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Taking Your Business Online: Tips for Launching a Small Business Web Site



Taking Your Business Online: Tips for Launching a Small Business Web Site

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 business:

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 needs.

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 portfolios.

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 skills.

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.

 


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