Building a Business Website
Posted Monday, October 4, 2004
You've decided to take the leap and have a website designed for your business - great! Now what?
You have two options: 1) Do it yourself using a design package such as Frontpage or an online template-based service, or 2) get someone to do it for you.
The Do It Yourself option is usually the first avenue approached by small businesses or sole traders, mainly to save costs. If you have a creative mind and can produce professional looking designs, then DIY can work for you. Unfortunately for most businesses going the DIY route, their design skills are limited and they therefore rely on the templates that come with the design package they're using, resulting in hundreds of similar amateurish websites. Such badly-designed sites reflect poorly on your business and can only do your reputation more harm than good, so only use the DIY method if you are really confident of producing a website to be proud of!
You don't need to know HTML to create your own website. Packages such as Frontpage and Dreamweaver allow you to create web pages by simply typing in the text and inserting images using a typical Windows interface. Spend some time doing the tutorials and getting to know the package before attempting your own site and you will find it much easier and the results much more pleasing! You may find, however, that the cost of these packages is not much different to hiring a designer for a small website, so get quotes first.
Another option is to use a template based service. These services allow you to create your website online using one of a number of pre-defined templates. The monthly fees usually include hosting as well, and possibly a domain name. This is a quick and easy way of getting your business online, but it is quite restrictive and you may find you can't amend the design or layout in the way you would like. Over time, this sort of service can work out a lot more expensive than a website designer.
Your second option is to get someone to do it for you. This could be a professional website designer that you already know or has been recommended to you or a friend or relative that is capable of designing websites in their spare time. This is where the first warning comes in... It is a common occurrence for a business owner to get a friend or relative to design a website for them, often to save costs, sometimes to help the friend out. If the design is good and the process runs smoothly, great. Unfortunately, it is often the case that the site is badly designed (and the business person doesn't want to tell their relative that they don't like it, so they keep it), or there is no agreement in place and arguments and non-payments soon become part of the process with one or both parties walking off in a huff. When you're dealing with family and friends you're asking for trouble. You have been warned!
The final, and often best, option is to hire a professional website designer. The choice is huge, and you can use either a design agency or a freelancer to get the job done. Choose someone who has been recommended to you or you like the design of other sites they have done (always ask for a portfolio and you can even contact some past clients to make sure they were happy with the service). Both should give you a detailed quote, plus an estimated time for completion. The quote should also state clearly what is required from you and whether the quote includes hosting and domain names. Before asking for a quote, draw up a detailed document of exactly what you want on each page on the website. This will help you visualise how many pages there will be and what sort of content you will have to supply. It will also act as the design spec for any agreement you sign with the designer. And make sure you do sign an agreement! The agreement should contain an outline of each page or section of the website, plus the costs and when each cost should be paid. It should also contain the obligations of both yourself and the designer. Do not proceed without an agreement!
Maintenance, Marketing and Support
Ask the designer about maintenance and marketing after the site is designed but don't rush to sign up to get them to do it for you. The website designer may not necessarily be the best person to do your marketing as there are specialists in this area who may offer a better service. The same applies to maintenance; designers are sometimes too busy to continually update websites and may charge a lot to do so, so you may find a better and more cost-effective service at a specialist management company.
The after-care support of your new site is very important. This applies whether you do it yourself or get a friend (especially!) or professional to do it for you. There's not much point in having a website, only to find the cheap designer you hired is no longer in business, or your nephew who designed the site originally is no longer interested in helping you! This happens often, so be aware of it and make sure you have procedures in place to deal with the updating and support of your site as soon as the design is complete.
Domain Names and Hosting
The last thing to mention is domain names and hosting. A domain name is the (www.mycompany.co.uk) that you type into your browser to access a website. Most design companies will register a domain name for you and may include it in the overall cost of the design. Domain names are usually registered to you for a minimum of 2 years and should not cost more than £30 a year. Make sure the domain has been registered in your name - you can check this by entering the domain name at any domain registrar such 123Reg. Hosting is the space on a web server where your website resides. Hosting costs vary, and sometimes designers will have their own hosting services which they will recommend. Usually this will be fine, but keep an eye on your site so that you know when the hosting is letting you down. Hosting for a small website should be no more than £50 - £100 a year, so if you're being charged more than that, get an independent assessment of your needs and what you should be paying.
© Managed Web Ltd 2003.
About Managed Web
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