UX Design for Small Business

Why UX doesn't work for small businesses, but what to do instead.

I believed that UX (User Experience Research & Design) was a catch all improvement for everything… UX works to give the customer a positive experience that resonates with them, it reduces development time by testing design on users, it works to improve usability by mapping and testing tasks that need to be carried out, it works to clarify navigation and create page layouts that increase the likelihood of action and so on. So as you can see it is not worth ‘not’ doing.

BUT although there is no double that it works and most will argue saves money in the long run, with a small business where the volume of content is not large, the navigation is simple, the pages do not need to house too much differing information, the audience segments are not complex and the goals are easy to distil, the balance of return on investment against the cost of UX as a percentage increase in sales becomes negligible.

UX increases performance by increments, this could be 10% but is often more likely to be 2% or less. This percentage is usually about leads. For example say you have 1000 visitors to your site a month (about average for a small business) you converted 10% extra, so 100 extra leads per month (sounds great), this translated to 30 sales, and your UX budget was £5,000. Your cost per sale is £166 not taking into consideration PPC, etc.  However if your visitors were 10,000 your cost per sale would reduce to £16.60 and so on. With size this outlay becomes a no brainer.

But be careful of price as well I plucked out £5,000 but UX budgets can be in the realms of £30,000 or more and if they are going to be done they need to be done conclusively spending money on the research but not implementing and testing it is well, a waste of money, and some of us just don’t have that kind of cash. If we did perhaps it would be better spent on a marketing budget, sales employee or improved equipment / service offerings.

Ok.. doom and gloom over, that doesn't mean that as a small business you can’t still benefit from User Experience methods, you most definitely can. Here are 10 great UX tips for small businesses to gain information from customer behaviour to improve your website, brand and business growth without breaking the bank.

1. Learn from big business

Learning from the UX design of big business is very effective. You can bet they have spent considerable sums on user experience.

Do some research! Who are your main competitors, which large corporations are in your line of business, spend some time looking at their websites, select say 5 and do a ‘competitor comparison’ sheet this will soon tell you what your competitors do and don't do. What can you  learn from this to improve your website?

https://app.crayon.co/f/ This is a great free tool that showcases businesses by sector or keyword. You will notice that it shows the previous versions of the website so you can learn where they have improved over time. And don't forget to look at the online review of these companies too.

2. Employ a UX Designer

Employing a designer who has plenty of experience in hands on UX is a start.

Most of us work on a variety of different sized projects and bring our knowledge, skill and learning with us. Although no two clients or the nuances of their customers are exactly alike, on a small business website having previous experience of how a user in this situation may think, or what they need to fulfil their and your goals is definitely something that can be brought to the table by a UX designer. You will often find we have industry specific knowledge as well.

A user experience designer should be well versed in carrying out simple research to inform sitemaps, wireframes and user journeys before starting on the visual interface design.

Focus Group

3. Google Analytics

Learning to use Google Analytics to your advantage helps mould your content to your users and improve the actions you require of them.

Google Analytics has no doubt become very powerful, and without even needing to talk to a customer you can understand demographic, behaviour, where they came from, what device they are using, how they navigate through your website, what actions they are carrying out, and where they are bailing... if it is half way through a purchase or action then what's stopping them? For example is the process too long, is there not enough information, is the action button hidden is the site too slow/difficult to use on a mobile.

Or, knowing which blog posts gets the most visits enables you to write more like that and less like the ones that are ignored, saving you time and gaining more visibility.

4. Heatmaps

Understand behaviour and what customers are looking at.

If you can’t watch a person using your website then heatmaps is a great alternative. Free sites such as http://www.smartlook.com allow you to add code to pages you want to track and then sit back and watch, it’s fascinating and you can learn a lot about behaviour. Finding out which section of your website or product - for example in my case which artworks are the most popular - is incredibly insightful.

5. Focus Groups

Creating your own focus group isn’t as hard as you think.

Everyone likes a party! Especially one where they are listened to! Inviting 5 clients over with their laptops for a ‘lunch hour’ nice food and perhaps a little going home goodie will give you remarkable insight and the by product is creating loyalty and feel good factor.

The hour needs to be planned meticulously, and would benefit from the skills of a UX designer. Half an hour designated to the clients individually fulfilling set tasks on your website and documenting how they are doing and what they fee. Followed by lunch and a half hour group discussion punctuated by some opening questions you may want to shed light on.

User Testing

A few tips are: leave your bias at the door and don’t lead participants, keep it casual, listen, make notes and let them do the talking. Prior to the party send a short agenda making sure they know what to expect and what the research is being used for.

6. Ask your clients

Most businesses have a mail list, and if not then a client list.

So why not ask your clients? Set 5 simple questions that are going to open up a discussion dont elicit yes or no answers. Think carefully what will give you most insight or what problem you are trying to solve and ask away. Make sure you let them know all replies are entered into a prize draw for ‘X’ that may be a product of yours or a bottle/case of wine, chocolates, you decide. As with point 5, be careful not to add your own bias to the questions and the benefits are 3 fold:

  1. You are reaching out to your clients.

  2. You are getting valuable insight from real clients (users)

  3. You are creating goodwill especially with the ‘winner’

  4. You may well increase word-of-mouth referrals

If you want to do more in depth questionnaires and reap more in depth insight from the feedback take a look at http://www.surveymonkey.com

7. Gut testing

What are your users immediate reactions? First impressions count.

If you don’t have a lot of traffic to your website or you are in the design phase this is a great little tool to get a snapshot of what people think of your design https://fivesecondtest.com/. Asking them a few short questions and getting their ‘gut’ response.

8. Conversion rate optimisation

Improving conversion rate is in your grasp.

MVT, CRO, A/B are letters littered across the online industry and for good reason, they are powerful tools in the UX toolbox. But again if you don’t have the traffic then the results will be inconclusive or worse a waste of money. Still, there is no harm, and most likely gain in learning from the above points and implementing small changes that you then measure through your analytics and heat mapping to see if this has increased visitor traction.

9. Free UX Tools

Free online UX tools are a plenty if you know where to look.

User experience design can be carried out at any time -  in the research, design and planning, during build and on through the life cycle of your website constantly improving ROI.

10. And finally a good old pencil and pad

Sketching is so underrated, ideas ideas ideas, what pages are needed, what your goals are, what customer are looking for.

What you need can all be sketched out with a pencil and pad to create a very usable site map for navigation, page map (wireframe), actions and content structure, and user flow for what journey a user needs to take through your site to generate you leads.

I hope at least a couple of these points have resonated, you will notice every point is focused on your customers (users). If nothing else make it a new year's resolution to talk more to these people and find out what’s on their minds, not a new ethos but part of the new era of customer-centric business.


I am a freelance UX Consultant, Website Designer, Logo Designer and Graphic Designer based in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Contact me for more information.