Simon Yeoman, CEO of Fasthosts debunks the myth that sole traders can get by with just a Facebook account, helping micro business owners boost their online presence with their own website.
In a 2018 headline that could almost be from 1998, research by Fasthosts and YouGov revealed that 49% of sole traders still don’t have a website to promote their business – in the UK, this equates to just under 1.7 million businesses.
When you boil it down, there are two main reasons why a sole trader might not have a website: either they feel they don’t need one, or they think it’s too much of a hassle to get one. Both of these perspectives deserve to be challenged.
“I don’t need a website – I can promote my business on social media”
Social media is a great way to promote your business, and it takes seconds to build a basic company page on Facebook. But it looks like half of the nation’s sole traders (some 1.7 million of them) are stopping there. Why would you do that? Social media has some significant limitations when compared to a website:
Your data is more at risk
Facebook recently faced criticism after another security breach allowed hackers to gain access and control of millions of user accounts. This is frustrating for individual users, but for businesses it‘s highly detrimental. Social media is a great way to complement any business marketing, but it’s dangerous to put all your eggs in that one basket.
Having a website in addition to social media pages provides the reassurance of a more formal and personalised online presence, and allows prospective customers to contact you directly, even if your social media accounts become compromised.
Social media pages invariably sit within walled gardens, limiting their reach significantly. A potential customer would need a Facebook account before they could access the details of your pages on the platform. This is terrible for promoting your business to a wider demographic. With search engines and directories unable to find and index your page, you’re stuck promoting yourself to Facebook’s community alone, and living by its rules (more on that in the next point).
You may think everyone’s on Facebook, but most people are there for purely social reasons. The majority don’t necessarily turn to Facebook to find a solicitor or a local builder.
Fundamentally it comes down to this: yes, there are plenty of potential customers on social media, but why would you want to limit the number of people who can find you? What’s more, with the recent privacy scandals shining a light on how our personal data is used by social media companies, more and more people are abandoning social media platforms altogether. So that’s even more potential customers you’re losing.
You don’t own the platform
Promoting your business on social media alone means your primary source of generating business belongs to someone else. Your livelihood lies at the mercy of the social media platforms, so if they decide to change their algorithm or remove a feature, you have no choice but to go along with it. If huge digital agencies can’t keep up with the changes Facebook invariably makes to its algorithm every few months, what hope does a sole trader have?
It’s just not very professional
Let’s be honest, while social media might be the cool new kid on the block (and “new” might be pushing it now), it’s not always the most professional way to promote your business. A business with its own website – no matter how simple the site is – gives a far better impression than one with just a Facebook page.
“Building a website is expensive and time-consuming”
This is where perceptions are out of date, and in fact, this was only half true even ten years ago. Yes, the process of building a website was expensive and time-consuming because you needed to hire web developers to build the site for you, however, web hosting itself has never been particularly expensive (and it’s cheaper now than it ever has been).
Today, with tools like Website Builder you can create a website yourself in a few hours without any coding knowledge whatsoever – you don’t even have to fiddle with web hosting configuration or DNS settings (or even know what a DNS setting is).
While research has shown that just 15% of micro businesses that store data are concerned about where or how it’s stored, it’s reassuring to know that 44% store some of their data in the cloud. Storing data via social media and on-site servers, however, comes with significant risks.
Hopefully this has helped to address a few of the common misperceptions that have resulted in 1.7 million sole traders lacking control over their online presence. Though it’s worth pointing out that sole traders aren’t the only businesses without a website.
The same survey found that just over a quarter (27%) of companies with 2–5 employees also don’t have a website of their own. With 28% of micro businesses hoping to expand into new markets, let’s hope they’re listening too!
Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.