Getting Your Business Online
In the early nineties, when the Internet was still relatively new to most people, most of the websites on the World Wide Web belonged to large corporations that did not want to be excluded from the emerging dot-com boom. Today, however, the Internet has become so widespread that it is redefining the global economy and changing the way consumers spend their money. Now, more than ever, businesses of all sizes want to be a part of this electronic marketplace and expand their market coverage - they want their own web site!
Unfortunately, many small business owners are unprepared to deal with all of the facets of setting up a web site, and often become discouraged or overwhelmed at the prospect. Thankfully, the process can be relatively easy as long as the proper steps are taken in advance.
Setting up a successful website involves a great deal of thoughtful planning, in a step-by-step approach:
1) Determine exactly what will the site be used for. Will it be a place customers can buy products or services (a shopping cart, for example), or will it strictly provide information (phone & fax numbers, email addresses, etc)? What other services will be provided?
2) Choose a domain name that correctly represents your business. It should be catchy, descriptive, but easy to remember and to type. Something as short as www.eof.com might not be descriptive enough, but www.rockymtnattorneysvc.com may be awkward to type and hard to remember.
The domain name you choose (if available) must be leased from a domain registrar (www.networksolutions.com, register.com or godaddy.com for example), which is done on an annual basis and usually costs $15-30 a year. The entire lease (or lease renewal) can be done from the registrar's home page. Many registrars will also offer price breaks for multiple-year leases. Be careful not to let the lease expire, as the website could become unavailable, and the domain could be potentially leased by someone else.
Furthermore, be wary of companies that will insist on leasing your website for you. Many that do this may claim ownership to your domain name and may use it as leverage in the event you opt to switch to a competitor's services. Leasing it yourself ensures you have undisputed ownership to the domain.
3) Hire an experienced web developer/designer to design your site. When deciding who to hire, ask for a list of previous work (web sites they have designed), so you can review their work.
Try not to be discouraged upfront by the amount of money that they may ask for, which can easily be in excess of several hundred dollars. Remember, your website is a direct image of your business, and presentation is important. If your website looks shabby, customers will think your business is too. Remember the old adage, "you get what you pay for!"
On the other hand, it is not uncommon for designers to over-charge for their work. Get price quotes from different designers, if possible, and figure a baseline cost for the web site.
Also realize that there is more to website design than elegant words and fancy graphics. Ease of navigation, continuity and consistency (in other words, good organization) are an absolute must in any successful web site.
Moreover, insist the site be built to industry standards and make sure it isn't dependent on any particular web browser. If your site requires Microsoft Internet Explorer, for example, you will alienate all potential customers using Mozilla Firefox, Konqueror (Linux), Opera, Safari (Apple/Macintosh) and others.
4) Choose a web hosting service that has the technologies to host your site. A web hosting service basically provides a permanent Internet presence and computer equipment to house your web site. Typically this entails a monthly fee that could vary from as low as $5-10 a month, to more than $50 a month.
The site features you may require may demand a hosting service that provides technology to power those features. For example, an electronic shopping cart may require database connectivity (like MySQL or PostgreSQL) & CGI scripting (typically Perl or PHP) capabilities on the hosting provider's servers. As not all hosting providers offer the same options, you will want to make sure they have what you need (ask your web designer).
Many website hosting providers will limit the amount of bandwidth available to your web site, depending on the monthly rate you are paying. When the amount of bandwidth is exceeded, some providers may charge premium for the excess, and others may simply cut your website off and make it unavailable. Not all providers have such limits, but it is good to find out before you sign up.
Think of bandwidth, in this instance, like cell phone minutes - the more you're on the phone, the faster your minutes are used up. The more popular your website is - the more viewers you will get - and the faster your allocated bandwidth will be consumed.
5) If you will be listing email addresses on your site, make sure they are your domain name. For example, if your domain is joesfurniture.com, then use email@example.com instead of firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. This detail should not be overlooked - poor branding will cast a negative light on your business and create the wrong impression.
6) Make sure the website is complete and without typographical or technical errors before it is formally launched. A broken site implies slopiness and irresponsibility on the part of your business, and will deter potential customers.
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