MJM Design’s web design blog. Featuring articles and information about web design and web development.

7 Steps to Building a Website for Your Small Business

Over the years, the need for building a website for any small business has become increasingly in demand and increasingly more involved.  Small businesses are now faced with the task of building an attractive website that offers valuable resources to customers and ranks well in search engines. It used to be that long ago small businesses would get customers from such sources as the Yellow Pages, radio, TV and newspaper advertisements.  Now, small businesses are realizing that the Internet is the Yellow Pages equivalent of the modern age.  Google, Yahoo, and Bing search engines are now some of the most popular resources when searching for local businesses and organizations anywhere in the world.  In this article I will review the top seven ways to build a successful web site for your small business.

  1. Developing a structured sitemap.  Starting with a plan of action for your new small business web site is an important first step commonly most people will start by creating a site map.  The site map is simply a table of contents of the pages of your website.  The site map can also be similar to a flowchart.  If you plan on building a complex web site, with multiples steps, features and functions, then a flowchart might be a better solution than a standard site map.  Either way a defined site map will allow you to create a well structured web site that is easy to navigate for your visitors.
  2. Research the competition.  Researching the competition is an important second step in developing a new web site for your small business.  Researching the competition can be as simple as searching Google for the keywords and keyword phrases that your average customer will likely search for.  Once you complete your search on Google, take note of the first page of results.  The first page of results is where you will want your website ranked so you should pay particular attention to the web sites shown in these results.  Visit each web site, what is the first thing you notice about each web site?  Take note of such things as: logo placement, color scheme, placement of phone numbers, general text copy, navigation structure, and use of photography.  Once you have the competition down, it’s time to move on to the next day.
  3. Establish a web presence.  Establishing a web presence is the next step in the plan to building your small business web site.  Every web site requires at least two things: a domain name and web hosting.  The domain name is the name that you type in to the address bar of your web browser in order to reach the website.  The most popular domain name extensions are typically .com for commercial companies, .net for networks and .org for nonprofit organizations.  If you run a small business I recommend choosing the .com domain name extension.  Popular places to register a domain name include GoDaddy.com and NetworkSolutions.com.  Each have their advantages and disadvantages, however, I recommend GoDaddy.com.  Next up is web hosting.  Web hosting is what keeps your website live to the public.  You can also obtain web hosting through the company that register your domain name.  Expect to pay a monthly fee or a yearly fee for a reduced rate.
  4. Building a web site.  I should start out by saying that if you don’t already know how to build a web site, this might not be the best time to learn. Building a web site requires education and experience in HTML and CSS, among other things.  Your best bet in this step is to contact a local web designer for web development firm.  Hiring just a graphic designer may not work out to your best interest because graphic designers often times only work with digital graphics.  Working with your web designer should be an easy process.  Your web designers should walk you through the appropriate steps to getting the web site designed.  This will likely include going over your prepared site map and the notes that you took during the research phase.  Your web designer will need to know if you already have branding for your small business such as logo designs, business cards, and any other marketing materials.  Providing these materials to your web site designer will help them in creating a graphical design for your new web site.  Your web site designer will probably also need to know where you registered the domain name and purchased web hosting.  Sometimes web design companies will offer web hosting services for you.
  5. Generating sales and leads.  You’ve made it this far and great job.  By now your website should be online, accessible by typing in your domain name and have an aesthetically pleasing graphical design.  Generating sales and leads from your website might be a bit more difficult than you might expect.  This bar will take time, dedication, to write the motion techniques and a lot of effort on your part.  Your typical web site visitor is probably already used to features found on most web sites such as shopping carts, live chat, quote request forms, and general contact forms.  Using these features in the right way will help you convert more web site visitors into needs and sales.  If you want to collect leads from your website, I recommend using call-to-actions such as highlighted buttons, video spokespersons, and presentation videos.  Trial offers, coupons and/or discounts may also be beneficial to converting visitors into leads and sales.  Make sure to put your call to action buttons above the fold.  Placing a call-to-action button above the fold means placing them on high enough on the page so that your visitor will not have to scroll down to see it.  If you want to make sales from your website, such as from an online store, then you should make the checkout process simple and user friendly.  I do not recommend forcing the customer to register on your website in order to check out.  Oftentimes allowing a guest account access will increase the number of sales completed and decrease the number of abandoned shopping carts.
  6. Promotion.  Promoting your business on the Internet is unique because you can advertise to your target demographic easier using different methods than you would in the real world.  The first and most popular form of Internet Marketing is call Search Engine Optimization or SEO for short.  Search engine optimization is the process of developing your website to specifically ranked higher on search engine result pages.  Your website drinking eye on search engine results pages will probably be a very important factor in your promotions.  At a recent study suggested that 87% of search engine users will click on the very first result after completing a search.  If your website is not found on the first page then you may be missing out on potential free, targeted and interested potential customer.  Other ways of promoting your website online include participating in online discussion forums, trading links with relevant web sites and blogs, posting videos on YouTube, creating social media profiles and affiliate programs.  I recommend starting out with creating social media profiles and doing Search Engine Optimization.
  7. Management, updating and maintaining.  Managing your customers and maintaining your website content is just as important as all the work you put into the website from the beginning.  Adding fresh, new content your website is critical in maintaining your search engine rankings and getting customers to revisit your website frequently.  You should consider using a Content Management System, or CMS for short, to help you manage the text copy and photography on your website.  Currently, the most popular content management system is called WordPress.  WordPress allows you to easily manage your website through a user friendly and intuitive web based interface.

