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How to keep track of costs to get your business online

Take a good look at the costs of doing business online and decide which features and services you’ll provide

9-minute read

In today’s world, it’s essential for your business to be online. It’s the main way customers find you.

A study by BDC found that 90% of consumers, as a matter of course, visit a company’s website before contacting it for information. The same is true of business clients. More than half (57%) of the online business-to-business buying journey is done before a salesperson is contacted.

Are most entrepreneurs present online?

Did you know that Canadian businesses that had at least five employees made $398 billion in sales through e-commerce in 2021? Despite those numbers, there are many Canadian businesses still not taking part in this opportunity.

A Statistics Canada study found that only 33% of Canadian businesses had some sales through e-commerce in 2021. That means two out of every three businesses did not make a single online sale. It still, however, represents an increase from 2019, when 25% of businesses were selling on the Internet.

There was also an increase in web presence among Canadian businesses. Almost 9 out of 10 (89%) had a presence on the web in one form or another. Web presence includes company websites, social media accounts and email marketing. That 89% is up from the 85% that had a web presence in 2019.

For a lot of entrepreneurs, creating a website, selling online and building a social media presence is now simply part of doing business.

But how do you calculate how much it costs to get your business online?

Decide what you need to do online

To spend wisely, you’ll need to sit down and decide beforehand what features and services you want to provide. Taking that time will also help you consider all your options and avoid hidden costs later. You won’t want to pay for features and products you don’t need, or your customers don’t want.

Once you’ve decided on your goals, you’ll be ready to set a budget. Here are some costs that you’ll need to consider:

1. Creating your website

Putting together a website is usually the first step in getting your business online.

Content creation

Content is at the core of your website. It requires well-written texts and dynamic visuals. You may also need to translate your pages and account for its cost.

If your priority is to save money, you can write and come up with the visuals yourself. Or you can delegate these tasks to someone on your team. There are also many freelancers, specialized firms or marketing agencies that can help you create content for your website. You might find that a mix of these solutions is the best way to go.

Website design and architecture

Be prepared to invest time and money to create a well-designed, effective website.

Your goal is to make it easy for visitors to navigate your site. A good user experience will affect traffic and the website’s overall effectiveness. Another key consideration is search engine optimization (SEO).

You can use free templates to create a simple informational website. However, it’s worth spending more to build a professional website to attract and convert leads effectively.

Consider including an online store

If you’re selling directly to customers or businesses online, you’ll need to include a shopping cart feature and payment processing on your website.

Choices vary from custom-designed e-commerce solutions that charge a one-time fee of several thousand dollars to free template-based services that take a commission on each sale.


In 2022, 27% of Canadians aged 15 and older were living with a disability, according to Statistics Canada. This is a significant 4.7% increase since 2017. Making your website accessible means ensuring that everyone can both retrieve and understand your content regardless of their abilities or assistive technologies.

If some people can’t access information or make transactions on your website, you are missing out on potential customers.

These are some of the disabilities that can affect how people use your website:

  • visual impairments, such as low vision, blindness or colour blindness
  • auditory impairments, such as deafness or hearing loss
  • cognitive impairments, such as dyslexia or autism
  • motor or dexterity impairments, such as paralysis or arthritis

There are many ways to make your website more accessible. Here are some of the most important ones:

  • Use clear and simple language. Avoid jargon, slang, and complex sentences. Use headings, lists and bullet points to organize your content.
  • Make sure the websites and tools are developed with the consideration of accessibility. Use the Web Accessibility Initiative-Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA) guidelines. WAI-ARIA is a set of specifications that define how to make web content and applications more accessible to people with disabilities. 
  • Test your website with different browsers, devices and assistive technologies. Assistive technologies are tools that help people with disabilities access and use the web. An example of an assistive technology is a screen reader, which reads the content of a web page aloud or displays it in braille. You can also test your website with real users with disabilities and get their feedback and suggestions.

It costs money to make your website accessible—something you’ll need to take into account when getting your business online.

Mobile presence

One of the trends highlighted by the latest BDC report on consumer trends was the increasing use of mobile phones for shopping.

Make sure your website is mobile-friendly

In today’s digital world, having a mobile-friendly website or a mobile app for your business is essential for reaching your customers. A mobile-friendly website is one that adapts to a smaller screen size and touch controls of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. It can also improve search visibility, attract more traffic, increase lead generation, enhance user experience and build trust and loyalty among your clients.

Should you create an app for your business?

You should consider the costs and challenges of developing and maintaining a mobile app, such as hiring developers, testing performance, ensuring security, updating features and complying with regulations. You should also evaluate if a mobile-friendly website, which requires less resources and effort, can be just as effective as an app.

