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Taking control online


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Austin, Texas may have an active campaign to keep their town weird, but here in Denver, we hardly need any help maintaining our quirky culture and community. A huge part of Denver’s identity lies in the clever and quirky small businesses that locals go out of their way to support.

As the operations manager at Turn of the Century Antiques, a seller of antique and vintage dolls, I know our unique store owes its success not only to loyal long time patrons, but also to our own willingness to evolve as the market has changed for Denver’s small businesses. For example, while an ad in the phonebook was once the de facto way for mom and pop shops to create awareness within their own community, this type of investment today wouldn’t work. Most business owners today understand that they need some sort of online presence to be taken seriously, but it can be difficult to know where to start, and even something as simple as getting a website up and running can be deceptively challenging.

Our business started where many other businesses do – by hiring professional designers to help us. While it was great to have someone knowledgeable guide us through designing a site – and four digital makeovers since our first site went live – there were some drawbacks. Many designers that work with small companies are freelancers, and they aren’t always available to make changes to your site when you need them.

It can be inconvenient to have to wait until business hours are over to see even a slight adjustment on your company’s site, especially if it affects customers. And the better your designer is, the more in-demand (and less responsive) they tend to be. Also, we found that the cost of having a professional designer was steep. The thousands we put into hiring a designer meant less room for improving our physical store space or operations – things that affect our paying customers directly.

We eventually looked into various DIY tools to take back our site, and our requirements were clear:

  1. It needed to be user friendly.
    While we had limited technical knowledge on creating a website from scratch, we needed it to be just as easy as telling a designer what to do.
     
  2. Great customer support was a must.
    We needed a solution that had a great support line, in case we had questions that required quick answers. No more waiting until after hours to hear back on a technical ask.
     
  3. Not cost effective? Not for us.
    All small businesses work hard for their earned dollars. Overspending for a website was not an option for us.

We eventually found GoDaddy’s Website Builder to create and maintain our digital presence. We were able to create the site from scratch with minimal website design knowledge, and our new site was up and running in an afternoon. The few phone calls we needed to make to a support line were resolved quickly and professionally, and the cost shaved thousands off of what we had been paying designers in past years. Conveniently, the tool also includes a free domain and free hosting, which is especially useful if your company is brand new to the web.

What so many business owners in Denver don’t realize about DIY website design tools is that they can go beyond convenience and actually empower a small company. By controlling a site yourself, you also have final say on a company’s branding – you get to be as quirky or vanilla as you want to be, without having to deal with misguided recommendations from someone who doesn’t know your business nearly as well. Also, edits to the site can be made in real time. This is applicable to everything from changes in business hours, flash sales, or the announcement of new inventory.

Taking the reins and building our own site has allowed us to focus more resources on things like building staff, planning events and staying connected with our neighbors, both in the city and within our small business community in the Antique Row Association.

While Denver is happy to support its local and independent companies, business owners must make it easy for the community to find them. An official company website is an investment a lot of older businesses might not be used to, but it’s important to understand that this investment does not have to monopolize budget or time.

Before deciding to contract a professional designer, or giving up and forgoing a site altogether, I encourage everyone to do the research and at least trial the DIY options out there. Bringing a brick and mortar business online doesn’t have to be complicated, and is a great way to introduce your company to the world within and outside of Denver.

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Rachel Hoffman

Rachel Hoffman is the Operations Manager at Turn of the Century Antiques and maintains the store’s website at www.rare-dolls.com. She can be reached at rachel@rare-dolls.com.

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