Getting your small business website online

Building a WebsiteWhether you have a single holding page with only the most important information displayed or a huge database driven, online selling machine, if you are not represented in some way on the internet you are missing a huge opportunity to both secure new business and serve your current client base.

On the way to finally commissioning a company to build our website we experienced a massive learning curve and now have the benefit of looking back on what we did and seeing where we went wrong as well as what we did right.

Before you do anything
1. Write a brief.
Be very clear about what you want your site to do. The best way to do this is to write a brief. Believe me; a few hours spent at this early stage will save 10 times that further down the line by avoiding multiple redrafts and changes. The less time it takes for a designer to produce a site, the more money it will save you.
If you have a well prepared document laying out everything your designer needs to know it will make their job a lot easier. It also gives you some kind of ‘bottom line’ to compare to the work you receive to ensure you get exactly what you ask for. With that in mind you should keep the document, or at least a portion of it, active to reflect any changes from the brief that you decide on with the design team.
I got some really useful information on writing a brief from the Knowledgebase

Choose your designers wisely.
There are a huge amount of companies out there who want to design your website. Your budget will inform who you go for but try not to let it dictate it. Paying peanuts quite often get you monkeys.

Look at their portfolio
They should have links to other sites they have designed clearly visible on their site, if they don’t…what are they hiding!

Ask for recommendations
Ask other local business owners who they employed. A good recommendation is the most valuable information you can have.

Check out the ‘competition’
If a design firm has already designed a site for somebody in your industry, chances are they will already have knowledge of what you do. Obviously you don’t want them passing on the intimate details of your business to another company though, so look at site for businesses that are not in direct competition to you or that serve a different part of the country.

Meet them face to face
I would avoid securing this kind of supplier over the phone or email. It is important to get a feel for the person who is working for you as the chances are you will be in contact with them regularly to get updates and to make changes. You must be able to get on with them.

Design firm or marketing firm?
We decided to go with a marketing firm in the end as, after talking to them, we realised we wanted a firm that we could use further down the line, when we could afford it, to carry out broader marketing projects for us. If you go to a design firm that is what you get. That is not a bad thing at all if all you need is to get your site up and running but from the research we carried out we believe that a marketing firm will have a much better idea of how your site should look in order to appeal to your specific market.

Get it in writing
If you can, agree a fixed price. This may mean you agree to a certain amount of pages, certain specific content and the amount of drafts you see before the site is finished but it gives you the security of knowing exactly how much it will cost you. Put everything you discuss in an email at the end of every telephone call or meeting.

During the design process

This is probably the most important thing. Stay in regular contact with your designer as if they are heading in a direction you are not happy with you can put them back on track before it is too late. Put your comments in an email. Even if you have a phone call to discuss how the site looks follow it up with an email and be very clear about any changes you want. That way there can be no excuse if you are presented with things you did not want or are not correct.

Seek other opinions
While carrying out a project like this it is easy to become blind to the changes that are taking place. Get your friends and colleagues involved and ask them to tell you what they think. It is pretty likely that they may have some great ideas or spot mistake that you miss.

Once it is finished
Keep it up to date! People will not take you seriously if the last photos you posted are from a year ago and you still have a ‘Merry Christmas’ banner up in August. If you are going to take on the day to day maintenance of your site you must ensure that the company you use had a good CMS (content management system). This allows you to go in make changes to pages. You must make sure they give you proper training on how to do so, don’t let them give you the password and leave you to it. It is highly advisable to build in an hour or two of CMS training into the price you agree.

Having been through the process and ending up with a fantastic site we are confident that if you follow these pointers you will not be disappointed, of course, if you have anything further to add please leave a comment or email me at


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