If you dont already have a website to promote your self-storage business, you need to have one built. Expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $5,000 for the initial design and setup, depending on the sites quality and functionality. A simple template site from a Web-hosting company such Go Daddy will be the least expensive, while a custom-designed, feature-rich site developed by an individual or a Web-development consultancy will be the most expensive. Most self-storage websites fall somewhere in the middle.
When deciding where you want to be on this spectrum, consider which features you need to achieve your goals. For example, if getting tenants to submit online payments is one of your aims, your website must be integrated with the payment portal of your management software. Most self-storage software providers offer a template payment portal you can link to from your site.
Consider what you want to achieve with your website, and then build in the features that match those goals.
Capturing Customers on the Web
If you want your self-storage website to capture new customers, there are a few ways to accomplish this. Perhaps the most exciting is an online reservation system that allows customers to book storage units via the Web, just like hotel rooms. Most management-software providers offer a template for this as well.
However, its only worthwhile to offer online reservations if you invest the additional cash to fully integrate your softwares real-time inventory and reservation process with your website. Driving a customer from your website to your management softwares unfamiliar portal to will dramatically reduce the number of people who actually complete the reservation. The same look and feel of your website should be carried throughout the entire process.
Hiring a Web developer to do this custom work will bring you toward the upper limit of the price range, but the reservation volume from your site should pay for itself in a relatively short period of time. Real-time reservations will not only show your operation as technologically superior, it can help set you apart from competition.
If you want a more economical solution, you can direct customers to a lead form rather than offer online reservations. Instead of selecting a specific unit and actually pulling it out of your inventory, the customer simply submits his name and contact information to you for follow-up. The downside to this approach is leads require work. Managers may need to call and e-mail potential customers several times before completing the sale. On top of that, leads convert to move-ins at a much lower rate than online reservations.
Video and Chat Options
There are a few bells and whistles you can also add to your website. Videos and live chat are two examples of powerful but free features. To display a video tour of your property, simply upload the video file to YouTube and then embed it on a page of your website. (When youre viewing a YouTube video, a box to the right of the scene contains an Embed code you can copy and paste into your websites HTML.) This will allow customers to watch the YouTube video without ever leaving your website.
You can also offer a live chat feature that will allow users to engage in chat sessions with your staff. There are various free solutions such as Volusion or LivePerson. This is a great tool for customers to get instant gratification for any questions without picking up the phone. The downside is youll need someone to monitor the site in case a customer initiates a chat session (at least during business hours).
Your Website and SEO
Finally, if youre building your website from scratch, its easier to optimize it for search engines during the development period than to come back and make changes later. Its critical to invest in a developer or consultant who has an understanding of search engines and search-engine optimization (SEO).
A high-caliber Web developer may have sufficient SEO knowledge to properly optimize your website, but these are a rare breed, so youll probably need to hire an SEO consultant to work with your developer. Together, they can build your website from the ground up, with search engines in mind.
If you decide to keep it simple and use a template website, its still smart to hire an SEO consultant to make sure everything is set up correctly. Search engines will deliver the highest volume of potential customers to your website, so your site must be search-engine friendly.
Chuck Gordon is the CEO and cofounder of SpareFoot.com, an online self-storage marketplace. SpareFoot is 100 percent performance-based with no setup or monthly fees. For more information, call 202.257.2111; visit www.sparefoot.com .
Show Off Your Facility Website Part II [Self-Storage Talk]