You’re ready to get a website. It’s an exciting validation of your business – public proof that you’re finally off the ground. But even though it’s a great adventure, it can also be fraught with obstacles.
A few years ago my dad travelled through Zambia in his off-road half tonner. He wanted to test the vehicle and see a bit of Africa– but in safaris the rule of thumb is to expect the unexpected. At one point it took him more than two hours to travel a stretch of 60 kms. I always think of this story when I help clients approach a new website – because you never know what surprises are around the corner unless you’ve done your research.
To avoid surprises and bumps in the road while developing your first website, and before you phone any web developer, start by doing your own homework.
Here are the areas you want to focus on:
- Define your website’s purpose
What do you want your website to achieve? You could build a fancy website that costs a lot of money, but without clear direction it will not grow your business.
There are a couple of general goals that people have for their websites. Yours might be very unique, or it might be just as general as the next guy’s. General purposes include: marketing; sales; lead generation, client services, branding, search engine optimisation and social interaction.
- Keep your audience in mind
When you work every day in your business, you have direct contact with the people who’ll visit your website. These people might be clients or prospective new clients. But you know them and what they want.
When you think about your website, you have to constantly keep your visitors in mind. Define the purpose your website must achieve, then merge that purpose with your clients’ needs and wants.
- Visit a couple of your competitor’s sites
One of the best places to look for inspiration is your competitors’ websites. Since you are giving similar solutions and targeting the same market, you might get an idea or two that would be very useful. (Never copy them, just get ideas.)
While you’re there, look at their sites to see what you like and what you dislike. Read through the website to see what purpose they want to achieve, what information they give and how the graphic design supports this purpose and message.
- Plan what you want to say to your visitors
Next in line, it’s time to start planning the structure of your website. This structure is basically the pages you want to create and how these pages relate to each other.
In this phase, you put a ‘table of content’ or the ‘index’. With this in place, write the content of every page.
- Get a picture in your head of how the website should look and feel
The second last thing you could do is to get an idea of the ‘look and feel’ of your website. What are the colors that you use in your business? Is there a specific font you’d like to use? What images do you want to use to support your message? How would you like to incorporate your logo into your website?
If you skip this step, your web designer would give you his best shot at what he hopes you want. But when you can give him a clear picture, it’s a lot easier to get what you want.
- Look around for bells and whistles that you want on your website
Understanding your purpose leads you directly to whether you would benefit from various nice interactive functions. These functions can be anything from a simple ‘contact us’ form, to more involved social networking links ore even a shopping cart.
Chat to your web developer. Make sure their proficiencies align with what you’re looking for.
You should also investigate user-ability – how user friendly is the function? What happens if you need to make changes to it yourself? Go through a demonstration and make sure you’re comfortable with it.
- Now you’re ready to start the development of your website
Wow, you did a lot of work when you followed these steps. Well done. But you can now be confident that the nasty surprises will be reduced to a minimum. If fact, with this information, you’ll be much more in control of getting a website. It doesn’t matter if you decide to outsource it completely or do everything yourself, you will be in control.