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THE Guide: What Every Small Business should know about Website Design

Written by

Robert Tonnies

( )

Abstract –>

Whether you are a rapidly growing roofing company, a start-up boutique, or a music enthusiast offering free-lance piano lessons, a professional website will be your secret weapon in attracting more business and keeping your current customers
from wandering.

Introduction

Heavy weight paper, a dash of fancy font, and the sweet smell of fresh ink: a young professional’s first business card. With it comes a tangible sign of legitimacy, one that could be handed out to every potential customer as symbol of trust.

Unfortunately, those days are long gone. In today’s entrepreneurial landscape, two dollars and a jawbreaker will get any pyramid scheme toting hustler a top of the line business card.

So, what is the best and most cost efficient way for a new or expanding business owner to create a trustworthy first impression, one that gets you in the door? …Answer: A professionally designed website.

Whether you are a rapidly growing roofing company, a start-up boutique, or a music enthusiast offering free-lance piano lessons, a professional website will be your secret weapon in attracting more business and keeping your current customers
from wandering.

When venturing out into this virtual landscape, keep the following guide at your side: a basic account of all of the tips, tricks, questions, gems, and mistakes that we’ve collected on the other side of extensive observation in the ecosystem of competitive small business.

THE Guide – Part I: Common Misconceptions

1. Do It Yourself (aka-DYI)

Don’t be duped by the massive web hosting companies touting all-in-one remedies for pennies a month (especially the attractive brunette driving in circles at 200 mph). Most of these companies invest more time and resources on the marketing of these solutions than on the quality, reliability, and usability of the services. Point and click website builders are difficult to use and even to the tech savvy end up projecting a cheap and unestablished feel.

If you have already stepped in this bear trap most likely you have taken a hit to the wallet, a small shot to your pride, and are still left with a site that looks amateur even to an amateur. The other downside is that the “free” part just gets you logged in and started. As you begin to add the basic features that your site needs, pop-ups begin asking you for your credit card number. Even worse, when you realize that the inexpensive hosting plan they offer you in the package leaves your site offline much of the time and miserably slow even when it’s up, you really start to the eat the costs three meals a day.

When it comes to hosting with these companies they claim unbelievably low cost monthly rates. What they don’t tell you is that your site will be held on a shared grid with millions of others. This always leads to extremely slow loading of your site and horrible up times. Don’t believe the 99% claims; a simple Google search will expose how false this advertising actually is (some of the largest hosting companies go to great lengths to hide the differences between grid and dedicated servers). Losing the revenue from one potential customer due to an avoidable site outage can be equal to the cost of multiple years of higher level of hosting for most small businesses. Dedicated hosting is necessary for an established company.

2. General Misconception of Cost

Hopefully by now you have started to believe that leaving the business of building your web presence to a professional is an objectively smart decision. A side benefit of this wise choice inevitably will be the extra time you now have to be a professional at what you do (#opportunitycost).

However, you still might be apprehensive to pull the trigger due to your perceived notion of what it costs to contract this service out. It’s true that large design firms charge an arm and leg for their services. This is usually for a good reason; larger firms are typically creating web sites for larger businesses and organizations. These sites require a team of web development employees and literally thousands of “person-hours” to complete.

The key is to find a design studio that is more suited to the size of your business. Highly skilled, but with a team of two or three employees, the necessitated cost of your project will come down to a very reasonable range.

3. Beware of Your Buddy (or nephew, or friend-of-a-friend) who allegedly can “Build a Website for You”

This is one point that is particularly hard to impress upon small business owners; such owners like to keep their biz “close” whenever possible – using people they know and trust with minimal costs. And oftentimes this can be a very decent philosophy. But, let’s put it this way: would you trust this same friend-of-a-friend (who works an odd-job somewhere in town that isn’t design-related) to redecorate your own house, simply because he knows a bit about drywall? One really would hope not; because you probably know as much about interior decoration as he does.

Along with being well versed in all of the technical wizardry needed to build a cutting-edge website; you should expect that your designer has the ability to appropriately craft an outstanding design. Layout, flow, & UX direction; borders, angles, & edges; shapes, sizes, & color schemes; everything involved in controlling how a user feels when visiting a site through the design itself. This is perhaps the most important aspect of the project in mind! The finished product should cast a spell in the words of “your company name” on each and every visitor. And your site should never give the impression that this is a template, a reusable theme, found on business sites all around the internet. Everything about your experience should feel custom and personal. This is the essence of design.

THE Guide – Part II: Enough complaining, Time for Some Simple & Sound Advice

Qualities to look for in a Web Design Company

As mentioned in Part I, find a local studio that is similar in size to your small business. These designers will have the time and dedication that is required to build the masterpiece of your dreams. Your business is as important to a smaller firm as your future website will be to you. Look for a design company that is looking to build a partnership and is interested in furthering the success of your brand and company. Word of mouth marketing is how these companies get most of their business, and they will want to wow you.

Choosing the Right Design Company for your Website

Go local!

Take the same approach you take when buying produce. (Please don’t smell, pinch or squeeze your web designer), but choose a design firm that is located in a reasonable proximity to your home office. The ability to meet with the designer in person is very important.

Ask to see the work they have done for other local businesses

This will give you an insight into whether or not they are able to translate a company’s feel, goals, and competitive advantage into a beautifully crafted site. Don’t be too timid to call some of the companies that have utilized their services (hint: if their sites were built correctly, you can get their contact information from their homepage).

Meet at their office

Make sure that the design group you are choosing to represent your company is not selling brownies for cash and coding out of a VW bus. Legitimate design studios can afford to lease office space and if there are any issues you will know where to find them.

Find a Design Company that takes time to listen.

In the first meeting, a good design firm will do more listening than selling. No one is more passionate about your business than you; but how can you expect a design studio to properly represent your company if they do not understand your
business?

Watch for the Signs of Nickel & Dime

Granted some additional services will be necessary add-on costs to any job (such as solid hosting), be cautious of a company that offers a service and then states, “This will be extra.” Logos, custom graphics, SEO, and even high-resolution photography should be included with the design. Some Design companies may disagree with this statement but there are many other firms out there who will offer all of these features at the same price as these naysayers basic design service.

Make sure your Designer is Up to Speed on Latest Design Trends

Everybody loves Marty McFly and Back to the Future, but it’s no longer 1985 (1.21 gigawatts!). You do
not have to be well versed in web design to ask a couple key questions:

Will my site be responsive?

What are some live websites you’ve already made? (make sure they are real sites)

To what extent will my site be browser compatible?

Will my code & content be legal (and where are your legal terms of service)?

Will my site be optimized for speed and aesthetics and how?

Do you use templates or is this design going to be custom crafted?

Do you have brand building, sales, and marketing experience?

Who will own my site upon completion?

Will you train me to update my site via a content management system (CMS)?

Are you up-to-date on search engine optimization?

Can you provide a timetable for completion?

Closing

Hopefully, this guide will aid you in navigating the often intimidating landscape of adding a web presence to your business model. The small-market design pool can often be an ocean of misfit toys, none of which you want commanding the future of your online business. But, if done properly, a professionally designed site can make all the difference in establishing a nicely polished shoe in the door before & over all your competitors. Certainly, the estimable force and impact that web development has on the plight of a small business cannot be more boldly underscored.


About the Author

Robert Tonnies Greenmark Studios

Robert is the founder and chief front-end designer at Greenmark Studios. He's been building things on the web since there was a web, and has recently hit the Silicon Prairie in Kansas City, providing top-notch, honest, and personal web design & development to local businesses. Find him on or drop a line on Greenmark's Facebook.


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