In this article you should have learned all of the basic steps to take to build a web site for your small business.  I hope that you found this article helpful and motivating.  If you would like more help with getting your business website online, you should consider looking up your local web design companies.

How to Choose a Graphic Design Professional

Business owners in the market for a graphic design professional face a crowded field. Many claim to be experts, but finding a designer who truly knows the craft is not always easy.  Thoroughly vetting candidates regarding their past work, affiliations, and range of skills can mean the difference between attracting customers and turning them away.

When it comes to graphic design, first impressions count.  If your marketing materials fail to draw in visitors, you may never have a second chance to earn their business.  This includes everything from a business card to a website, brochures to stationery.  At the same time, there are so many graphic designers out there that many business owners don’t know where to start when it comes to choosing a qualified professional.

The following tips will help you sift through candidates and choose a graphic design professional who meets the needs of your business:

First, unless you are willing to give someone the opportunity to learn on the job, look for someone who has versatile experience in the areas you require. These days this should include web, print, and, to a greater or lesser degree, video. Does your potential designer know how to create pages that maintain a consistent look and feel across platforms? What does he or she do in order to stay current with changing technology? Do not hesitate to take the time necessary to interview a number of candidates.

Second, get a feel for the graphic designer’s overall approach by reviewing a number of samples. While many professionals can adapt to fit the tastes of different customers, it is just as common to see a certain style reveal itself in the professional’s overall portfolio.  Make sure to review the samples a few times, as you may notice different things with each successive viewing. For example, do the photographs or other artistic elements appear tasteful or jarring? Does the graphic artist put in too many bells and whistles that interfere with the core message?

Third, don’t let your own prejudices get in the way of a bold choice. Of course a design plan has to represent your company in accordance with the mindset of your target market. However, don’t let yourself get caught in old ways of doing things out of fear of venturing into something new.  Graphic design professionals are often ahead of the curve when it comes to visual expression. If you trust the artist’s overall work, don’t be afraid to give him leeway to create something truly impressive. Creative people enjoy challenges and may surprise you if given the chance to prove themselves in new ways.

Fourth, ask to see credentials, affiliations and references. Many people call themselves graphic design professionals. However, there is often a vast difference between someone who picked up the skill along the way and someone who maintains a commitment to professional development. In addition, if a candidate is a member of a professional organization, you may have recourse should something go wrong. It also means that the candidate intends to play by the rules.