Grow your Business with an Online Presence: How to Set Up a Website

The idea of setting up a website for your company can be a little overwhelming, but in fact it doesn’t have to be. Before you get started, it is important that you understand what’s involved (including the terminology).

1) Domain Name – your website will need a domain name (eg.  Ideally, a name that is the same as, or similar to, your business name. John’s Used Cars might look for, for example. Give some thought to what domain names you’d like. Accept that many domain names are already taken, so you should consider multiple variations of each name. Also consider whether you want a .com domain, or if a country-specific one (.ca, .us) would serve you just as well.

2) Domain Hosting – when you type in a url in your web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox), what happens behind the scenes is that your computer sends a request that is eventually routed to a hosting server somewhere in the world. That server sends a response, and you see the page. Your business website will require a hosting server. Many hosting services exist, at extremely reasonable prices (one month’s website hosting comes in at roughly the cost of a large coffee at Starbucks).

3) Website Design/Development – given a domain name, and a hosting server, all that’s left is creating a website.

These are all things that you can do yourself (perhaps you’ve received e-mails in the past telling you about how people with no technical skills have set up their own websites in a matter of hours, and are now making millions?), but if you want a professional-looking website that will engender confidence in your company, you would probably do better to hire a qualified web developer to create it for you.  Any web developer should also be able to help you with registering your domain name and selecting a hosting service.

Before you hire a website designer, think it through. Decide exactly what you want your website to do for you:

  • You can start with a simple site (introduction, products/services description, pricing, contact information) that will provide information to people who have heard about your business and want to know more.
  • With search engine optimization (SEO), you can ensure that your site will have a high ranking on google searches for relevant key words (eg. John’s Used Cars, in Sacramento, might target the following keywords: sacramento reliable used car dealerships) so that you can attract new customers.
  • Depending on your business, you may want to sell your products and/or services online. An online shopping cart, combined with online payment processing, has the potential to add a new revenue stream to your business (especially useful if your product is something that can be e-mailed to the purchaser, or if your service is something that requires advance registration).

Spend a little time surfing the web – check out websites belonging to your competitors, get an idea of what look and feel appeals to you.  

Once you’ve given some thought to what you want from a website, you should plan to hire a web developer to implement it for you – unless you love getting elbow-deep in new technologies (html, css, php, flash…), you should focus on carefully choosing a website developer you can trust to create the website that will promote your company online, so you can get back to growing your business.

When selecting a web developer, consider the following:

  • check out the other sites he’s done.
  • ask to speak with his previous clients – make sure they were happy with the process, beginning to end.
  • find out if he experience creating sites with similar functionality to your own (if you want an online store, and your developer specializes in blogging websites, it may not be a good match).
  • decide how much involvement you want in the process – ranging from blind faith ("please create a nice website for me, and tell me when it’s done") to obsessive compulsive control freak ("I think that line should be 2 pixels wide, instead of 3, and it should be dark grey instead of black"). Make sure you and your developer are comfortable with it.
  • discuss the future maintenance of your site (if you want additions/modifications at some future date, is he prepared to support you? at what price?)
  • and definitely, make sure that he’s in your price range

Once you’ve found a developer you’re happy with, work with your developer to create a detailed written specification of your acceptance criteria – so that it will be very clear when he’s done, and whether or not he’s performed at an agreed-upon level.

Finally – agree on a payment plan up-front. Once the project has been well-specified, your developer should be able to come up with a fairly accurate estimate of how many hours of work will be required, and should be able to provide you with a fixed quote and an estimated completion date.

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