Taking Your Business Online: Tips for Launching a Small Business
Taking Your Business Online: Tips for Launching a Small Business
In this day and age, your business card is a Web site.
When people hear of your company or wish to seek further information
on it, they want to do so on their own time, online. From there
they can e-mail you with questions, or place an order if you offer
products online as well. In fact, with the amount of trade that
can be achieved through a Web site, it’s no wonder that so
many “brick and mortar” small businesses have made the
jump to E-commerce.
The decision to launch a Web site for a business owner has gone
from “if” to “when,” in just a decade. However,
the expectations of your average site visitor have also changed
in that time. Cheap, home-made
Web sites are no longer acceptable. The site you create for your
business is a stamp on its credibility; therefore the process of
designing and launching one must be taken seriously and considered
to be an earnest business investment.
If you were to invest in new equipment, new vehicles, or even new
employees for your business, you would take the time necessary to
seek out the best, most cost-effective, most-qualified selection.
You certainly wouldn’t buy the first truck you saw at the
dealership, or hire the first person who walked into your office.
The same time and care must be taken when choosing a Web designer.
Here are some tips to finding the right designer, asking the right
questions, and what to expect when launching a Web site for your
Do not race to find a Web designer. What’s the rush? Finding
the right Web designer is like finding the right architect to build
a new business office. The time you spend looking at Web sites,
asking friends and colleagues, and viewing portfolios is well worth
it if you consider what it would cost to rebuild your site with
someone else when the designer you hastily hired fails to meet your
When you see a Web site you like, check out who designed it. This
information is usually available in the bottom of the page. Or,
contact the business and ask. If they are happy with the job done
by the designer, they’ll be more than willing to refer you!
When you do narrow your decision down to a few designers, check
out their Web sites for look and feel and thoroughly examine their
Bring samples. Surf the Web and determine the kinds of things you
like and don’t like before ever walking into the office of
a Web design firm. If you have an idea of what you want your site
to look like, express it – even if it means providing an embarrassingly
rough drawing on your own. Web designers are very creative people,
but if you don’t give them some direction, they’ll create
without your input.
You have to be specific. Don’t tell your designer you want
a “cool” site. While it’s true that you may want
a cool site, you should bring to the table the types of things you
imagine to be cool. Your designer is there to help you determine
the best style for your site, so don’t be afraid to provide
specific examples of how you’d like your site to look.
Get it in writing. As with any other business partnership, you
must get everything in writing. This means going beyond the initial
contract you and your designer sign. Keep notes during meetings
and save every e- mail and written communication.
There may be times when things are decided during “casual”
meetings, such as when certain site elements will be completed,
or something as simple as adding a graphic or two. By tracking these
conversations, you will have a record to return to if things go
off track or off schedule.
Web Design Firm or Independent Programmer? Web design firms are
not your only option when it comes to launching a Web site. There
are many independent programmers out there who can provide the same
service as a design firm, and for less money. Most of these programmers
worked for design firms before striking out on their own.
There are advantages and disadvantages, of course. Independent
programmers may be less expensive, but you are limited to receiving
only the service that particular programmer is skilled in. If you
decide to add a component to your site that your programmer cannot
develop for you, you’ll have to pay someone else to do it.
Most design firms employ programmers of all capabilities in order
to meet customer requests, and their services are part of the deal
when you hire the firm.
Independent programmers are harder to locate than design firms.
Part of what makes an independent programmer less expensive is the
fact that he or she does not have the same overhead as a design
firm. Advertising is expensive.
If you think you would rather use an independent programmer than
a design firm, return to your friends and colleagues and ask around.
If you resort to an online directory or your local telephone book,
use the same process of selection as you would a design firm: ask
to see samples and a portfolio.
However, getting a programmer recommendation from someone you trust
is best. Not all programmers are created equal and an impressive
portfolio does not convey an individual’s customer service
Making Edits and Changes: the waiting game. When you hire a Web
design firm to create and launch your business’s Web site,
you are at the mercy of their busy schedule. You must request edits
and changes be made for you, and they may not be made as quickly
as you’d like them to be.
Some Web design firms provide customers with site administration
tools that allow you to make simple changes and updates as needed.
This type of technology can be more expensive, but worth it if it
gives you more control of your site.
Understand what you’re paying for. Determining the look and
feel of your Web site (the design) and actually building the site
are two different processes of launching a Web site. Be sure to
understand what is included in your contract and what will cost
extra. If you wish to add an eNewsletter sign-up, will it cost more?
Will you be charged for every E- commerce transaction? What will
it cost to accept credit card payments on your site? These are the
questions you need to ask when negotiating prices and deliverables.
You may be responsible for setting up your own business’s
and then work with a programmer to incorporate it into your site.
Web hosting fees are an additional cost you must consider, as well.
Find out if your site is being built from scratch or from templates.
Many designers use pre-made templates, which can bring down the
cost of building the web site. Designers who create your site from
scratch may actually own the source code, which limits your ability
to move the site later on, if you wish to. Be sure to ask your designer
up front how he or she intends to build your site and get written
or legal documentation of the ownership source codes so you don’t
run into disputes down the road.
Be patient, but attentive. Designing a professional Web site is
not an overnight project. It takes time to create and construct
the Web site you want. However, every day you and the designer spend
tweaking the site is another day you are unable to advertise the
site, attract visitors to the site, or sell products online. Be
patient with your designer, but keep track of the agreed schedule.
I also recommend hiring an attorney who is versed in E-commerce
businesses. You will need one to write the “Terms and Policies”
for the web site, as well as proofing the site for any legal complications
that may come up.
Imagine your Web site as a storefront. If you were building a brick
and mortar business on main street, you would: 1) find the right
contractor; 2) have an idea of how you want your business to look
and what you want it to contain; 3) expect the project to take time;
and 4) be prepared for set-backs in scheduling. These are the same
responsibilities and obstacles you will encounter while designing
your business’s Web site.
Creating a Web site for your business is an exciting and worthy
undertaking. Take the time to do it right the first time, because
there is no fun or enjoyment in having to do it all over again if
you don’t. For some additional tips, review the Web Site Starter
Kit at HYPERLINK "http:// www.inc.com". To view “cool”
and award-winning sites for ideas, check out HYPERLINK "http://www.designfirms.org/awards/".
About the Author
Karen Torbett is founder
of Venture Point, LLC http://www.VenturePointOnline.com.
She spent almost a decade running someone else’s company before
she achieved her goal of business ownership. Now, Karen helps entrepreneurs
like her seeking to buy or sell a business on their own. Contact
her at: Karen@venturepointonline.com.