Every business needs a website, it is amongst the first investment decisions a new business owner has to make.

Visiting the Business Start-up Show at Excel yesterday demonstrated how shop-in-a-box software companies are targetting the small business owner in a big way. On the walk-way between the station and the show entrance I was handed no less than 5 flyers, from different companies offering a range of "want to make money online easily" solutions ranging from £299 to £699. None of these businesses were actually exhibiting inside and there were a lot of flyers in the bins, but nevertheless, where budgets are tight and a website is a priority, if you throw enough sh*t, some of it will stick. This 'numbers game', operated by the resellers is bound to get some of the thousands of attendees thinking, I would guess the appealing sales pitch would sway the odd start-up to part with some of their limited budget in pursuit of internet riches.

Once inside the exhibition I was greeted by a row of probably 10 more flyer passers (an individual paid a pittance by a company (probably) to stand and hand a flyer to each delegate on entry), on inspection 3 of these were for cheap website retail solutions. I was starting to feel a little bombarded - imagine how the start-up must be feeling at this point - information overload!

Of the exhibitors I would suggest that at least 20% were either website companies or companies that provide a website solution as part of their business set-up package. Every new business needs a website and the Start-ups show presents the perfect demographic. Of the flyers and information I gathered, prices ranged from £499 to £899, but some of these deals included other items including company formation, printed materials and marketing consultancy - too good to be true?

Will a shop-in-a-box website deliver? It really depends on what you want it to deliver!

Of the shop-in-a-box offerings I have researched since the show, the following questions are pertinent:

Will I have my range of products online? Yes

Will my shop-in-a-box website be fully compliant and suited to the search engine criteria? No

Will my shop-in-a-box website keep pace with the constant changes in the SEO world? No

Will I be able to add additional features that I have seen on my competitor websites? No

Will my shop-in-a-box website be uniquely designed and different to your other customers? No

Will my shop-in-a-box website include full security, merchant processing, back office management solutions and everything I need to make money online? No

Need I go on? No

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, then maybe you should consider that if owning a website is one of the most important investment decisions a start-up has to make, a shop-in-a-box is unlikely to fulfil your aspirations of internet success.

I don't mean to be unfair, but the very nature of businesses touting flyers without coughing up to exhibit is one thing, the way exhibitors were undervaluing their website offering by mass market selling is another but the deal breaker for me was that my under-cover questioning of some of the sales people revealed the dreams that they were spouting - pitches included "we have one client making £10k per week through his site" and "one client now owns more than 40 of our websites because they are making him rich". Needless to say they wouldn't tell me the highly successful companies in question, due to client confidentiality.

I have never seen a shop-in-a-box website feature high up on the search engines. I have met a few businesses in my time who have invested in one, it didn't work so they then have to consider a realistic budget to buy a website that is built for them, does everything they want it to, and has a chance of making their dreams of internet success come true.

A retail website is afterall a 24/7 sales person representing your business, charged with the task of bringing you a return on investment. A good retail website is a lot cheaper than a sales person, but a bit more expensive than £299. It should be viewed as an investment and not a cost.

With everything in life you get what you pay for. Don't buy cheap, you'll buy twice!

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