Great Business Ideas: Create a Website

Great Ideas for your Small Business: Create a Website

Creating your own website is a complex and demanding project that can cost you money instead of making you money – if you don’t do it right. Before you plan your site, determine whether you can afford to create and maintain it.

You can’t just put it out there in cyberspace and forget about it. At least once a week, you should be adding fresh information, offers, and incentives to visit your site. You also need to make sure that your customers and clients are Web-savvy.

If they aren’t yet going online to find information or make purchases, there’s a chance you may be wasting your time and money.

Here are some steps to get you started:

1. Go online to check out a variety of websites belonging to big and small companies.

This is the best way to figure out exactly what you like and don’t like. Some sites are very elaborate, with all sorts of graphics and animation. Some are very simple and elegant.

Mark the sites you like so you can share them with a designer.

2. Outline all the elements you would like to include on your own site.

Carefully list the information you want to share with your customers or clients.

Ask yourself: Do you need to include product information and a price list?

An order form? Will you be putting your catalog online?

Will you feature some sort of schedule to track product releases or shipments?

3. Make a list of the sections and estimate how many pages of text they will take up.

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Most website estimates are based on the number of pages or screens.

4. Once you’ve outlined all of the sections you want on your site, make appointments to meet with at least two or three designers.

Ask your friends or colleagues to recommend good website designers. Or better yet, call the companies whose sites you liked best and ask them for the name and phone number of their designer. Before you set up an appointment to meet with a designer, ask for some references and call them.

Meet only with the people who come highly recommended. You don’t want to waste time getting an estimate from someone who is difficult to work with, doesn’t meet deadlines, or has a bad reputation.

5. At the first meeting, ask the designer to go online and show you some of the work created for other clients.

Before you show them what you want done, get clear answers to these questions:

— Will they do all the work themselves, or farm it out to others?

— How and when do they expect to be paid? Do they require a deposit up front?

— How much do they charge to update and maintain a site? Most designers have an hourly rate for these services.

— Will they find you a host and help set up your site?

6. After you get answers to the above questions, ask for a written, detailed estimate—including a “site map” which shows you how all the pages will flow from the home page.

7. Remember, development prices will vary considerably, depending on what you want.

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Developing a new website can cost as little as $2,500 or as much as $500,000, depending on the complexity. Many online services offer very low- cost personal sites to members, but if you are in business, you probably want to have a more professional-looking site.

When you receive the estimates, make careful comparisons. Be sure to factor in the cost of the server and any setup fees.

8. Watch out for padding or hidden costs.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions to really understand everything you’ll be paying for.

9. When your site is finished, be sure to obtain a disk or CD-ROM with your completed site from your designer.

Remember, the designer doesn’t own the site—you do. Having a copy in hand will protect you from losing all the work should you decide to hire someone else down the line.

10. Start out simple.

Nothing should be more than two clicks from the home page. Aim for a very clean, elegant design; you can always add animated graphics later, if you need to.

11. Check out these books before getting started

Creating Killer Websites: The Art of Third-Generation Site Design, by David S. Siegel (Hayden Books; 1997), and Clicking Through: A Survival Guide for Bringing Your Company Online, by Jonathan Ezor (Bloomberg Press; 2000).