Having a Web site is now a given. Your clients will expect you to have a site that is informational, easy to use, and well designed. Your Web site has likely surpassed your business card and/or brochure as the first contact a prospective client has with your business.
I have created two Web sites from the ground up and written content for many more. Along the way, I've discovered a few tactics that will help you as you develop a new site or enhance your current site:
Pay to have a professional help you. Before I created MarketingAngel.com with the help of a Web consultant, I tried three "do it yourself" services. What I found is that although these services offer a cheap alternative to hiring a new-media company, you get what you pay for. The three beta sites I designed looked amateurish and "cookie cutter" and did not have the functionality I needed to make my site stand out.
Shop around, but don't be cheap. Put together a spec sheet of what you want from your site now, as well as potential add-ons down the road. You may only want a static, informational site now, but later may wish to add e-commerce, a database, a community chat room, or other functions. Pick a Web company that can grow with your needs. Get two or three quotes on the cost of work and the time frame for completion.
Check references. Find two or three sites that the Web company has designed, and contact them. Ask about capabilities, how well deadlines were met, and especially ongoing customer support.
Do your legwork. Research sites that are similar to your own, and get a feel for what makes them work. I've found that most small-business owners love to talk about their sites, so don't be shy about contacting companies that have admirable sites. You will be a better-educated consumer and a better customer when you make your Web company selection. Knowing what to ask for is crucial in designing your site.
Ken Greenleaf, business development specialist for CPWebMedia in Rockland, Maine, offers his "10 things to think about when you're considering using a Web site to grow your business":
Develop a goal and a strategy to achieve it. Unless you have a clear idea of what you want the site to do for you, chances are it will do nothing.
Hire a professional early in the process. A reliable, experienced Web professional will know a lot about what works, what doesn't, and what the best strategies will be to accomplish your goals.
Bracket a budget. You will need an idea of what you want to spend, balanced against your projected revenues.
Allow sufficient budget for the development to match your goals.
Remember that the Web is an information medium, not a design medium. Design is important for credibility and identity, but the real strength of the Internet is its ability to create new meaning out of disparate data.
A good Web site will bring the visitor along this progression: data to information to knowledge. A good site will also provide reasons for the visitor to return.
Be prepared to work the site. You need a champion for it in your office, someone who will do what needs to be done to make it a success.
Don't expect the search engines to do your work for you. The best way to publicize your site is to advertise it.
Consider the actual kinds of business you want to do on the Web. Transactions come in many flavors - sales, presenting company information, qualifying sales prospects, and providing information to existing clients.
Be committed. A Web site is only as good as your commitment to it. If you aren't ready to spend the time and resources, it won't do you much good. If you are, it can help your business grow.