Preparing For a Website
A customer’s guide to first steps
Good web site design should expand your business, providing a good return on your investment. The task that lies between the conception of your need for a web site to a functional web presence can be very daunting with little or no guidance. The purpose of this article is to put you off to at least a good beginning.
The article will address four basic steps that are crucial to your decision and will provide good direction making it.
The first step in preparing, even before looking at web site providers, should be to see what your competitors are doing. Then formulate in your mind (and on paper) what they are doing and pick from them the best ideas to incorporate into your own idea. I recommend performing a Google search for those of your industry. Browse through these sites, and look for the following points:
- Photographs, etc.?
- How does the website communicate with the targeted market?
- How large are the sites?
- How do they compare with the vision you see for your site?
- How large are the sites?
There are many ways to create an effective web site that will fulfill your needs, so create a chart of likes and dislikes, then make detailed notes about why you feel that way about them. This will be very helpful to your designer as they try to create a site to match your vision for both your business and web presence.
Now you should have the necessary tools to determine what your web site should look like and what content it should contain.
- Make a list of the information you want to appear on your web site.
- At a minimum, your site should require “Home”, “About us” and “Contact Us” pages.
- Other pages that may be desired would be “Products/Services” (these may be separate pages or just one of them), “Portfolio”, etc.
- Write as much of the content as you can before choosing your web designer. This will enable them to more accurately quote your job and can be modified later if necessary.
- They may have some ideas to enhance that content, which will make your site better in the long run!
- If you have a corporate image or brand already created (for example, a logo, standard fonts, and standard colors) which are used in currently printed materials and you wish to continue using them, make note of this. Otherwise, the designer will need to create this image or brand identity and you will want to discuss this with the web site designer before they submit a quote.
- You may want elements on the site for customers to interact with, such as forms, polls, votes, and/or reviews.
- Do you need an ecommerce solution to sell products and/or services?
- Will there be any custom programming needed for items like shopping carts, contact forms, etc.
A list of these items is crucial; additionally a brief company description, information about your target audience, a paragraph or two about what you wish to accomplish with your site, and what features on your list are required versus not essential but desirable. These will save you money in the short and long term. The more you can share about your method of business will not only put the designer “on the same page”, but will also help you think about how you do your business and where it can be done better.
Be sure that you have a business plan in place; it is nearly impossible to give clear direction to a designer if you have no clear direction for your business!
Using an online web designer directory is a very easy way to find a local designer. Additionally, you can check with a website that you are impressed with by email or phone (if the link for the designer isn’t already there) and ask them who did their site.
Check out different web site designers’ portfolio pages to help determine if they are a good fit, having the skill sets necessary to provide for your need. Then pick out two or three designers and ask for a proposal and estimate for the entire project.
Take notice of the following metrics:
- Were they timely with their response
- If they are too busy to respond in 24 hours or less (12 hours is poor response, in my opinion), are they going to be too busy to finish the job in a timely fashion?
- Was their response professional?
- Were there spelling or grammatical errors if they responded by email
- Were they confident in the communication (verbal and/or written)
- How thorough is it?
- Require a line by line account of the quote.
- Have they addressed all of your requirements?
- Be sure there are no “hidden” fees such as graphic design, etc.
- Are the payment terms in place and manageable?
- Ensure that all on-going costs are accounted for
- Site hosting
- Security updates
- Content management
- Will you retain the website copyrights?
Making the choice
Effective website design companies provide a combination of graphic, technical, marketing, and consultative skills. Make sure the company has the skill sets you need to support your current and future needs.
You must keep in mind that your website is your company’s identity on the web; you may be able to get it done cheaper, but I have found that you usually get what you pay for. If the person doing the quoting is vague or unclear, you will be able to expect that right on through to the website they provide for you.
It would be a good thing for you to meet in person at least once before selecting a designer and that should be in their location. That way you can take in the environment that they work under. If they have a sloppy desk/room that has obviously not been cleaned in a reasonable period of time, you can probably expect at least a bit of laxness in some part of your experience with them.
Remember that you could potentially be working with this designer for a long time and your company will be associated with them. Be sure that you want that relationship. Also, please keep in mind that while you are asking yourself these questions; the designer, if they are “worth their salt”, will be doing a similar analysis of you.
After selecting your designer, you may want to check with your designer periodically, especially if they aren’t keeping you posted on the project’s progress. If they are not communicating with you every week (or two at the most) you may want to start looking around for a new designer. Again, you must ask yourself this question: “Do I have confidence that this person or team is dependable to be dedicated to fulfilling my needs now and in the future?”