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Do you need a Web site developer?

Posted Tuesday, March 4, 2003

So you've decided to have a Web site for your business. Good move. Now it's time to decide how to create it.

The choices boil down to doing it yourself or outsourcing it to a Web developer who will design a site for you.

For many small businesses, the do-it-yourself approach involves using "templates," which are standard designs that you simply pour information into to create a site.

You might want to consider a site development software package such as Microsoft FrontPage. These applications are the same as those commonly used by Web site developers — individuals or agencies that can create a site for you. They use their knowledge of design, Web site navigation, and the latest Internet technology to give you a unique presence on the Web.

The following list addresses five key things to consider in determining if hiring a Web site developer is right for you.

1. Level of technical skill. If you love to garden, design topiary and manicure your lawn, you might not want to hire someone to landscape for you. Similarly, if you are passionate about the ins and outs of HTML, click-throughs and cascading style sheets, you might opt to develop your Web site yourself.

But for many people, Web site creation is neither a vocation nor avocation. These individuals usually find that marrying their passion for and knowledge of their business with a developer's site design know-how is a good match. If you want to oversee the development of your site, but not create it yourself, using a designer is likely the best solution.

2. Cost. Many business owners choose to design their own sites to save money, fearing that the cost of using an outside service will quickly skyrocket. However, a growing number of Web-based solutions let businesses combine the low cost of a template-based solution with custom design solutions from an outside developer.

3.The number of products you plan to sell. This affects how complex your site needs to be and therefore how important a developer is to the project. If you plan to feature a handful of products, a template-based solution may be easy for you to use. A site that will showcase dozens of products may be more challenging because it requires design experience to build easy navigation. If you are new to Web design, you may also need to rely on the advice of a developer to help you determine the best way to merchandise products for the Web.

4.Customization requirements. The features of your site and the degree of customization required to build those features will also affect your need for a developer. Items such as an e-mail newsletter are considered standard fare and can most likely be created by a template-based product. More unique site elements — such as multimedia demos, scrolling headlines and pop-up surveys — usually require the help of a developer to design and execute. Businesses that need to communicate their design skills as part of their sales "story" usually work with developers because they need to achieve a particular site aesthetic.

5.Current resources. The graphic designer you've been using for your print brochures and other offline collateral may now be applying those skills to the Web. You may be able to leverage this established resource to help you get online.

That said, not all graphic designers fully understand how to design a compelling Web site. Web site developers know the importance of easy Web navigation and how to make the online experience enjoyable for the customer.

Make sure any current resources you plan to rely on possess this skill set. Similarly, you may have someone on staff with programming or other technical talents. While these people may possess the "back-end" skills to build databases or other programs, they may not have the design acumen to create an eye-catching front end of the site.


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