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How to keep track of costs to get your business online

Decide what features and services you’ll want to provide online

5-minute read

It’s essential for your business to be online with your customers.

For example, a 2016 study by BDC found that 90% of consumers systematically visit a company’s website before contacting it for information. The same is true of business clients. More than half (57%) of the business-to-business buying process is done online before a salesperson is contacted.

For entrepreneurs, creating a website, selling online and building your social media presence are part of doing business. But how will you know the price of getting your business running online?

Decide what you need to do online

Deciding what features and services you want to provide online will ensure you spend wisely. It will also help you consider all your options to 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 have to consider.

Online store

Will you be selling directly to customers or businesses online? If so, then you’ll need to include a shopping cart and payment processing on your website.

Choices for stores vary from custom designed e-commerce solutions that take a one-time charge of several thousand dollars, to free template-based services that take a commission on sales.

Content creation

Content is the core of your website. You’ll want to have well-written text and striking visuals to impress customers. You may also have to consider the cost of translating your website.

If saving money is your priority, you can write and create the visuals yourself. Or you can delegate these tasks to someone on your team. There are also many freelancers, specialized firms or marketing agencies who can help you create content for your website. You might even find that a mix of all 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. There is an art to guiding viewers through a website.

Your goal is "usability"—the ease with which visitors can move around the site. Usability affects traffic and the overall effectiveness of a website. Another key consideration is search engine optimization.

You can create a simple informational website for free using online templates. However, it's often worth spending more to build a professional website that will effectively attract and convert more leads.

Website maintenance

Website management can also be a significant cost. This job can be given to the site designer, contracted out or performed by someone in-house.

Your goal is to keep your site dynamic by regularly adding useful content—such as tips, news or training information—to encourage repeat visits.

Traffic patterns should be monitored continually and changes should be made based on these observations. Rarely visited pages should be dropped or downgraded, for instance, while heavily used ones should be made easier to access and used to inspire creation of new, similar content.

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

Internet service provider

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

Shop around from ISP to ISP. Many small suppliers have sprung up in recent years. These smaller companies are often very price competitive and 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. First, whenever possible, try to find open-source software that is freely available to the public.

There are 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 peripherals, 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. However, unless your business has special security or performance needs, 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.

Will you be troubleshooting your hardware and software in-house or through an on-call maintenance provider? 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.