ONLINE BUSINESS

Don't Skimp on This Tech Expense

When you're building your start-up, save money wherever you can. Just don't go cheap where it really matters.
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It never ceases to amaze me: I'll go to a networking event or mixer and meet a fellow small business owner. We'll exchange cards. When I look at his or her business card, a shocking percentage of the time, there is no company website.

Why? I can only assume that that company lacks a proper website. Hopefully, it goes without saying that, along with maintaining a dated and poorly designed website, this is a huge mistake.

But even companies with proper websites often make what can be a huge blunder: They opt for Web hosting companies that charge $5 per month for shared or basic service. There's a gaggle of low-cost providers out there and perhaps you're familiar with some of them. In fact, you might even use GoDaddy. If you had, you may well have been one of the thousands of customers affected by its recent outage.

Now there's nothing fundamentally wrong with skimping on Web hosting, but I advise all of my small business clients against it. In fact, I argue that they should strongly consider paying more for premium Web hosting. I went this route about a year ago for my own sites and have only one regret: that I didn't do it sooner.

The Benefits

I'm unabashed in my belief that managed hosting platforms like WP Engine are worth their weight in gold. At a high level, they offer more features and they cause far fewer headaches.

First, let's talk about the benefits. Many premium services offer staging areas, incredibly valuable tools that give customers the ability to test a website prior to making it live to the world. Routine back-ups act as de facto restore points and allow customers to quickly undo mistakes--as opposed to requiring you to manually reverse bad code or spend hours trying to find out what broke.

But forget for a minute these additional bells and whistles. Many business owners will take a clean, fast, and simple site over a feature-laden, slow, and messy site any day of the week and twice on Sunday. What good is a new feature if it takes forever to load or it crashes the site? What if my site goes down weekly and takes a long time to restore?

Managed hosting can offer the best of both worlds. At a high level, it makes enterprise-quality hosting affordable for small- to medium-sized businesses. Austin Gunter, the director of community and content at WP Engine, explained it to me like this:

Think of managed hosting as a bit like NetJets, the world leader in private aviation. NetJets' customers can fly in private jets with all related amenities at a relatively affordable price. Like managed hosting, NetJets is certainly a bit more expensive than the low-cost alternative. However, in both case, you get what you pay for.

Gunter is certainly right about the parallels between commercial airlines and shared hosting. Both are generally slim on features because of their price.

Brass tacks: No hosting company can guarantee that your site will be issue-free. The question facing companies of all size isn't "Will your site experience a problem?" Rather, the question is, "What will your hosting company do when your site experiences an outage or other problem?"

It's been my experience that premium hosting companies offer vastly superior support relative to their low-cost brethren. I've also saved a great deal of time and money because I no longer face throttling issues and know that I am not solely responsible for security. My hosting company has my back because, quite simply, I'm paying them to be there for me.

Simon Says

Much like everything else in life and in business, you get what you pay for. Consider WP Engine or WebSynthesis as viable (if more expensive) Web hosting companies.

What say you?

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Sep 13, 2012

PHIL SIMON | Columnist | Author and tech consultant

Phil Simon is a frequent keynote speaker and recognized technology expert. He is the award-winning author of six management books, including The Visual Organization: Data Visualization, Big Data, and the Quest for Better Decisions.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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