Whilst the digital world may be the source of frustration and even fear to business operators, it can also be fascinating to those looking on.
And there’s no better example of the power of digital development than that mainstay of the medium, the website.
In what is now 20 years since they achieved ‘critical mass’, they’ve evolved from the original, informational ‘electronic brochure’ to become the multifunctional electronic shopfront of the vast bulk of the world’s organisations.
And as with everything underpinned by technology, what once cost organisations millions of dollars can now be purchased for a few dollars a month.
Templates level the playing field
But one recent development that has really catapulted websites beyond the cloud and into the stratosphere is the availability of advanced website templates as a basis to a business website.
In fact, ‘template’ is something of a misnomer because they are far more than the simple template ‘looks’ of recent years.
These are in fact full-blown websites, with all of the designs, effects, layouts and functionality that a small business will ever need.
All you need to do is add your logo, colour scheme and content, and voila! – a professional website appears before your eyes.
Well at least in simplistic terms. Most smaller business operators will still need at least some professional assistance, be it with the copy, the imagery, optimising for search engines and so on to achieve a professional and effective result.
But the fact remains. It costs a whole lot less to get a truly professional result than it did as little as 12 months ago.
Templates or sample websites?
Now there are professional templates for most lines of business – everything from trades to professional services to retailers.
Because these templates have been built around lines of business instead of just generic businesses, much of the challenging and expensive work in creating a site that will look, feel and operate in ways specific to your business has already been done.
For example, a tradie site will have page layouts and elements that they need – ‘About’ pages, service lists, testimonials, galleries in the case of painters and so on. All professionally laid out and ready to add your content.
What about ‘sameyness’?
One question often asked when considering the use of such templates is: Won’t a template mean that there are lots of businesses out there with essentially the same looking website?
In the wrong hands the answer is yes. If care isn’t taken to replace the main elements of the website – the colour scheme, the stock images and so on, it’s not difficult for two businesses to possess the same looking website.
But if care is taken to alter these key elements with those that are specific to your business, the opposite is true.
In the example below, a template created for an organisation as distinctive as a church, has been completely transformed into a website for a bar – simply by replacing the images and content and altering the colour scheme to meet that of the bar.
Home page of original template
Home page of modified ‘church’ template for Foresters Hall bar
At first glance, who would think that a website for a church could act as the basis for a website for a bar? But closer inspection reveals that like churches, bars also require events, bookings, galleries, news, blog and so on.
It’s fair to say that few non-web professionals would be able to identify that the bar site was built from the church template.
This case study exemplifies one of the tricks of using these templates – identifying similar business models rather than necessarily similar businesses.
Do we need a ‘designer’?
Another interesting fact of the Foresters Hall website is that a graphic designer was not required to achieve the final result.
Now I’m not for one second suggesting that you shouldn’t have a custom or bespoke look created for your website, because their valuable input will achieve the most impressive and distinctive results.
But if you are on a budget, these templates will allow you to achieve a very professional look and functionality without the additional cost of a designer.
Better still, these websites allow you to simply overlay a new design in the event that you want to upgrade to a custom design from a template without replacing the entire website.
All of which means the professional and impressive business website you once dreamed of is now likely to be well within your reach.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.