2. Maintaining and managing your website

Website management keeps your site dynamic. The work, which can be given to your site designer, a freelancer or someone in-house, involves regularly adding useful content—such as tips, news or training information—to encourage repeat visits.

Traffic patterns need to be monitored continually and changes should be made based on these observations. Rarely visited pages should be dropped or downgraded while heavily used ones should be made easier to access.

User tracking and analysis software such as Google Analytics is widely available. It can be used to identify how visitors find your site, where they come from and how they interact with your site. Tracking your users’ patterns of behaviour can help you assess the effectiveness of your efforts.

On top of tracking and managing your website, you will have to pay attention to the following maintenance costs:

Internet service provider

You need to access the Internet through your Internet service provider (ISP). The price of this service will vary depending on the speed of your Internet service.

Shop around. Many small suppliers have sprung up in recent years and are often price competitive. They usually provide the same level and quality of service as the larger and more well-known telecommunication companies.

Software costs

Your software costs will depend on your objectives. But there are simple ways to reduce these costs. Whenever possible, try to find open-source software that is freely available to the public.

There is open-source software for practically every application. However, their quality and ease of use is often below that of proprietary software.

If you are willing to purchase software but don’t want to pay for it upfront, you can purchase software on a subscription basis. Since this software is online, your software will always be updated to the latest version. You can also subscribe or unsubscribe to new licenses as the number of users grows or shrinks.

Hardware costs

You’ll need to calculate the cost of your computer systems and devices, such as printers and keyboards. Leasing your hardware is one way to lower your upfront costs and amortize expenses over time.

If you plan on hosting your own website, you’ll also have to calculate the price of servers and other equipment. In most cases, though, you can use professional web-hosting services to lower the costs and time burden on your company.

Technology maintenance

Computers, software, networks and other technology must be maintained and serviced regularly.

Troubleshooting can often be done remotely via the web, but some problems need to be solved in person. If you choose to get an outside service provider, consider a retainer contract to lower your costs.

3. Investing in cybersecurity

When putting together your overall budget, make sure to include costs related to cybersecurity.

Cyber threats can have serious consequences for your operations, reputation and finances. It’s important for businesses to invest in cybersecurity, which is the protection of digital assets from unauthorized access, theft or damage.

Investments in cybersecurity can include:

  • making regular assessments of your company’s vulnerability
  • putting in place protective measures
  • training staff and adopting safe practices
  • hiring a service provider to monitor your network for threats

4. Investing in social media and email marketing

Social media is a powerful tool for businesses to reach and engage with their potential and existing customers. Investing in social media does have its pros and cons.

  Pros Cons
Brand awareness Can help you create and share content that showcases your products, services, values and personality. This can help you attract new customers, retain existing ones and build a loyal fan base.  You are exposed to negative publicity. Social media sometimes creates an unforgiving environment and can exacerbate crises.
Website traffic Can help you direct your followers to your website, where they can learn more about its offerings, sign up for newsletters, make purchases, or take other actions.

Can also help you improve your search engine ranking.
Takes a lot of time and investments, skills and knowledge.
Lead and sale generation Can help you capture the interest and contact information of potential customers. These leads can then be nurtured through email marketing, retargeting ads or other methods. Having information from customers can create privacy and security threats.

Social media can help your company grow its brand, audience and revenue. However, you should have a clear social media strategy, choose the right platforms, create high-quality and relevant content, and measure and optimize your performance.

Should you invest in email marketing?

Email marketing is a cost-effective way to reach your target audience and drive sales. It can generate a high return on investment (ROI) for businesses, as well as provide valuable data for analyzing campaign success. Calculating your ROI will help you determine the cost-effectiveness of the investment.

Potential benefits of email marketing
  • Personalize and segment your messages based on your audience’s preferences, behaviour and interests. This can improve your open rates, click-through rates and conversions.
  • Build customer loyalty and trust by providing relevant and useful content, such as newsletters, tips, offers and updates. It can also increase your brand awareness and reputation.
  • Increase your website traffic and boost your SEO ranking by linking your emails to your landing pages, blog posts or other online content. It can also help you generate more leads and sales.
  • Save time and money by using email automation tools. These tools can send triggered or scheduled emails based on your goals and strategies. It can also help you optimize your email performance and test different variables.
  • Measure and improve your results by using analytics tools. These tools can track and report various metrics, such as open rates, click-through rates, bounce rates, conversions, and revenue. It can also help you identify and fix any issues or gaps in your email campaigns.

The cost of email marketing depends on various factors:

Next step

Download our free e-commerce financial model to help you decide if e-commerce is suitable for your business.

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