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Getting A Small Business Website Online

Considerations: Questions To Ask Yourself

There are many things a small business owner should consider when thinking about getting started with a first web site, not least of which is what purpose you want a web site to serve for you and whether the investment will pay off with any benefits. Here are a few questions to consider:

Purpose / Goals / Benefits
What am I hoping to achieve with a web site? Who will my target audience be? What goals need to be met with my web design? Will a web site make me money or save me money?
Costs / Budget
What do I really "need" in a website as opposed to what do I want? How much money can I afford to spend on a web design? Is the money I have available going to get me a design that will achieve my purpose? Are the costs one time or recurring? Are there any particular aspects of a good web design that I should allot more funds for (content writing and search engine optimization come to mind).
Responsibility
Am I going to have any responsibilities in getting my web site online? What will the web designer expect from me and what can I expect from him?
Time
How long does it take to design a web site? Can the web designer take on my project right away or is there a backlog that will delay this? How much of a hurry am I really in? Isn't it better to do things right rather than do them quick?
Looking Forward
Does this seem like someone I can work with down the road when I need to expand or update my website?

What Purpose Can A Website Serve For A Small Business?

First of all, your customers expect you to have a website and you need it to compete with similar businesses. Beyond this obvious assumption, most people come to realize that a web site can benefit their small business in many other ways too:

  1. The Internet reaches a wider audience than typical print publications, making your contact information available without needing a phone book.
  2. Online advertising is much cheaper than print, radio or TV advertising and a website can be updated whenever you like instead of when they choose to publish again. The cost of print, radio and TV ads can be reduced by simply referring people to your web site for further information.
  3. A customer doesn't have to call or write for your information and your staff saves time not having to answer frequently asked questions or send out printed materials like brochures, flyers, menus, product data sheets, etc.
  4. You can make money selling products and services online. Your online store could even completely replace your physical store at a fraction of the cost.
  5. You save money not needing fax machines, copy machines, etc.

What Do I Need In A Small Business Website And How Much Will It Cost?

In the beginning, thinking in terms of what you "need" rather than what you want isn't a bad idea. Most small business owners choose to start small and build on it as their needs dictate. After all, one of the advantages of a web site over print mediums is that it can easily be expanded or updated very quickly. Cost will depend largely on the size (number of pages) in the web site and the complexity (technical functionality) required in your design. A typical price range might be $500 - $1,000 for a basic site which includes:

Home Page
This is the starting point for any web site and required even if you only have one page in your site. It typically introduces your company and has lead in information to your other pages.
Contact Page
While it is possible to put your contact information on other pages and not have a contact page, people expect this page. A good contact page gives someone multiple ways to contact you, such as a contact form that they can fill out and submit, a map and directions to visit you and of course your phone and FAX numbers, mailing address and email address.
About Page
This typically introduces your business by providing some history about how you got started and what you do now.
Products & Services Page
Depending on the scope or range of your services, this page might cover everything you offer or it might just briefly discuss each product or service with links to more detailed pages. The need to describe these more fully might dictate the necessity for a 10-20 page site over a 4 page site for example.

Will The Web Designer Expect Me To Do Anything?

The web designer will handle the technical aspects, such as the layout and navigation, matching the colors, optimizing photos and graphics, transferring files to the web server and so on, but YOU are the expert on your business. It is actually surprising how many small business owners approach us to design their web site but have no idea how to describe what they do in their business or why someone would want to buy their products or services. The "content" of the web site, the readable text that describes your business is probably THE most important part of a web design. After all, people look up your web site for information about your business, not to see what colors you picked!

Written content really should be keyword optimized prior to publication on your website. This means doing some keyword research first, then writing and rewriting your content until it is optimized to drive targeted traffic to your web site.

Preparing your business materials for the web designer is one of your most important tasks and can make the difference between a web design project taking two weeks or taking 2 months. The more you can do in advance, the less the web designer will have to charge you for doing. Use these guidelines to assist you:

Provide Everything In Digital Form If Possible
Web sites are digital, therefore anything that goes on your website must be digital as well. If you had a print agency create a brochure, flyers, menus, data sheets or a logo for you, ask them to send you the digital files used to create them. At the very least, put your designer in contact with your printer. Anything you write up for your web site should be digital too, rather than hand written. Digital photos should be burned to a CD and mailed to the web designer.
Write Up What You Want To Say On Each Page Of Your Web Site
You know your business better than anyone. Once you know what pages your website will consist of, type up (in Word, etc.) some information for each. Be concise and to the point. Use descriptive keyword phrases in your content that you think someone might type into a search engine to find you.
Don't Drive Yourself Crazy Preparing Photos And Graphics
The extent of most people's experience with processing photos is snapping the picture and adding it to facebook. You probably aren't going to know how to use a graphics design program to resize or optimize your photos and we don't expect you to. If you have a lot of photos, don't waste time trying to email them to us as large file sizes take forever to send. Put them on a CD and mail them.
Communicate With The Web Designer Regarding What Is Needed When
"All of this preparation might take me weeks!" you're probably thinking, and rightly so! The web designer can advise on which items to focus on first. We like to start with the home page.

How Much Time Will It Take To Get My Small Business Web Design Completed?

If you have read the proceeding paragraphs regarding "your responsibilities" then you're aware that this isn't just something that we (the web design firm) are doing but something that we (you and we) are doing. We can design a web site pretty darn quickly but we need you the business owner to provide at least some written content. If you really need at least one page up right away to meet a related commitment (your web address is already on your latest printed materials, for example), we can certainly accommodate you.

Another important consideration is that many small web design firms (like ours) are run by only a few people rather than a large staff. If they're any good at what they do and reasonably priced (two good qualities in our opinion), then they may have a work backlog to consider prior to taking on your project. This is why it's a good idea to discuss any urgency or time constraints with the designer prior to committing to go forward.

In Conclusion: Going Forward

Selecting a capable, affordable web designer that can work within your budget and time constraints is only part of the process in getting a small business web site online. You yourself may have more work to do than you imagined. With the right web designer, this can be a very painless process and will probably even help you understand your business better!

Getting an effective small business web site online is a lot of work if done well, but we think that you'll find that it benefits your business considerably. Getting initially established is only the beginning though. As your business changes over time, your web site will have to reflect those changes. Finding the right web designer is akin to finding a partner to move forward with in enriching your small business.

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David Andrews has been helping small business owners get established online since 1997. He has experience as a measurement standards engineer, a technical writer, a web designer/developer and speaks several languages.