Some small business owners plan to use their website to acquire customers or generate leads and expect it to act as a 24/7 sales person. Other business owners plan to use their website as more of a secondary marketing tool, a place to send prospects after they have made contact through a face-to-face meeting or a phone call. Either way, your website is going to account for a percentage of your annual budget.
If you plan to use your site as a secondary marketing tool, then you may only need a static website. Static websites are usually under 15 pages and do not include a content management system. It is like an online brochure. You will want it to have a polished, professional look because it does represent your business, but you may not need any interactive features. It is simply a place prospective customers can go to learn more about your business and decide if they wish to contact you. Make sure that the graphics and colors are impressive and that you have the right look and feel because your site could be the determining factor in your prospective customer deciding to go with you or not.
If you plan to use your website as a primary marketing tool, then obviously you will want to allocate a greater percentage of your advertising budget towards it. You will probably want some interactive features such as a contact form or a search feature which will make the cost of your site go up, but if you plan to use your site as a marketing tool, you must invest the money to get it right, otherwise you will convert very few visitors into customers.
Clarify your goals as a Small Business
Consider the following questions when thinking about the goals for your Web site.
What is the purpose of your Small Business website?
Try to express the purpose of your site in a sentence or short paragraph. If you are clear about the purpose of your Web site, it will also be clear for your visitors. By defining the purpose of your site you also ensure that the Web is the right medium to achieve your goals.
Who are you trying to reach with your site?
A Small Business Web site should be designed for the typical user, yet it is often designed for those in charge of creating it. Be sure you have an understanding of the audience for your Web site, and keep the typical user in mind as you create and organize your site.
How will you know if your site is successful?
Defining specific objectives for your Web site will help keep you on target as you organize and create the site, and will allow you to design a Web site that works.
Will your website be updated? How often? By whom?
If your site includes news or information that periodically changes you must be prepared to update it regularly. Consider the cost, in both money and time, involved in keeping the site current.
Will the website grow?
Are you providing a fixed amount of information or will additions be made over time? This is especially important to consider early in the design process so that your site will have room to grow without needing a complete redesign.
How long will this website be posted?
Is your site only for use for a limited period – say for a school term – or will it be posted indefinitely as an information source? How long will your information be interesting and useful?
Choosing a website designer
When you contact a designer to create your website, make sure they take the time to sit down with you and get to know you and your business. You will want someone who understands how you plan to use your website. After all, you don’t need an expensive custom-designed site with a plethora of interactive features if you’re planning to use your site as an online brochure. If you plan to use your site as a primary marketing tool, then it needs to have all the necessary features to convert prospects into customers.
Here are some basic elements of good Small Business web design:
Background does not interrupt the text
Text is big enough to read, but not too big
The hierarchy of information is perfectly clear
Columns of text are narrower than in a book to make reading easier on the screen
Navigation buttons and bars are easy to understand and use
Navigation is consistent throughout web site
Navigation buttons and bars provide the visitor with a clue as to where they are, what page of the site they are currently on
Frames, if used, are not obtrusive
A large site has an index or site map
Link colors coordinate with page colors
Links are underlined so they are instantly clear to the visitor
Buttons are not big
Every graphic has an alt label
Every graphic link has a matching text link
Graphics and backgrounds use browser-safe colors
Animated graphics turn off by themselves
Pages download quickly
First page and home page fit into 800 x 600 pixel space
All of the other pages have the immediate visual impact within 800 x 600 pixels
Good use of graphic elements (photos, subheads, pull quotes) to break up large areas of text
Every web page in the site looks like it belongs to the same site; there are repetitive elements that carry throughout the pages
REMEMBER: Your home page is important
The opening page to your site, or home page, is very important. It is a combination of cover, flap, and table of contents for your site. It explains the purpose of your site, draws the user, explains how the site is organized, and helps her find the information she needs as quickly as possible. It is good to include a list of links to the most requested pages on the site to help your user navigate through your site.