The topic of website design, as many small business managers have discovered, is both broad and fascinating. To the extent it is handled in manageable chunks, the process of learning and doing can be very engrossing, especially when successful concepts are first understood and then implemented for the benefit of your particular endeavor. When your business hopes and dreams are on the line (and in this case, specifically, online), you eagerly embrace the possibility of measured success; what might otherwise seem uninteresting becomes interesting when profitable returns are forecast into your immediate future.
However, website design can be extremely unprofitable for a small business if done incorrectly.
What am I talking about?
Specifically, spending too much money on whiz-bangs, tricks, and features that have no proven relationship to time-tested, fundamental strategies of success.
Over my years as a website designer and online consultant, I have worked with all sorts of businesses. It never ceases to amaze me how many clients have come (and continue to come) to the table with misguided ideas of what they need in a website. Beyond that, they have misguided ideas of what those “needs” are likely to cost. Inevitably, they are caught off-guard, although also enlightened, when I explain the difference between fantasy and reality in the online world.
The common scenario goes very much like this…
- Client: “I need a website. I found your name online.”
- Me: “Excellent. What kind of business are you in?”
- Client: “I own a small clothing store with two employees.”
- Me: “Fantastic. What kind of website were you thinking of?”
- Client: “Well, we love the look of Macys.com, plus their online shopping cart is super easy to use.”
- Me: “Yes, their site is extremely nice.”
From there, I learn that their budget is $500, and that they’d like to do something fabulous quickly because their business has been struggling this year to make ends meet. Consequently, they are willing to do some of the work themselves, if possible. Their local yellow page company has offered to build them a free website as part of a monthly bundle of high-priced miscellaneous advertising services (but the website designs hardly seemed fabulous, in their opinion), plus another company, a large national firm, had been promoting that a do-it-yourself website could be hosted on their servers for only $1.99 per month (but the setup process hardly seemed easy, in this client’s opinion). So this client was now looking toward independent web designers, like me, to see what kind of “better” deals might be had.
I sit in the middle, a dedicated, experienced professional vying against two diametrically opposed alternatives.
In many respects, the “wine-on-a-beer-budget” appetite is typical of clients in all industries. Most of us want as much bang for our buck as possible. I’m no different. The Website Design Industry, however, like other service industries, is based on the intangible component of TIME.
As my intention here is to educate both prospective and already-resolved clients of mine (which, in turn, simultaneously benefits other independent service professionals like me), it should go without saying that my leaning will always be heavily biased toward the middle ground.
But I have valid reasons beyond personal prejudice, which I will continuously endeavor to illustrate.
I’ll say it clearly now. Avoid the large companies for small business website design services. You are unlikely to get the long-term attention you need, nor the long-toothed experience, unless your designer has a proven track-record of success that is measured in TIME.
There are three sustainable ways your small business website can be built and maintained:
- Do all the work yourself
- Do some of the work yourself, pay someone else to do the rest
- Pay someone else to do all the work
(A fourth way, having someone else do all the work without pay, has proven time and again to be unsustainable. Ultimately, that person escapes the chore, leaving you flat and sometimes worse.)
Time and aptitude are the defining factors, but I will argue that the best choice is either 2 or 3. If your business is ultra-small, with virtually no budget for online assistance, then doing some of the work yourself will be required. You should, though, still commit some budget every month to a PAID professional, if only for advice. Once you have a few hundred dollars per month to spend, then the wisest use of your own time is to get completely out of the website design business, and to trust an honest professional to do this kind of work for you. Success online involves many varied tasks, many specific insights, and many effective strategies that can only be learned by long-term, continuous doing.
Beyond this introduction and overview, I will write five (5) specific parts and one (1) summary and action plan. It will prove an indispensable distillation of the most important components of a small business website. No matter how your website gets built, the knowledge herein will empower you toward making sound decisions that are based on my professional experience of long-term, continuous doing.
The five (5) specific parts of this Website Design For Small Business series will include:
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Essential Features and Benefits
- Essential Tools Explained
- Case Studies
- Basic Setup Tasks
What follows will not be a how-to guide. I recommend reading this introduction and overview, the five (5) parts, and the summary and action plan with an eye toward seeing the methodology that underlies the whole.
The impetus for this website, overall specifics on content and theme, and details about me can be found on the Welcome page.
Thanks for reading. Please contact me if you need support services for business-related online tasks. I can usually help or provide a referral.
Robert L. Ward — President
Landon Skyward Enterprises, Inc.