For those who want it in black and white, yes or no, the answer is yes, you need a website and no, you don’t have to wait to start your business until you build a website.

Those may seem like weasel words, but the problem is that you really need your own website at a certain point but you also need social media to reach your target audience more quickly. As discussed below, you want to use shared, social sites to promote your business but drive traffic to your website. You can test your idea, build “your platform” (i.e., develop interest in your business or organization) or even get a toehold in getting your business or organization off the ground by starting out on a shared, social site like Facebook or Etsy.

For those who prefer a complete, more nuanced answer, the reason you want your own website is because you want to make yourself richer with your marketing efforts, not Zuckerberg. We have no control over Facebook — or any other shared, social site. We do have control over our own websites. Rather than spend our time and money driving potential customers and clients to Facebook, where they will be bombarded with “promoted” posts by our competitors, we want to drive Facebook’s users to our websites. In addition, having your own website can add legitimacy to us, our organization and efforts. It shows a greater commitment and permanence than a Facebook Page, Etsy or other social media account

Think about it. If you had a shop in a mall, you wouldn’t spend most of your money and time promoting the mall. You’d want to promote your store. You don’t care how many people are roaming around the mall looking to be entertained; you want those people in your place. The mall is making enough money by having you there drawing traffic driving up their rents.

And Facebook is getting enough traffic by having you posts great content on its site.

A Very Brief History of Facebook’s Growth (or Machiavelli Would Be So Proud)

This is how Facebook got as rich as it has. First, Facebook encouraged everyone to get there friends to join and “Friend” them. Once that reached a certain level, Facebook encouraged businesses, organizations and individuals to create Pages and promote having people “Like” them so the people could get free notices about new posts about what the organizations were offerring. Cool! It’s like a free email list without any of the work. Right? (You know how this is ends, of course.)

Facebook even allowed custom Pages, so businesses and organizations spent thousands having custom Pages designed (sometimes multiple times as Facebook changed the rules arbitrarily). Now people, businesses and organizations and millions of individuals spend lots of money asking us to “Like” them on Facebook. This, of course, promotes Facebook and more people join until Facebook reaches critical mass — and Facebook decides to no longer promote posts to everyone who “Likes” our Page (or even to everyone who “Friended” us) unless we pay to “promote” our posts. (Just recently put up a popular posts that got 75% higher sharing by my friends and was promptly offered a chance to “promote my post” to “a larger audience” — for a “small” fee.)

Instead, Facebook is now pushing “Groups.” Groups are a more highly targeted audience. Do you see the pattern? Facebook gets other businesses, organizations and individuals to promote Facebook to grow its user database instead of spending its own money. And to make matters worse, instead of paying us an affiliate fee for driving new traffic to its site, Facebook actually charges us to reach our audience, sells the demographic information to our competitors and runs promotions by our competitors on our pages!

And to compete with Youtube (which is making Google a fortune in video ads) Facebook is pushing Messaging, Livestreaming and Video posts in an increasing isolated, proprietary format. And all of these arbitrary changes are entirely beyond your control. And please don’t believe Facebook makes these changes for our good.

Use Social Media, Don’t Let Social Media Use You

Now I’m not saying never use or even don’t use Facebook. What I’m saying is use Facebook, don’t let Facebook use you.

Use Facebook — and other social media — to drive traffic to your own website, your own subscription list, your own relationship with your audience. Keep in mind that we’re building relationships with our potential audience. We want our target audience to know about us, not Facebook, not Instagram, not Twitter, not [insert social media of choice].

But I’m On a Shoestring. Do I Really, Really, REALLY Need a Website?

Okay, I’m not saying that you can’t start or grow your business without spending a lot of money on building an amazing website. Maybe US$10-18/month (the price of a movie with popcorn & soda) is out of your price range at the moment. Or maybe you’re wanting to test the waters and see if you can generate some interests. If you really can’t commit the money — or the time (often it’s the time) — to build your initial website or a landing page, then go ahead and start building your audience on Facebook or other social media.

But, in fact, you can start a website or create a landing page for FREE using WordPress.com (not to be confused with the actual WordPress software). When you are testing the waters for your idea, service or product, it’s even better to have your own website because, while it’s pretty easy to get people to “Like” you (or follow), it takes more interest to click-through to your website. Driving traffic to your site is a far stronger indicator of potential commitment (i.e., sales or participation) — and starts training your audience to focus on you from the beginning. But you build your brand (i.e., associating your name with a specific perception) through social media and other marketing.

So if you don’t have a website of your own, put it on your marketing To Do list. If you do have a website, make certain you drive traffic to it and make certain it gets the maintenance and attention it needs.