Sometimes, a little bit of web server space just isn’t enough. Sometimes, your needs move beyond a personal website and into the small business arena. For those times, you need (trumpets and drum roll) small business web hosting.
The Brief Version of Small Business Web Hosting
If you don’t have a lot of time for the details, this is a quick look at what you need to find when searching for a web host for your small business::
- 1 – 100 GB Bandwidth: Think of bandwidth like the size of the front door. The more traffic you expect, and the bigger the packages (files and video) coming and going, the more bandwidth you need.
- SSL Certificate, if you plan to accept credit cards
- E-commerce support, if you plan to sell products
- 1- 5 GB Disk Space: The more pages and large files you have, the more disk space you’ll need
- SQL Database (minimum 1)
Creating a business website is a completely different level of ownership and care than having a personal site. There are a lot of things to consider, starting with the best web host and including marketing, so let’s get started.
What Type of Small Business Website Are YOU Creating?
Business websites only come in four flavors: those that sell services, those that sell products, those based on affiliate marketing and a mixture of two or three. The flavor you choose defines the requirements of your small business hosting provider.
All business websites need traffic (visitors) to flourish, and traffic, for the web server host, means bandwidth.
Bandwidth is the amount of information transferred from your site to the visitors’ computers. The more visitors there are and the bigger the files (such as video, audio and image files), the higher the amount of information being transferred. While 1 GB of bandwidth a month is enough for many, 100 GB will meet the needs of 90% of the small business websites out there (and seldom will any small business site reach the 100 GB cap).
Secure Sockets Layer
Usually, service-based sites don’t take credit cards or other sensitive information over the Internet. Payments are usually rendered in person at the time of service, or through an invoice via Paypal or other payment provider. However, if you plan to take payments on your site, you need to securely protect your customers’ information.
A Secure Sockets Layer, or SSL, adds a layer of protection to the transactions on your site. The information is encrypted and sent over a private channel, in order to keep it safe from the public eye (as well as from hackers attempting to gather the information.
E-Commerce & Shopping Cart Support
Most small business websites that are product-based (or e-commerce) will need some type of shopping cart solution.
Shopping carts are programs that help the shop owner add, delete and edit the various products in their online store, as well as keep track of sales, supply and so on. Not all small business web hosts provide this in their offerings. If you’re selling any products, however, the best small business web hosting package will offer shopping cart support (if not various programs themselves) for your use.
Examples of shopping cart solutions include:
osCommerce – osCommerce is a popular shopping cart with over 250,000 users. One of the reasons why it’s so popular is because of the available add-ons that allow you to customize the cart to meet your needs. It also has a highly active forum to help you build your online store.
Zen Cart – Like osCommerce, Zen Cart is a free, open source, shopping cart solution. It also has an active community and several add-ons, including over 70 store templates. As popular as osCommerce, they’ve created extensive Wiki, tutorial and showcase sections to help you on your way.
Magento – Magento offers free and paid shopping cart solutions, as well as a strong support team and several extensions. They want to make sure you get the best out of your Magento installation, and work hard to see that happen.
WP e-Commerce – A WordPress shopping cart plugin that you can install to enable your website to sell products securely. This nifty solution has been downloaded close to 2 million times.
If you plan to use a content management system, such as WordPress or Joomla, you’ll need at least one database. As well, product-based small business sites will need a database to manage those products. Therefore, you’ll need a minimum of one SQL database, if not two or more.
Okay, but… what’s a database?
Good question. Wikipedia has this great answer, about four pages long, that you can read if you want a really in depth version. The shorter version is this:
A database is created by a bunch of tables (think Microsoft Excel spreadsheet). Those tables consist of rows and columns with each one holding its own information, or data. A database differs from a spreadsheet in that it offers powerful functions, such as the ability to perform complex calculations, pull records that match your criteria, cross-reference data on several tables, and so on.
The very short version is that a database is a collection of organized information with a highly efficient retrieval system.
How Much Space Does Your Small Business Need?
A web server, just like your computer, has finite space available for use. However, most personal and small business websites take up very little space. For example, it’s rare for personal websites to exceed ClickHOST’s basic plan, which allows for 500MB of space.
Having said that, a small business website has different needs than a personal one. If, for example, you will be selling several products and have individual pages for each, you’ll need more space. If you’re selling digital prints or something equally artistic, it doesn’t take many large files to fill up 500 MB. For that matter, a few hundred products or so can quickly push 1 GB. When you talk to your web hosting provider, discuss your project with them – communication is key to getting the service you need.
Helpful Goodies – Deciding the Best Small Business Web Hosting for You
All of the above are necessities for the website you’re trying to create. If the hosting provider you’re surveying doesn’t have those things, they aren’t the right ones for you. However, the best small business web host will also have a few goodies along with their hosting package that can help make running a website much easier.
- FTP (File Transfer Protocol) accounts, which allow you (or your web developer) to easily upload files to your site and make changes
- Email accounts, so you can have the personal account you’re used to, and the business account (firstname.lastname@example.org) to match the website and your new professional stature
- WordPress friendly, in case you decide to use the great content management system as your website platform
- CPanel , which is an easy-to use website control panel that allows you full access to functions like backing up your website, installing software and virus protection (you can test a CPanel demo here)
- Spam Control, to block spam before it hits your email accounts
Finally, the last thing to consider is – do you plan to grow? The Internet gives small businesses the chance to grow like no other marketing medium. Your small business website has the chance to grow exponentially, and you need a web hosting provider that can grow with you. Before signing on the dotted line, ask your chosen provider how they can help you grow.
- Do they have larger plans above the one you’re currently purchasing?
- Can you upgrade to more space, while keeping the same bandwidth?
- How easy is it to upgrade?
- Will they help you upgrade, or do you have to figure it out on your own?
A small business website hosting provider– for that matter, any hosting provider – should be as interested in the success of your new business as you are. Invest the time to interview, read and research; find the best hosting provider for your small business and start growing!