Establishing a web presence can be confusing and overwhelming, but without one you may as well not exist, said Erik Hanberg of Side x Side Creative.

That’s bad news for about half of small businesses, because less than 50 percent of them have a web presence.

“You need a website and you need a Facebook, just like you need a phone number,” Hanberg said. A website is a validator. If you don’t have a website I’m not going to find you.”

Hanberg, a marketing and publishing director, was one of a handful of online marketing and web design experts at The City of Tacoma's quarterly Monday Mixer networking event last night at the Hub Events Center.

The program, geared to small business owners interested in learning how to get online without breaking the bank, drew in about 50 local business members looking to network and build their web presence.

JD Elquist, operations director at the fine men’s clothing retailer Feather & Oar, was among those who turned out.

His company has been online since it opened in Tacoma last November, but it recently underwent a redesign.

“Our current website has been up for a month and a half,” Elquist said. “We think it kind of fits the necessary design and aesthetic aspect. It’s a lot more design centered.”

“It’s important for people to know what they don’t need $10,000,” he added.

He uses squarespace.com, which costs him $30 per month, but there are many other sites that offer templates to build a website.

“There are also things like WordPress and Blogspot (Blogger) that make making a website as easy as drag and drop,” he said.

For those who are just getting started, though, Hanberg suggests creating a Facebook page, where you can list your hours and your address, and people can check in.

“It can serve as a website if you don’t have the money to build one,” he said. “All businesses should be online. You need to have a URL or Facebook page.”

Facebook serves a slightly different function than a website, however. It’s less about immediate sales and more about making people remember your brand the next time they are in need of your product or service, he said.

“People are on Facebook because they’re bored. If you can get them something that’s funny, inspiring or interesting, you’ll win them over. It’s not about direct sales all the time,” Hanberg said.

Having a Facebook page or website also lends your company credibility.

“It makes them feel better about working with you. It’s like having a business card,” Hanberg said.

For him, the ideal website would include what you do, your contact information and links to your business’s social media accounts. He also suggests having a blog that you update once a month with news ranging from new staff to opinion on industry events. Then, that content can be shared on Facebook and other social media sites.

Brian Forth, president of SiteCrafting, agrees that Facebook is an easy platform to get started on, but he doesn’t recommend it over a website.

“A website is the legitimacy,” he said.

He encourages small businesses that are looking to get online to take it slow. Create a plan and outline your goals. Execute that plan in steps and phases. And, monitor and adjust your plan as it develops.

Like Hanberg, he said businesses should use social media to share content that exists on its primary website.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, another attendee, also stressed the benefits of having a web presence.

“It doesn’t have to be horribly expensive,” said Strickland. “It’s a really good way to put forth your brand identity. You can expand your customer base, you can develop your brand and you can develop a list serve. You can attract customers from outside your city. It’s called the world wide web for a reason.”