How to build a minimum viable website
If you're in business, you need a website. It's what tells the world who you are, what you offer, and where people can buy from you.
If you have a physical storefront, your website tells people where to find it and when it's open. For other businesses, your website is your storefront. It's the place where you show customers what to expect from you. Just having a LinkedIn page doesn't exactly raise their expectations, does it?
Even if your business doesn't even exist yet, you still need a website. It's where you send potential investors, partners, and anyone else who asks what you're working on.
Even more importantly, it's where you send potential customers so they can register their interest. Websites are a great way to test the market for your product or service before you've even launched. Which is how Dropbox and Buffer got started.
My recipe for a minimum viable website
We're not aiming for fancy. We're aiming for the smallest possible website for the least amount of money. Just the one page. (That's the minimal bit.)
It also has to do something useful. (That's the viable bit.) If you already have all the customers you need, you might stop at one page. But for the rest of us, it would be good to collect emails from potential customers. That lets us tell them when we have something to offer.
So that's what we're going to build. A one page website that collects emails.
Start with a website builder
There are dozens of website builders out there. Some of them offer you a free website too, which is appealing. But the free plans generally mean you're stuck with the site builder's branding and domain. (emilyobyrne.squarespace.com instead of emilyobyrne.com).
We're here to promote your business, not theirs. So be prepared to cough up a few dollars a month so you can remove their branding and add your domain.
I suggest you start with Squarespace. You can take a 14-day test drive to see if you get on with it. That's plenty long enough to build your first website.
Your first page should be a cover page
Cover pages are Squarespace's answer to the one-page website. They offer loads of templates, designed to cover a range of situations. Things like launching a product or promoting a restaurant.
The cover page plan is cheap: $5/month if you pay annually. That gets you a single page website including hosting. They also throw in a custom domain name free for the first year.
There's a good article on the Squarespace website that walks you through setting up your new cover page.
Keep it simple with one call to action
You can add all kinds of information to a cover page. Your address, a map, your launch date, photos, product information... But when it comes to taking action, you only want one button. Which in your case is going to trigger a sign-up form.
We tend to assume that choice is a good thing. (My local Tesco certainly does. I can remember when did Thai fish sauce was a rare and exotic ingredient. Now I have a choice of at least four brands and price points.) Thing is, more choice tends to mean fewer sales. Customers get overwhelmed and give up.
That's why you're limited to just one form on your cover page. Use it wisely.
Gather emails with MailChimp
Squarespace makes it super easy to connect a form to a MailChimp list.
You will notice you could collect email addresses in a Google Sheet. Yes, you could, and it's free. But so's MailChimp, until you have more than 2000 subscribers.
Don't forget, the point of collecting emails is to send these guys some information one day. That's considerably easier if you're already set up in MailChimp.
Don't forget about data protection.
We're getting new regulations in the European Union to increase our control over how organisations use our data. If you're collecting emails, it's on you to prove (if asked) that you obtained them with the owners' consent. You also need to make sure you're only using them in line with that consent. Penalties for misbehaviour can be painfully high.
So go with MailChimp, or another reputable email list manager. Follow their advice, and don't turn off the confirmation emails.
Congratulations. You have a website.
Now go promote the hell out of it. On social media, with your mates, on your business cards, by blogging on Medium. Whatever works.
Check your MailChimp reports to see how you're doing on collecting emails. Or set it to notify you with every new signup. (This is satisfying to start with. It gets annoying eventually, so you'll want to turn it off or downgrade to a daily update.)
Ready to build bigger?
You can upgrade your Squarespace account to a personal plan for $8/month paid annually. This gives you 20 pages, a blog, and the ability to sell one product and take donations. Still pretty cheap!
You might also need to upgrade your Mailchimp plan when you get enough subscribers. By which point you might want to start sending them emails now and again. They signed up. That means they want to hear from you!
So - that's my recipe for a minimum viable website. What's yours?