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Business websites

An exciting marketing and sales tool for businesses

Nearly all businesses seem to have a website, but once you have decided to build a site for your business, you will need to consider its purpose and value.

Is it worth having a website?

You will need to ask yourself a few fundamental questions before embarking on a website:

  • Does my business really need a website?
  • What do I want it to achieve for my business?
  • Do my customers use the Internet? If not, will they?
  • How do the costs compare to other marketing activities such as brochures and mailshots?

A small firm that invests in a website can secure the same Internet exposure as a multinational company. There are few restrictions on the Internet, therefore a business can expand its customer base on both a national and international level.

Websites are the ideal medium for building up online communities and generating feedback from customers. Because of their online nature, they can easily be updated and improved, unlike a paper catalogue or brochure. A website will also allow a business to improve its customer service, giving customers an almost instantaneous means of communicating with the business.

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Should I do it myself?

Choosing to develop a company website in-house is a big commitment. Considerations before committing yourself to this include:

  • Staff - do you have adequately trained staff with the technical knowledge and design flair to set up a website?
  • Technology - have you budgeted for the computer hardware and software that will be required to build and maintain your website?
  • Maintenance - have you considered the ongoing costs of keeping your website up to date? This will include a member of staff required to deal with user enquiries and feedback, upload new information and remove old material, deal with any technical difficulties and check that hyperlinks work correctly.

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Checklist for choosing a web designer

  • Review their portfolio. A professional web designer should have their own portfolio of work, showcasing previous projects.
  • Review online work. Can the designer provide examples of online work in addition to work from their portfolio?
  • Check references. It is worth speaking to former clients to obtain feedback about their work.
  • Review their training and qualifications. A professional designer should have, at a very basic level, knowledge of HTML and JavaScript languages.
  • Do you want a database driven site? If so, can the web designer work on the technical requirements as well as the design functionality? Do they have experience of this?
  • Check their knowledge. Do they ask questions about you and your business? Do they seem interested in your business?
  • Check their understanding. Do they understand the environment in which your business operates? This may include a limit on resources, the audience focus and unique selling points of your business. Do they know who your competitors are?
  • Check their interpersonal skills. Is communication an issue? Can they get their message across to you without getting bogged down in technical jargon? Will other members of staff be able to communicate with them easily?
  • Check copyright ownership. Will they turn over all ownership of graphics to you once the project is finished?

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What does it cost to use a web designer?

Design costs

  • This will include the creation of the overall look and feel of the website image, with background and navigational buttons. Additional parameters may cost extra to develop depending on what you require.
  • Costs can be per hour, per page or an overall project cost depending on the preferences of the client

Hosting costs

  • Web hosting services may include a set up and monthly fee.

Maintenance costs

  • A monthly fee may be charged for the updating and maintenance of the website.
  • Decide on your budget and ask several designers for quotations. This will give you a clear idea of what can be achieved within your financial constraints.

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Hints and tips

  • Determine the purpose of your website. This will enable you to focus on the design and marketing of the site.
  • Very few businesses have the technological skills required to become a virtual business overnight. It is therefore essential to seek expert advice, at least in the early stages of the project.
  • If web space is to be leased, it will be necessary to check how much control the supplier retains over the site.
  • It is essential to ensure that the site does not infringe copyright laws by using graphics, photos or text that belongs to other people, without their permission.
  • It is worth remembering that some browser software may display the site layout differently and that some of the site visitors will have browsers that do not show graphics. It is possible to check the layout of the design by accessing popular browsers such as Mozilla Firefox and Internet Explorer.
  • Test the website. Before going live, try navigating through the website and printing pages from it. Also check download times and make sure all hyperlinks work correctly.
  • Maintain the website. Ideally, you should appoint someone who is responsible for maintaining the website. Maintenance will include uploading new content, checking for broken hyperlinks, processing user feedback and dealing with any technical issues.

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