Small Business Web Design- 4 things you need to know.

If you own a small business, choosing a web design company isn’t easy and being informed can save you time, money and make the difference between online success and online failure.

1. What does your business really need?

Everyone wants a good looking website, but why do you need it? If you are going to use the website to attract new business online, yes; it’s probably necessary. However many companies just need a few site pages and an email address.

For example, I recently met with a company that assumed they were going to need a custom website. However, they have worked with the exact same clients for 15 years. They attract no new business online. They don’t plan on attracting new business online. They already have solid relationships with their clients. The will not gain or loose any business with their website. However, someone told them they needed a website so they started contacting some web design companies.

Depending on the company, a custom designed website will start around $5k and no matter who you are, that’s a lot of money to spend on something you don’t need. The solution; the owners 15 year old son went to yahoo, purchased a domain and built the site with yahoo website builder.

Total Cost- $100 paid to his son and $10 per month for the website, hosting, email and they can update the site when necessary.

If this will work for you (and you know a teenager):http://smallbusiness.yahoo.com/webhosting/

2. I do need a nice website!

So you’ve decided you need a nice website, what are your options?

Template Design- A template is a pre-made website design which can be modified for an individual company. There are a number of websites who sell templates online i.e.,www.TemplateMonster.com.

Advantages of Templates

  1. You can literally choose from thousands of designs.
  2. It’s usually fast.
  3. It’s relatively inexpensive.

Disadvantages of Templates:

  1. There will almost always be other websites the same as yours (but really, do you think your clients look at that many websites?)
  2. You still need to hire a web designer.
  3. You won’t get exactly what you want or it won’t necessarily be targeted to your client base.

If you decide you want a template, talk to a website designer before you buy the template! Many templates include Flash (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobe_Flash). If the template you want has Flash, you will need a designer who can work in Flash. (This is a different skill set than most designers have and it can be more expensive and more labor intensive.)

If you spend some time writing your content and matching it to the appropriate sections on the template, you can probably get a designer to give you fixed cost quote to integrate it to the design of your choice.

Overall, for most small businesses this is a good approach to getting a good site, fast, and relatively cheap. (A good average would be around $1500.)

Custom Website Design- A custom website is exactly what you think it is, a website design targeted to your client base and customized based on your feedback.

Advantages of a Custom Design:

  1. It can be targeted to your client base.
  2. You will get exactly what you want.

Disadvantages of a Custom Design:

  1. It can be expensive.
  2. It takes more time than any other option.

In my opinion, the only time a custom website design necessary is when you are going to use a site to increase your sales or your online image. Everyone understands increasing sales, however, don’t underestimate the power of a good online presence. A good looking website can make a powerful first impression on your clients.

In many cases, the website is the first impression your clients will have of your business, in some cases before your office or even a sales person. You might have a few thousand dollars invested in nice office furniture that your clients will never see. The vast majority of your clients (and potential clients) will visit your website.

If you’re looking for a custom website, I suggest searching Google. If you don’t immediately like the homepage of the website you see, leave. (You are their target market, so if you don’t like their site, they are probably not for you.) Spend some time going through the links and making note of the websites you like. Make sure to look through their portfolios. You will like some of the sites in their portfolio, others you will not. Be objective, you’re looking for overall quality, not your website. When you look at a site, sit back and think; does that website target THEIR market? Make sure to get references.

3. Domain Name

The right domain name can make a big difference. Spend the time to find a .com name, preferably no dashes. Although you might be small now, you want to start building your brand name. There is nothing worse than owning a .net name and sending business to your competition, or no where at all. If you are planning on spending a lot on your site, you should at least consider spending some money on your domain name.

If you find one you really like but it is not available, and there is no website at that web address; go to http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp and lookup who owns it. If the information shows (sometimes it is hidden), just send them an email or give them a call. Sometimes people have domain names they don’t really care about anymore and you can buy them for fairly cheap. (A good place to start negotiating, depending on the name is $500.)

4. Search Engine Promotion

No matter what anyone tells you, this is an art in itself and it can get costly. The best way to approach it is to determine your budget and ask someone in the industry you can trust who to work with. Below are a few articles which should give you a more comprehensive idea of what it entails and it will hopefully point you in the right direction.