The Internet is not only one of the most powerful business tools ever invented, it can also be a very democratic medium. In the virtual marketplace, even a small startup can compete with Fortune 500 companies if you apply the creativity and ingenuity needed to create a high-impact website.
You can spend $50,000 to $5,000 but what’s important is to have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish, the technical tools available to stand out, and a designer/developer who is well equipped to help you achieve that vision.
A well-designed and executed company website has three basic functions, according to Josh Claflin, president of Denver-based Garrison Everest, a strategic brand development and design agency: “educate your audience, deliver the brand experience and capture leads.”
“Your company should be consistent with all your other channels, and be designed to deliver everything a brand should do in differentiating yourself from your competitors,” says Ken Barber, director of digital marketing for Lakewood-based marketing agency The Integer Group. “It should convey whatever feeling you want people to walk away with.” “You want your site to indicate where you are headed vs. where you currently are,” he adds. That doesn’t mean your content shouldn’t be honest and real, but it should also be compelling. Remember: on the Web your competition is jut one click away.”
One of the first tasks is to identify the potential audiences that would come to your site. “Most startup companies just think in terms of consumers. But you also have to think about having a section for the business-to-business audience, one for the news media and possibly even potential investors. some of your audiences may want product specs, some may want photos or video; make sure you put something on the site for each of your potential audiences.”
Most experts, including the National Federation of Independent Business, recommend hiring a professional to design and create your website. It may look really easy to go out and grab a template for $50 and use open-source platform software but you will need professional guidance, since most startups dont’ have the staff to make sure everything is covered. Whether your site will be created by an individual or several specialists, you need both a designer and developer, Claflin says. “Any designer who’s just out of art school can design a website. But you need a designer who really understands how to communicate and use web design and composition to ‘push’ your main value propositions.” You’ll also need a developer who can do the programming you need, Claflin adds.
“The most important thing is to build your site correctly so the major search engines – Google, MSN and Yahoo – will pick it up.” When interviewing candidates, of course, you’ll want to see samples of their previous work and talk to clients. Along with asking about project rates, you should also inquire about the availability and cost of add-on tools and features, and services needed to update and maintain your website. If you want to do search engine marketing or e-mail campaigns, how much will that increase the cost, as your business needs to grow more complex? What about web hosting? Hosting is not a major expense item, typically in the range of $50 to $100 per month. Hosting costs depend on the level of reliability, backup and customer service offered. Some designers offer web hosting as part of their value-added services.
It is also important to provide interactive features on the website to build customer loyalty. “You can link the site to a blog that will allow people to post comments and have a discussion with the company. With a ‘chat’ feature, you can speak to customers virtually. Some sites have a button you can click to receive a callback from the company. You also want to make it easy for users to share information with friends or co-workers.
What about video, the newest web sensation? It’s becoming more important, Claflin says. “What Google is moving toward indexing media in the form of video – is transforming business as we know it. Fortunately, even as a startup you can create high-quality video ; just rent a high-definition video camera and download tools to help with lighting and other technical aspects. Or you can hire a freelance videographer, pretty cost-effectively.”
One of the best sources of website ideas and a good way to get a feel for the state of the art is the Web marketing Association’s website where you can view several hundred award-winning sites (www.webaward.org). It is very important to keep up on the latest trends since the relatively new art and science of website creation is constantly and rapidly evolving.
-Article courtesy of Dan Emerson and New Business Denver
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