Over the years, the internet has grown into a marvelous avenue to promote your business.
In my last article, "Why Your Business Needs to Have an Internet Presence" (http://www.jvmediadesign.com/info37.html), I discussed 5 valid reasons why your business needs a website. In this article, I discuss some things to avoid and how a custom, professional website can help your business succeed.
Professional is the key. Remember, the internet has a global reach. Some of your new potential clientele may be learning of your business for the first time by visiting your website and the old cliché, "you never get a second chance to make a first impression", still rings true.
When a business makes the decision to gain an internet presence, whether they are the largest corporation or the smallest home business, they may be tempted to take what appears to be the "easy way" to get the company website up and running fast. The three major potential pitfalls here are:
1) Some hosting comes with "do it yourself" capabilities and pre-made templates. Although this is a great way to upload photos of your summer vacation for your family and friends to see, this is not a good way to make that great first impression for your business. In short, these "solutions" really do not present a professional image, and often use very minimal templates and overall poor layout and design.
2) Many companies now sell website "templates" for low cost, making it easy for you to get up and running quickly. While this is true (you can get up and running quickly and many of these companies do sell more professional designs), you run the risk of other businesses using that SAME design. And to buy a "unique" copy of the template the cost is often just as, or more expensive, than if you were to hire a professional company to create a custom design for you.
3) Complete websites for $100! This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I have actually seen advertisements for complete websites for very low prices. You must remember that you are investing in your business when you decide to have a custom website developed, and you really do get what you pay for. A professional design firm creates original designs, from scratch, tailor-made for each individual client - and the prices for that work can vary a lot, but do expect to pay a reasonable amount for the services.
These three potential pitfalls aside, the process of getting your business onto the World Wide Web does not have to be a confusing, time-consuming, and costly affair. Below is a succinct outline of the process.
1) First, you need to design on your domain name for your website. Avoid names with "-" in them and very long names. Try to be as succinct as possible. It is easiest for your visitors to remember a URL that is your company name, or at the very least, keywords that describe your company. For instance, if your business is ABC Accounting, you could consider abcaccounting.com or something such as accountingservice.com. You may find that your first (and second!) choice for a domain name may already be taken, so you may have to get creative. Just remember that a domain name that reflects your business is key.
2) Shop around for the right design firm. There is no shortage of companies who can handle the design and development of your website. Do not be afraid to shop around. Prepare a detailed RFP (Request For Proposal) that outlines things such as the goals of your website, your target market, the information you would like to have on your website, and advanced features such as ecommerce. Review the portfolios of companies and send out your RFP to the ones you feel have the skills to do your job. When you've narrowed down the prospects, do not be afraid to ask for personal or telephone interviews. Find out what their design process and work flow is like. Ask for recommendations about what type of web hosting your site will need. Also, make sure to review the design agreement or contract with the company you choose (a professional company will ALWAYS require a contract before work begins).
3) Have a basic idea of what you would like your finished site to look like. It's a good idea to do some "surfing" of the web to see what your competition and similar companies are doing, but look outside your industry as well for designs that catch your eye. This will give your design team a place to start and an idea of the style of design you expect for your own website.
4) Work on your "content". The content of your site includes all the text you wish to display. This is a very important aspect to your site. Although you do not want to overwhelm your visitors with nothing but pages and pages of text, you do want to offer clear, concise, professionally composed and edited information. Proof read, proof read, proof read! If you are in doubt, it is best to consider hiring a professional copy writer. Remember that grammatical errors shout "unprofessional!" to the viewer.
5) Once your site is up and running, don't be afraid to add or edit your content periodically. This keeps your pages "fresh" and shows repeat visitors that your business is active and "takes an interest" in staying up to date.
Sherry Holub received her degree in design from UCLA in 1995. She is now the Lead Designer and Creative Director at Southern California Studio, JV Media Design. http://www.jvmediadesign.com