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Before you launch into your Internet adventure, you need to determine what kind of website you need and what your site is supposed to do.
Is your website going to be an e-commerce site that sells products and services? Is it strictly for brand name recognition? Does your site offer some sort of online customer service? Do you want your site to gather information about visitors?
Websites can do a lot of things. Before you talk to any designers, you need some idea of what you want your website to do. Your ideas will probably change as you talk to your designers and get the benefit of their experience, but you should give it some thought so that you have a starting point for discussions.
What Do You Need From Your Website?
A site can serve many different functions all at the same time, but for a small business, the bottom line is always the same.
Your website should increase business and help generate revenue. If your site doesn't improve customer contact, bring in customers, or create revenue, it may not be a good business decision.
You need to define the functions of your website. If you don't have a clear set of goals and requirements, you will not spend your time and money effectively. Before you can define your website, you must define your business needs.
Take a few minutes to review the following groups of questions. Answer as many as possible. This is the information you need to define your website and it is the information your designer will need to develop an effective site for you:
Describe Your Business or Organisation
- What does your organization do?
- What products or services do you sell?
- How do you sell them now?
- Who are your competitors?
- How are you different from or better than your competitors?
- Who is the target market?
- How many different kinds of customers do you have?
- What kind of information do your customers want?
- What response do you want from your customers?
- Create revenue through direct sales
- Communicate with customers and potential customers
- Provide information and answer questions
- Provide online services
- Enhance your business image
- Get increased exposure
- Generate leads
- Gather customer information
- Display your products and services
Sample Goal Statements
- Promote our employment seminars to the recently unemployed
- Sell my new book to people who collect stamps
- Attract new members to our organization
- Provide information about our services and activities
- Gather customer information online
- Provide a ready source of information to our customers
- Encourage visitors to contact us for information and quote
Develop a Concept For Your Website
Your life, and your designer's, will be much easier if you have some idea of what you want to put in your website. After you have determined the goals for your site, you should spend an hour or two searching the Internet to find sites that offer similar products or services. Look at how they are designed. Look for special features that you might want to include in your own site. Identify things that you don't want in your site.
Search some more and find some sites that really appeal to you. Then find three or four that you really don't like. Jot down the addresses of all of these along with notes on what appeals to you and what doesn't. Consider things like navigation (menus), color schemes, how easy the site is to use, etc.
Note that you are not trying to design the site. You are just trying to get enough information so that you can give your designer an idea of what you want.
When you have done all of this, you will be ready to talk to a designer. You will know the goals for your site and what it should include. You will also be able to give your designer some general direction as to a look and feel for your new website.
If it turns out that you have trouble putting exactly what you want and need in a website into words, that's all right. Your designer will be able to help you with this. That's what a designer does. And you will find that just having gone through the process of reviewing your business and other websites will help you communicate with your designer.
What to Look For in a Designer
A website can be an asset to your business if it is done properly. But it can become a tremendous drain on your time and resources if it is not, so be sure to choose your designer carefully. There are many designers who would be willing to design a website for you, and selecting the right one can be confusing.
When you choose a designer, don't use your neighbor or the kid down the street who says, "I know how to make a web page, there's nothing to it." A website is a marketing tool and there is much more to creating an effective website than just getting "something" online. The success of your business depends on presenting the right image to the public. Do it right - hire an experienced designer who understands that your site is a marketing tool for your business.
When you first contact a designer, you should expect a lengthy discussion to determine your business needs and to answer many of your basic questions about your site and websites in general. Avoid designers who only ask about site layout options and payment without asking you about your business needs. You should get questions like these:
- What does your business do?
- What is the function of this site?
- Who is the target audience?
- What kind of response do you want from your visitors?
- How many different kinds of customers do you have?
- What kind of information do the users want?
- Do your competitors have websites?
Select a designer who makes you feel comfortable. If you have trouble communicating with a designer before you sign a contract, you will have trouble after. Pick someone who answers your questions and is easy to work with.
Ask to see samples of their work. Most designers display these on their sites. Explore the samples. Send an email to the site owners and ask if they were satisfied with the work that was done. Ask if there were any problems. It only takes a minute to send an email and it can save you lots of money and hours of aggravation. Look carefully at websites done by your prospective designers. Are they visually appealing? Are they easy to navigate, or do you find yourself getting lost? If you don't like the work they have done, don't use them.
At the end of the discussion, ask for a cost quote for your site. You may get an answer immediately, or the designer may need to do some preparation. Proposals vary in size and complexity. Some will consist of a brief paragraph and a quote. Others will include a detailed site development plan and a schedule. Whatever form it takes, review the proposal to make sure that it addresses all of your needs.
When you select a designer, don't base the decision solely on the lowest cost. A low price on a bad website is not a good investment. Instead, try to get the best value for your money.
The Website Development Process
The website development process can be broken down into four distinct phases:
- Preliminary Design
- Detailed Design
- Search Engine Submission
During the first phase of the development of your new website, you will talk with your designer so that you both have a common understanding of the goals of the site and the work required to complete the job. This is also your opportunity to have all of your questions answered.
Your designer will then present a proposal. Depending on the designer and the size of the job, this may be a formal proposal or it may just be a verbal quote.
If you agree to the proposal, you will probably be asked to sign a contract. The contract should define who is going to do the work and what they are going to do. Costs and payments should be clearly spelled out. When you return the signed contract, you will also be asked to send the first payment (or the entire payment if it is a small job.)
After you have signed a contract, the preliminary design of your website will begin. Your designer will typically perform the following steps during this time:
- Register your domain name
- Set up hosting
- Develop a site map (table of contents) for your site
- Design the page layout that will form the basis of all the pages in your website
- Create the navigation structure (menus)
- Design preliminary artwork and graphics
If you are not satisfied with the initial design or if you want changes made, now is the time to say so - before too much work is done. If you wait until later, your designer may have to change every page in the site and you will be charged for the extra work.
Once you are satisfied with the initial design, you will usually be expected to send approval in writing and send a partial payment so that the work can continue.
Now your individual pages will be created and built into a website. Before this effort can be completed, you will be required to send in all of your submissions to the site. Your designer will do the following:
- Create the individual pages
- Link all pages
- Finalize all graphics
- Incorporate special features
Search Engine Submission
The last step in the development of your site is search engine submission. After both you and your designer are satisfied with the site, it will be submitted to the search engines. If your contract includes any follow up support, it will also occur during this phase.