Used to be, a professionally designed and printed business card was all a small business needed to achieve credibility and garner trust. In the age of VistaPrint, though, any two-bit hustler can have a high-quality, impressive business card. (Not that there’s anything wrong with VistaPrint – I use them myself!) Today, a professionally-designed website is the very best tool small businesses have for both attracting new clients/customers AND retaining existing ones.
As a small business owner, here’s the skinny on what you really need to know to begin establishing a strong online presence while not getting taken for a ride:
Beware of DIY. Those do-it-yourself website companies sure make it look easy, but drag and drop website builders can be difficult to use and are often bound by certain limitations. Even the most tech-savvy entrepreneur can wind up with an unpolished, unprofessional look using this method. If you opt for one of those “free” website offers, make sure you thoroughly research what you’re getting for free – many of them start asking for a credit card once you start adding even the most basic features your site really should have. And those super cheap hosting plans? They often leave you with periods of downtime that can be damaging to a small business. Even when they’re online, they can sometimes be incredibly slow.
Be cautious of the friend/relative/neighbor who offers to build your website. Unless they’re a web designer, they probably don’t have a real grasp on web design concepts. No matter how technologically inclined they may be, it’s likely they don’t know much about the psychology of color or what affects reading order. I understand the desire to choose someone “close” to you, I do. It can be hard to explain to a complete stranger what you do and how/why you do it. That’s why I recommend you choose someone like a local web designer that you’ve met through networking – someone you’ve come to know, like and trust (or at least someone who comes recommended by someone you know, like and trust).
Don’t be afraid to explore the cost of hiring a designer. True, large design firms charge through the nose for their designs. That’s because large design firms create sites for large businesses with large budgets. Seek out a designer who is a small business owner like yourself! You will generally find their price range much more reasonable than those aforementioned large design firms. They will also likely be more willing to work within your budget and have a frank conversation with you about how they can help you within the borders of said budget. In general, they will probably also be more interested in forming a partnership with you rather than just cranking out a product. Also keep in mind the value of having someone build a site for you while you do what you’re good at – running your business.
Choose the right designer for your business. Check out their portfolio; it should be posted on their own website. Does their past work appeal to you? If not, move on – chances are, they won’t build you a site that you love and if you don’t love it, you’re not gonna promote it. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to some of those companies in their portfolio to ask about their experience in working with the designer. Your designer should ask a lot of questions at the beginning of the design process AND take time to really listen to how you answer.
Watch out for cost creep. Make sure your designer spells out for you exactly what you’re getting for the cost of your website. Are logo creation, SEO, stock images and/or custom graphics included? If they’re endeavoring to stay within a certain budget at your request (or if you simply don’t need a logo or stock images from them because you are providing them), these items very well may not be included in your package, and rightly so. Just ensure that you know what is.
Ask the right questions. Your designer should be able to answer these questions easily, completely and in a way you understand:
What platform will you build my site on?
Who will own my website when it’s done?
Approximately how long will my project take to complete?
What level of SEO techniques will you employ while building?
How do you test for cross-browser compatibility?
Will you be using a template or will mine be a custom design?
Are you willing to teach me how to update my site (or at least portions of it) on my own?
Will my site be responsive?
I hope this information will help guide you through the waters of establishing the hub of your online presence, your website. It is the fundamental building block of all your web marketing efforts, after all! If you have specific questions about choosing a web designer, I welcome your calls or emails!
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Was there a certain question you asked a web designer and right away you knew he or she was “the one”? Or, conversely, perhaps you knew they were not? Feel free to share Your Two Cents in the comments below!