner in Hartford, if you’ve got promoted ads there, then your business will come up first on Yelp. Yelp is a good place. I mentioned earlier YP is another really good place as well. They’re the old Yellow Pages, but they’re overlapping and competing with Yelp in many ways. There, you get a free listing with YP. You can pay for them to then advertise you on social media and Google and all of that, but then people are invited to comment. It’s sort of an alternative to Yelp. YP has got something like tens of millions of visitors to their site a month. Who knew? They’re very popular,

Twitter might not be for you as a dry cleaner, fair enough. You don’t have to do social media. Do it if it makes you money, but pick the social media service where your customers are going to make the biggest difference.

Elizabeth: You do have to be prepared to drum up some reviews. You can do that on Google too. Google also takes reviews. With my dry cleaner, if you bring in a copy of the review that you wrote on Yelp, you get a discount.

Gene: That’s coo That’s a great idea.

Elizabeth: Think about that. Kathy, if you’re going to go on social media, and Gene’s right. You don’t have to be on Twitter or Facebook, but I don’t know. I just feel like you need to have some presence out there or people are not going to sure if you’re open or up to date.

Gene: Fair enough, fair enough.

Elizabeth: Especially with the way young people choose services. They really choose them all online. Think about ways you can drum up some positive reviews for yourself, and not just you posting them with aliases.

Gene: Yeah, fair enough.

Elizabeth: Okay, we’ll be right back with my bonus question for Gene after this message from our sponsor.

Gene: Bonus question.

Elizabeth: Yay.

BONUS QUESTION: Can Small Business Owners “Un-Plug” on Vacation?

Elizabeth: Okay, Gene, we’re back and I’m going to ask you the bonus question for this week relating to vacation.

Gene: Yes, I fully support vacations.

Elizabeth: When you get back from vacation and you sit down at your desk or your computer, what is the first thing you do?

Gene: Cry. When I come back from vacation and I sit down at my desk, I do the same thing that I do every time I show up to work. The reason why is because I’m never away from my laptop when I’m on vacation.

Elizabeth: You never do a digital detox?

Gene: No, and I love hearing that from you, Elizabeth. You are an employee of The Hartford. You work for the company and you’re awesome at what you do, you are. One of the benefits of being an employee is that you can do a digital detox. When you were away on vacation, did you look at your email all week?

Elizabeth: No.

Gene: Right. I can’t do that. Any business owner that says that they can do that, they’re probably not a very successful business owner. In 2016, it’s expected that you are there to respond to your customers and to your employees all the time, you have to be available. That’s what comes with the property when you are running your own business. I’m not saying it’s the same level of intensity, the same level of action, but even when I was on a cruise. I’ve been on a few cruises which were awesome, but two or three times a day I would go wherever there was wireless or in the computer room and go and check my email just to make sure there are no fires going on. People have a question to get their job done, they’re trying to make me money, so I want to make sure that I answer their questions.

Sometimes I’ll run across a business owner that’ll have an out of office message. There’s no such thing as an out of office message in 2016 when you’re running a business. You don’t leave out of office. Particularly when they say things like, “I’ll be checking my email,” “I’ll be without email for a while,” I’m like, “Without email? Are you going to Mars?” Everywhere in the world, there’s internet and there’s an expectation from your customers and your clients, particularly if you’re in a service business. They really don’t want to hear about your vacation.

Elizabeth: Oh yeah, they don’t care.

Gene: They don’t care. They want to make sure that they’re getting a response or they’re getting attended to. I know maybe that’s not the answer that you were expecting to get, but when I go on vacation and I come back to work, I’m not doing anything different than when show up for work. I don’t open up my email and have 800 emails to respond to. My inbox is as clean as it is as any other workday because I make sure that I’m keeping up with it. That’s my advice.

Elizabeth: Great. Next question after that though, you alluded to this in your question. Do you set times every day, like, “I’m going to be checking my email between…?” Do you communicate that to your employees? “After 5 pm, 5 to 6 I’m going to be-

Gene: I don’t because it changes. Every problem that I’ve learned in life and in business can be broken down into smaller problems to solve. Nobody ever solves the big problem, but when you break it down, you can solve smaller problems. I break down my day into chunks. There are chunks of the day where I’m like, “For the next hour and a half, I’m going to be doing emails. Responding to emails or sending out the emails I know I got to be sending out.” That could be any time during the day. I don’t pin myself down. I’ll close my door, but at the same time, I’m still available. Usually, it’s just like, “Can I get back to you in half an hour?” That happens.

Somebody will knock on your door, they’ll say, “Hey, can I talk to you about something?” I’ll usually be like, “Yeah, I will talk to you. I need half an hour.” People get that, and I just say, “I’m getting my emails done this hour.” Or, I’ve got a proposal to write or a quote to write, or a project that I’m working on, or an article. It’s just that’s what I’m doing now, I’m going to stay focused on doing that.

Elizabeth: People respect that.

Gene: They do.

Elizabeth: Especially because they want that too.

Gene: They do.

Elizabeth: Plus, you’re the boss.

Gene: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Again, I’m not saying that happens all the time. My bosses are 600 clients. They need time. There could always be some fire drills, some emergencies that knocks me off of my game, but for the most part, it’s you break your day into chunks. I’ve found that that works really, really well.

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