Getting your Business on the Web

You have designed your business for success; now it's time to do the same for your business' presence on the World Wide Web. You have several options for making this major step forward. The intrepid business owner may consider creating and managing his or her website alone. Or he or she may seek out a qualified web designer and developer. In any case, getting your web site designed and operational is a significant task.

Identifying Your Web Needs
The first step in the process is to specify what it is you want from your web site. Do you want to attract customers? Establish a reputation? Show off? Provide references?

What should your web site mean to customers? If you want to attract customers, then you will be interested in selling on your site. Some web sites are designed to enhance communication with existing customers–giving the status of projects, allowing review of materials, promoting collaboration, and so forth. This requires different tools than simply putting your brochure on the web.

Do you intend to offer items for sale on your site? If so, you will be interested in security, banking relationships, etc. Will you enable your site for other forms of e-commerce?

What do you hope your site will mean to your suppliers? Do you intend to purchase items over the web? Will you be an affiliate or a wholesaler of the products of others? Do you want to allow web access to your accounts payables, allowing electronic invoicing and payment transfers?

How about competitors? You certainly don't want to share your trade secrets; but are there some things that you want your competitors to know about your firm and your products and services? Do you want a site that is competitive graphically or functionally with those of your competitors, or will you fill a very specialized niche that has little to do with competitors?

And finally, what should your site say about your commitment to community? Do you want a chat room or a message board? Are you looking for ways to build commitment to your industry, and should your web site play a role in building that interest?

If you want to do your own website, you should be able to answer the following questions honestly in the affirmative.

1. Are you computer savvy? Can you do more on a PC than just word processing or spreadsheets? Do you have some basic knowledge of computer programming in general? Are you comfortable with your PC and with the Internet?

2. Are you good at designing things? Can you tell the difference between a well designed web site and a poorly designed one. Check out the information at this web site and see if you are impressed with their highlighted web pages that are poorly designed. If so, you probably do not have an eye for design.

3. Are you willing to tackle a learning curve? Learning HTML and the associated programming skills for good web pages is a steep learning curve. Can you invest the time and energy in getting ahead of the curve?

4. Are you willing to invest in the tools? Purchasing an HTML authoring tool, a good graphics program and other hardware and software tools can be expensive for one web application.

If you do decide to do it yourself, or at least try it yourself, you should consider the following:

1. Learn your tools. HTML authoring tools have varying degrees of ease for the novice user. Microsoft FrontPage is one of the most heavily used tools. Another to consider is Dreamweaver. If you are looking for a freeware solution, check out First Page by Evrsoft. You will also want a good graphics program for creating web graphics.

2. Experiment with templates. There are many sites on the web that offer free or low cost web page templates that are designed with good taste and colors and graphics. Check out Free Site Templates, Free Web Templates, and Web Diner. There are also low cost CD-ROM's with a variety of web templates available.

3. Beware of copyrights. Most web templates and graphics found on the web are copyrighted by someone. In some cases, a link back to the author's page will be all that is asked. In others, you will need to pay for the use of the template or graphics. Check out these requirements to keep you out of hot water legally.

4. Look for web tools on the Web. Many web sites use tools provided by other sites, such as forms, surveys, message boards, chat rooms, etc. Some of the best sites are Bravenet, Webmaster 123 and Free Site Tools.

If you decide that the do-it-yourself approach is not for you, it is time to begin a search for a web designer or developer. Take the information you prepared by asking the tough questions about what you want your web site to accomplish for you and have it in hand as you begin.

Build a Vendor List. As you see web sites that impress you, make note of the web designer or developer. Normally, this will be listed as a "footer" on the home page, or there may be a credits page or an "about our site" page which will offer this information. You will also want to go to the International Association of Web Masters and Designers and explore its resources. This directory, as well as the home page of the designer, will often offer a portfolio of their work. Click through their portfolio to get an idea of their capabilities. You may also want to check out local resources for web designers. Using the About Web Design pages is a good place to start. But don't limit yourself to designers in your geographic area. Web design is universal enough, and the technology tools are sufficient to make location a relatively unimportant factor.

Interview. Once you have selected your vendor list, then begin visiting with those on your list. You will want to ask questions so that you can determine:

1. For the designer, what is most important: meeting your needs or using the bells and whistles of technology? It is possible to have a technologically superior web site without having the needed substance for your customers. A web designer must be able to write good copy, not just make great flash introductions.

2. Is the designer experienced with web sites of your scale and scope? Web sites can be fairly simple with just a few pages or can be very complex. Is your designer willing and able to work with a site like the one you envision?

3. How are fees calculated and charged? Will you be charged by the hour, by the page, by the word? Are the fees comparable with other designers you have interviewed?

4. Do you have a chemistry with the designer? Do you feel at ease or intimidated? Can you communicate effectively with him or her? Does the designer seem to understand your needs and concerns.

5. How do other clients feel about the designer? Make a few phone calls or send e-mails to other clients of the designer. What is their feedback? Are there any red flags?

Using these questions and concepts, you will find a web designer who meets your needs and will be able to get you established successfully on the Web.