We all know that there are a few differences between small businesses and larger corporations, especially when they begin considering the web design aspect of their marketing plan and branding. And while for the most part, the nuts and bolts basics are often the same for both, small business owners and freelancers often have to make many more considerations before they get to the actual design.
Before approaching a designer, small business owners should already have some solid ideas of what they need and what they want (which can sometimes be two very different things) ready to present. Larger corporations have creative departments and teams at the ready to bring the company's brand to the web with ease. The people at the top rarely have to get their hands dirty with the details.
The same is not true of small businesses. We cannot just say, 'we need a website' or 'our site needs a new look', and hand it off from there to our subordinates without truly thinking on it any further. So before we go forward, we have to have a plan of attack.
First off, know that this is not something that you can take on without being ready to invest. Invest money, time, and continued dedicated efforts. So right off the bat, you are making a commitment for your business.
Some small businesses get ready to move to the web thinking they can get into it for free. They believe the design is the only costly part of the procedure, and as a result, they are caught off guard and ill prepared. Sometimes this even leads to domain and up-time losses.
Hosting fees and domain name registration are just the tips of the proverbial iceberg, but they are necessary tips that cannot simply be left to their own devices. We often have to devote time and energy to them as a small business.
Domain name game
While many businesses treat this aspect as an afterthought, it really is a vital part of your web presence. Your domain name is the virtual business address online, and you want to make sure that the address is relevant and as easy to remember as possible. Generally speaking, the closer you can get to your business name, the better. But that is not always the way to go. If your business name is cumbersome and long, then you might want to find a good way to abbreviate or shorten it.
If possible, try to limit your character choices to just letters. You risk confusing the issue the more you insert dashes and the like to indicate spacing or to try and get your already taken domain name variations to work. (That's right: just because you think you've got a unique business name, doesn’t mean the corresponding domain will be available.)
Given that you must pay to hold on to your domain year after year, small business owners may not want to let their designer take care of the domain registration for them. It might be best to go ahead and bite that bullet yourself. It ensures that should anything happen to your designer(s), that you are able to keep the domain name current and don't risk losing your address and site altogether.
As with the domain, the hosting is a recurring fee you will have to plan and pay for. Often with more frequency. If you think of the domain name as your address, then think of your host as the actual building your business is housed in. And the building is not without its property taxes. Picking the right host is very important to the success of your website. Make no mistake about it, these 'buildings' can come with their fair share of costly structural problems.
And once again, this might be a decision that is best for you to make, and not leave up to your designer. Having more control over your site's hosting and domain, while making the task a bit more involved, with more of a learning curve attached does make more sense in the long run. You are the one person in charge of all aspects of your business, and by leaving these two (what are often perceived as minor) considerations to your design team, you forfeit the full access and control to what may be one of the most important arms of your brand.
Another area of the long-term investment that comes with having a site are the website administration services. Given the metaphor we've been using, think of the webadmin services as your building manager or maintenance team. Anything that happens on the site or needs to be changed once it is up falls on you as a small business owner. Or the webadmin that you have hired to handle such things for you. This part of the investment you get to decide for yourself.
Are you going to invest time (by learning the ropes and being your own webadmin), or are you going to invest money (by hiring someone else to serve in this capacity for you)? Once more, small businesses, we don't have departments that we can delegate that down to. We either have to see to that ourselves, or we have to secure someone with the know-how needed to help us out.
But with expertise, comes benefits. Which is why, this is one area that you might not want to take on yourself right away. As a small business owner, your plate is already pretty full, and the act of updating your site's content can be quite a major undertaking depending on how the site was constructed. If you do not know what you are doing, then tinkering around the backend of the site is a sure fire way to spell disaster and downtime.
So unless you have a background in the surrounding fields, then you might want to instead consider finding a decent webadmin in your area to work with.
Cornucopia of content
One part of the long-term that many small businesses overlook, or rather just forget to consider, is content. If you are going to have a web site to further your brand's reach, you need content that will speak to and connect with your audience. Not only that, but you will want to have a seemingly inexhaustible amount of content ready to launch with, and keep the site going from that point forward.
Content is paramount. Without it, your brand will stagnate and eventually sink from visibility in the over-saturated market your business is trying to get a foothold in. The content you put on your site, not only has to be potent and effective at grabbing and holding your audience's attention, but it also has to be updated with regularity. Metrics matter, and if you are not updating with some kind of frequency you'll get lost in the search engine shuffle.
There are many means by which to address this content creation and updating problem, one of which I have given its very own section below this one. So this is not always going to be a difficult problem to tackle. What makes it harder though, is not considering it in the beginning. When you are making all of your plans to implement, you better be sure that you have one ready to engage concerning your content.
To blog or not to blog?
...that is a question. And one that has many pros and cons to weigh. So it is always nice to consider this option beforehand, so as to not drag out the process with your designer. Having a blog as part of your site does help with the aforementioned problem of update frequency and cycling site content. And while it can also help to establish a regular user base that is somewhat interactive in nature, it does require much more of an investment to pull off successfully.
Beyond the learning curve of blogging effectively, having a blog on your site comes with a bit of a learning curve on how exactly to setup and publish each of your blog posts too. It can be a powerful tool working either for or against your site. That is where the crux of the situation lies. It puts most of the success rate weight squarely on your shoulders — as if you needed more to carry up there.
Including a blog on your site also generally increases the build weight and cost. Something else that you need to keep in mind. It is a much heavier build that can prove overwhelming when you step in to the backend where are all the updates and action happens. But at the same time, once you have those processes locked in, you are effectively steering the site on your own. It decreases your webmaster needs, and allows you complete autonomy in regards to when your site is updated and with what.
One final area in the long-term investment range that we will cover here, while relatively easy to manage and store, failure to take them into consideration can have far reaching, and devastating consequences. And that is the source files for your website build. While you yourself may never even open said files, you certainly want to be sure that you can lay your hands on them (virtually or physically) at any given moment.
As we previously mentioned, should anything happen to your design team, you wouldn't want to be automatically dead in the water. So it is always a good idea to ask for, if the designer doesn't just automatically include, the source files for your website design. This way if you have to go to someone new, you have the work that has been done for you, and future designers do not have to rebuild your entire site from scratch should the online files become compromised. Or worse, taken down.
Once again, in larger companies, especially those where the work is all done in-house through various departments, those files are always going to be handy. And if they aren't, there are often teams ready and able to get your back. To rebuild everything you had as closely as they can to what existed before.
Now that we have discussed your long-term commitments to this investment, it is important for you to consider one more item before you move on. And that is one of expectations. What are you expecting this website to do for you and your small business? If you are unsure, the designer is sure to let you know if your expectations are realistic or not. But you need to have some, you need to know what you are wanting to get out of this design, so the team you are working with knows what to put into it.
Most designers worth their salt, will either ask you in-depth questions, or simply have you fill out a comprehensive design brief. This will help identify what you want the site to do for you, this is a question you should have already asked yourself.
This will also facilitate getting the return on investment you are hoping for. Because as with nearly all things in life, you get out what you put in. The arm of your brand is no different. The more work and consideration that you put into it in the beginning stages, the more you are likely to get out of it in the end.
What do small business owners need to consider before approaching a designer? What are the biggest pitfalls? Let us know in the comments.
Featured image/thumbnail, launch image via Shutterstock.