In these uncertain financial times, it may seem like a great idea to start a home business or second job by marketing yourself (or company) or creating an e-commerce site on the Internet. However, I am still amazed at how often I run across people who have overspent and over planned on their website in the excitement of getting started. As amazing as spending way too much money upfront seems, it’s a common pitfall in web work—simply because most people have no idea what they’re getting into.
Quite often, the client’s inexperience with websites, terminology, and other pitfalls gets them into trouble. So, let’s look at some of the questions you should be asking yourself and your potential designer:
Do I need e-commerce and, if so, how much?
If you are selling a lot of items and you know you are going to have an amazing first month, you have advertising lined up and customers beating down your door to buy online then “yes.” Otherwise, my motto is to take baby steps.
Put a few items up and have them call or email you to order, then add PayPal buttons. When you know your revenue will be enough to support it, put up a shopping cart. Not before then. I have had many customers come to me who have put thousands into sites that never get used. Start slow and build. Websites can always be changed but you’ll never get back money that was poorly spent.
Do I need flash?
Flash is a favorite tool of Internet users and designers. It’s a fabulous tool – turning basic images into something, well, “flashy”!
However, there are some huge pitfalls to Flash. Flash is basically a dynamic image file, so there are no quick and easy text edits. The cost of having your Web site developed in Flash easily doubles the cost of the website. It’s costly and time consuming to update; you almost always have to go to the designer to redo a page when you need an update. Some Internet users still refuse to install the plug-in, which renders your website useless if it’s all in Flash.
Finally, search engines can’t “see” anything on a Flash graphic. So if your entire site is in Flash, it appears as a big nothing to most search engines. This will lower your ranking on Google and most other major search engines.
I only recommend Flash for high tech companies, anyone needing to appear cutting edge or with a clientele that is more technically savvy. Think about your user, not just what looks great on your computer screen or what a designer loves to create their Web site in.
Can I update the Web site myself?
Many clients come to me with the idea that they will update their Web site once it gets up and running—if you have plenty of time and the desire to learn html, this can be great. Changes can be simple if they are just updating lines of text and other simple links.
However, I often find that the time it will take clients to figure out what they’re doing isn’t worth the time away from their business. Be realistic, just because tutorials are all over the internet, doesn’t mean you have the time to learn enough to update your own Web site.
There are Content Management programs, but most are quite costly to implement and it can be easier to just pay someone.
Should I use the latest trendy programming language?
For most small businesses (and even a lot of large companies), html (and a few flavors thereof) is all they really need to have a professional and informational Web site.
If you need to have databases where information is stored, or dynamic content (something that’s going to change onscreen as you watch) then you might need to hire a programmer. Be careful of what language they are programming your site in. Many programming languages are trendy or outdated. Either can be a nightmare to have updated later in the Web site’s life.
We have even made the mistake of experimental programming with sites and kicked ourselves later. The only way to update them is to completely redo the site later.
Will there be ongoing fees?
Yes! No matter how you design what goes on your page, you will need to register a domain name and then have it hosted. Many people get these two things confused. I compare the domain name to a trailer. You own the trailer, but you still need a lot to park it on—that’s the hosting! So pay for your trailer and then find a spot to park it. That should be all you need. Registering your domain name will cost you yearly (although you can pay several years ahead at a cost savings) and then it costs you money to host the site.
Be on the lookout for hidden fees. Hosting is one of the most dangerous areas for this. Be realistic, if a company does a lot of advertising they are probably not cheap. No matter how cheap it seems on the front end, look for hidden costs. Do they charge you for email? Do they charge you if you go over a certain amount of disc space. Do they charge you for spikes in your usage? All of these can end up costing you extra, so watch out!
If your hosting is free then you have to ask your self why? Do you get a domain name? Is there advertising you have approved on your site? However, domain name registration can cost anywhere from six dollars a year to thirty-five dollars per year and give you exactly the same results. Don’t pay too much! If you’re in doubt about any of this get an expert to help you. Most Web companies do this on a daily basis and are used to getting the best prices.