As the product designer for EasyPost and past CTO of Vintacom Media Group, Sawyer Bateman has expertise creating websites that enable startups and other small businesses to scale quickly. In particular, he’s a proponent of building sites that all but eliminate the need for “live” customer service by incorporating self-service functionality.
Bateman’s design of the EasyPost site played a key role in the rapid growth of the company, which provides software that allows businesses to easily integrate shipping logistics capabilities into their websites.
Bateman shared with Yahoo! Small Business Advisor four ideas for making your website work for your business.
1) Leverage the “software-as-a-service” ecosystem. Businesses can save by using developers who integrate existing tools—such as the Stripe suite of APIs for credit card payment processing or theEasyPost API for generating labels and tracking shipments—into a website, instead of building those capabilities from scratch. Bateman says “there are so many great off-the-shelf solutions out there” that no small business should have to spend time and money for a developer reinvent the wheel.
For instance, Bateman says, “I worked on a website for a local motorcycle training school. When it came time to look into payment processing, they were resigned to taking payments over the phone because they didn’t want to go through an expensive build.” With Stripe, Bateman says, the school was able to take payments online automatically without paying anyone to write the code to make it happen.
2) Use your website to automate your processes. “To scale any business, you need to be aware of your manual processes, such as having customers call to schedule appointments,” Bateman notes. He recommends using the website to provide self-service options.
At EasyPost, he says, customer growth exploded faster than the company’s customer support team could keep up. “In our early days we didn’t have great documentation on our website, and we were swamped with calls asking ‘how do I do this and that?’” Bateman says. So he focused on enabling the website to handle 95 percent of customer questions. “We still have a lot of support but we’ve been able to scale 10 times by investing in self service tools,” he says.
In addition to unburdening your live customer support team, Bateman notes that self-service options let customers get answers 24/7 and, such as in the case of EasyPost where customers are web developers, self-serve is preferred by people who would rather figure out answers on their own.
3) No matter how small your business is, invest in designing a professional website. “Investing in design isn’t something small businesses are used to,” Bateman concedes, “but on the web, they’re competing with the whole world. Tiny type and a Times New Roman font put you back in 1999.”
A polished, modern design makes a business look bigger, more professional, and more resourceful. “The bar has really been raised in website design over the last 10 years,” Bateman says. It was once good enough to hire a jack-of-all-trades developer, but today, a great design is crucial. “Our COO always says, ‘Design your site to where you want to be, not where you are today,’” says Bateman.
You don’t have to break the bank to do that. Bateman points out that a lot of well-designed websites are built around large, high-quality photographs. There’s no excuse for using tiny thumbnail images—you can find big beautiful photos from photographers around the world within a budget or even for free, he says. And Open Sans is a free sans serif typeface from Google.
“Design is almost one of the cheapest things you can get; it’s amazing how far $2,000 will go," Bateman says. But if you don’t have the budget to hire a dedicated designer, don’t be afraid to use a design template from a source such as WordPress or Bootstrap or Yahoo Small Business. Many online marketplaces offer templates designed by professionals. “Just search online for ‘website themes and templates’ to find great designs you can get for under $100,” Bateman suggests.
4) Make your site mobile friendly. Responsive web design, as it’s known, is the approach that makes your site as easy to navigate on a mobile device as on a PC. Bateman says that between a quarter and a third of website visitors today come from mobile devices. He adds, “The younger your market is, the more they’re going to be seeing your site on mobile. A mobile version shouldn’t be optional. If you want to compete you’ve got to be mobile.”
Of course, doing responsive web design right is not easy, Bateman says—“ the coding and things you put in place have to flex downwards when looked at on a mobile deice.” But again, he says, “there’s no shame in getting a responsive theme from a WordPress or Bootstrap. That’s a really good way to get that functionality.”
Businesses that want to do e-commerce also now have a plethora of choices for design templates. Among them, Bateman names e-commerce site building platforms Shopify, Squarespace, Magento,Bigcommerce, and Weebly. Yahoo Small Business also offers "merchant solutions" for e-commerce.
The bottom line, says Bateman, is that “the web has matured, the bar has been raised, and small businesses should be driven to take advantage of new platforms to get the best bang for the buck out of their websites.”