More than half of self-employed business owners (54%) do not have a website for their business and are missing out on potential sales, according to new research. The poll of 400 UK sole traders and small businesses investigating business websites – their prevalence, use, cost and effectiveness – also revealed that more than half of those without websites (58%) believe they do not need one yet.

In light of how many small firms are without a site, it is interesting to note that 81% of those surveyed admitted they prefer to source information online before they spend their own money, or that they actually prefer not to buy from companies that don’t have websites.

Further confirming the importance of professional websites, small businesses claimed that on average a massive 41% of new customer leads are generated by their site. So how can many small businesses afford not to have a website of their own?

With over 80% of people in the UK accessing the internet, most of them every day, it’s increasingly vital that small businesses have a website of their own to reach that informed and active audience. A branded website – even an informative brochure-style site – adds credibility and perceived professionalism to a business and is still the most cost-effective marketing tool. Even if e-commerce is not needed, having a business website is still of huge benefit.

When asked how they would feel about designing their own website, the majority of those surveyed (74%) thought they would need help or that they don’t have the time or skills to attempt it. Yet, when quizzed about their word processing skills, an even larger majority of businesspeople (85%) described themselves as ‘power users’ and regularly able to mix text and graphics.

Many small businesses may feel it’s too costly to hire a web designer to make a site for them, and this may well be true. Some others will believe that it’s too time consuming, technically difficult, or creatively challenging to design a website themselves and add key features like e-commerce. But this just isn’t true anymore.

The latest generation web designer software allows those with regular office computer skills to very quickly create a professional-looking website that has business-friendly features – with no need for web design experience or complicated HTML coding. In addition to a simple drag-and-drop approach to adding impressive web page elements, stylish templates and ready-made artwork ease the creative burden.

And it can be a quick process contrary to most people’s perceptions. The research also revealed that the majority of people (70%) think it takes between one day and a month to make a typical 5-page site (including text, images, video, a form, and a map), while only 6% of those polled believe it’s possible to achieve such a site in 30 minutes. It can take even less than that when customising template designs.

The business appeal of web software is that attractive, functional sites can be designed and online in a short space of time and at low cost, making organisations more visible and credible to those actively searching for products, services and information.

Good software comes with everything a business needs to publish an effective professional website – stylish designs, free hosting, interactive web gadgets, e-commerce wizards, easy design tools, search engine optimisation, plus video tutorials and a community of fellow users.