By Robert Santen
First of all, every business should have a web site regardless of the type of business. A web site is like a company's business card and provides potential customers another easy way to contact and find you and find out some basic information about the products and services you provide. It is a very simple, cost-effective way to reach more potential customers and every business should be interested in that.
Not every business needs to spend a lot of money on a web site, however. For example, a landscaping business would probably have no use for advanced internet applications such as e-commerce, on-line forums, user registration etc. since the services such a company provides can not be delivered over the internet.
There are ways, however, that even a landscaping business could benefit from advanced technologies of the Internet but the costs may outweigh the benefits. It could, for example, be interesting to provide (potential) customers with an on-line tool to help them determine what they want done on their property or to provide a way for customers to log-in to their account to see design proposals that the landscaping company has prepared.
It is imperative, however, to leave the design of a web site to a designer who knows something about design and has a proven track-record in Internet design. Too many companies, especially smaller companies, fear the high cost of designers and end up creating a web site that looks unprofessional, to say the least, when on the other hand they spend lots of money on their brochures, business cards and other marketing material. It is a well-known fact that visitors judge a company as a whole by the way their web site looks. In the visitor's mind, regardless of the company, an unprofessionally designed web site belongs to an unprofessional company (whether this is true or not)!
The design of a web site does not have to be expensive. If you are not ready to spend thousands of dollars on a 'top' designer, think about all the students who are studying design and need to get experience in order to get ahead. Contact design schools and propose a design contest with a grand prize of a few hundred dollars, you will probably get a lot more great designs for your web site than if you were to hire a professional designer to do two or three designs.
As a side note, the cost of the design of a web site does NOT increase with the size of the web site. A web site design is merely a template for all pages of the site (except maybe the home page and 'splash' page) and therefore, whether the site is only one page or thousands of pages, the design remains the same and so would the design cost.
One of the technologies that every web site should have is the ability to update the content of the web site easily and without the help of a third party (which you would have to pay to do the updates) and without any programming knowledge. This would require a 'dynamic' web site with a connection to a database. Contrary to popular belief, the cost of developing a 'static' web site is higher than a 'dynamic' web site! When you think about it it makes sense. With a dynamic web site the developer only has to create one template for each specific function that the web site should be able to perform. If it's a small web site and the only 'function' is for the site to display regular content (text, some pictures etc.), the developer would only have to create ONE page! This page would read the information from a database according to which 'action' is requested from the user. (Compare this to a static web site where the developer would have to create the number of pages equal to the number of content pages the web site has.) And this is just the cost of development. When you look to the future and you wish to change something on a 'static' web site, you would have to hire the (or a new) developer and pay them to make the changes. In the long run a static web site would cost you much more.
This is not to say that every web site should cost the same but that the cost of a web site does NOT depend on either the design or the decision to develop a static or dynamic web site. It DOES depend on the 'functionality' of the web site!
The functionality of a web site can be as simple or as complicated as you wish. You could literally create a web site which would allow you to start brewing your coffee at the office in the morning before you get there if you would wish that functionality. This is where you would need to look for the functionalities that are really useful and cost-effective to your business and those that are not.
The first thing you should do when you have decided to have a web site (and every business should say 'yes' to that decision) is to find several web development companies (large and small) and have a 'no-obligation' meeting with them. Prepare a list of web sites that you think are 'good' web sites and discuss this with the person you are meeting. The person you speak to should have the ability to make even a non-technical person understand all the possibilities the internet can offer and to help determine (honestly) those things that your particular company could find useful in a web site (including those things that do not necessarily involve the customers of a company; think about on-line timesheets for employees who work in the field etc.).
- DO develop a web site
- DO have the web site designed by someone who is a designer or knows about design and can prove it
- DO look on the internet for sites that you find attractive, useful and professional
- DO NOT create unnecessary functionality (but understand the possibilities; you can always add something later!)
- DO NOT develop a static web site
- DO NOT hire a developer if you do not understand what they are talking about.