This guest blog post is provided by the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), the organization that manages the .CA domain name registry in Canada. CIRA helps small businesses, entrepreneurs and startups get their businesses online.

There's no doubt about it, a website is an essential business tool in the digital age. No matter what business you're in, your website is often the first stop a potential customer makes on their way to becoming a repeat client.

However, while most business owners understand the need for a website, many get discouraged if they don't know how to code, or perceive that the process is time-consuming and expensive. Don't lose hope! Today there are tools available that make building a website easier than ever! With basic computer skills, and online web builders like Wix, Weebly, and SquareSpace, creating a sleek custom website is easily within the grasp of even the smallest business. These tools have features like drag-and-drop photo placement and simple on-page text editors that make building a website similar to creating a Word document.  

If your needs are a little more ambitious, you may want to learn more about the web development process, as outsourcing the task to professionals might be necessary. However, if you're looking for something clean and simple, any small business owner can create their own website using the three simple steps outlined below.

1. Conduct research and develop a plan

Get started by putting together a quick plan that includes objectives and a site map. Both will help you define the scope of your website and get an idea of what kind of web builder and hosting packages you need.

Website objectives

Your website's objectives depend on the type of business you're in and how you serve your customers. A restaurant's website, for example, has significantly different objectives than a wedding photography business. Do you want your website to be strictly informational? Do you want an e-store? Do you want to blog regularly and manage an e-newsletter? Always think about the kind of information a potential customer might want.

Site map

A site map helps you organize your website's content. It can be as simple as a bullet point list of page titles, or you can make use of any number of free online mapping tools. Your site map will give you a visual of how many different pages you need and what content will go on each page.

Don't feel any pressure to build a complex website with in-depth content. Sometimes, a one-page website is enough. If you're lost on figuring out to put on your website, here is a list of 8 basic things any small business should put on their website.

2. Conduct a domain name search and select a Registrar

The next step is to find an available domain name for your website. A Registrar is a company where you purchase a domain name and additional web-related services. If you need more help getting started with a domain name, here's a handy guide to choosing the perfect domain name.

Generally, there are three different approaches to securing a domain name for your business:

  1. You can search for a .CA domain name, which is only available for Canadian businesses and individuals, on cira.ca. Upon doing a search for an available domain, you can select a Registrar to do business with. You can shop around to find an offering that works for you — many Registrars offer things that come bundled with a domain name, such as web builders (even free one-page websites), web hosting, and more. You may also want to consider what support they have available, in case you run into any issues.
  2. If you're already set on a specific Registrar, you can perform the domain name search on their website and register with them.
  3. You can always build a website first with a free domain (e.g. yourbusiness.wordpress.com). Just keep in mind that registering your own domain name is inexpensive and adds a professional touch to your brand online.

Tip: If you don't know which domain name to pick, check out these four tips for finding a domain name.

3. Using your plan, start building your website

With your plan handy, you can start building your website. You'll be able to preview pages before you hit publish and go live to the world wide web. Here are a couple of tips for first-time website builders to keep in mind:

  • Make your site easy to navigate — name pages appropriately, and ensure they are added to the menu.
  • Spruce up your website with free stock photo images or take and upload your own photos.
  • Get an SSL certificate to instill confidence in your visitors that your website is secure.
  • Set up Google Analytics to measure your web traffic and gain insight on who's visiting your site.
  • Research web accessibility standards set out by your province. Similar to accessibility requirements for your brick-and-mortar store, your website is subject to practices that ensure your website can be used by people with disabilities.
  • Test how your website looks on different devices. You might be editing your website on a desktop, but find that many of your customers visit it on a mobile device. You want to ensure that nothing "breaks" when it is viewed on mobile.  
  • Issues like website glitches are a reality. Don't get discouraged when you inevitably run into them — tap into your Registrar support or search for the solution to your problem online.
  • Don't let your website content go stale. Remember to keep your information up-to-date!

Building your own website for your small business doesn't have to be a daunting task. Creating your own website is an empowering opportunity to roll up your sleeves and accomplish something on your own. With these three easy steps, you can get your own website up and running in no time.