A lot of people seek out a designer but give little thought to setting realistic goals for their site. You can find articles online about what a website can do and what it can not do well. This feature however will focus upon what a website can do for you and when you should allow it to do so.
1. A good site makes you look like a professional
Forget getting your name about via advertising on the web or making a little extra selling a few products in a simple web shop, an website address on your business card or van reeks of professionalism. It is the difference between appearing as a tradesman who does odd jobs here and there and being a business owner with structured and reliable company, well at least in the eyes of prospective clients.
2. A 24 hour point of information
Your website can work for you while you sit at home with your family or spend some time at the pub ‘going over your accounts’. Remember many people will be working the same hours as you and won’t have time to seek the service that you provide until the return home. Your website can tell them everything they need to know, including why you are better than all those who just stuck a simple advertisement in the telephone directory. Remember you have pages to say what they said in twelve words.
3. You can keep people up to date
If you provide a good service that clients come back for you can use a website to keep them updated. It has been a few years since sites were put on-line and forgotten about. Websites now are dynamic and should be updated regularly with articles, offers and news relevant to your customer base. If your site continues to provide useful information people will come back for more and you can sell more to them.
4. To build a community
This point really follows on from the previous point, keep providing useful content and your client base will grow, make them part of your site and they will grow it for you. This may useful for community based projects, bands, service providers that deal in information, anything relevant to current public interest (e.g. environmentally friendly power solutions), even shops. Niche fields are worth a go too (fan sites and such) though don’t expect to compete in style with Facebook or Myspace unless you have a really good idea and powerful budget. The main thing to take from this is that you can bring a wide group of people together who would not otherwise meet and create a strong community related to your product. I’m sure you can see the advantage in that.
5. To Sell your product
Again set yourself reasonable targets, I know that nobody expects to compete with Amazon but it is important to take that thinking further. The internet is incredibly competitive, you need to do a lot of research and think about your projected sales carefully when choosing the size and nature of your shop. It’s easy to spiral into spending a lot on a large shop with custom features that might seem essential, but on reflection you could probably do without. Try to reflect first. Warnings aside, with the right product, the right budget, the right site and the right marketing you can do well with an internet shop. Again I wouldn’t rely on it as a sole source of income until you find that your perfect combination actually works in the real world.
6. Sometimes it’s personal
Not everything on the web is about trying to persuade you to buy things you don’t want, or things you do want but aren’t nearly as cool as they first sound (like that toaster that toasts pictures on your toast). If that was all the internet was it would’ve died a quick and silent death. Maybe you paint in your spare time, take photographs, make music, collect dolls or own a submarine; you probably want to show off those things to people. You never know if you’re good enough you might get some interest beyond your friends and family (particularly if you own a submarine). WordPress.org is a good place to start for this kind of site, or WordPress.com for a very simple way to get yourself on-line. Custom themes can be created for you by many designers (including us) that will present your content in the best light. You can even use this type of site or blog to keep in touch with family and friends that you don’t often see, much better than facebook if you get the hang of it.
7. To raise awareness
The web is very competitive but if you have a message that really needs to get out and is something that people can get behind, a website can be an inspirational tool. Take Avaaz.org as a perfect example of a site that has thrown itself in the eyes of the worlds governments. They have put themselves in a position to take action at the drop of a hat against problems as they arise, from climate change to human rights. All this at the drop of a hat using internet technology powered by a huge global community of web users. What is more is that this community appeared practically over night, from nothing to three million users in one year, and in thirteen languages, which is something.
That is probably a little beyond what you might have in mind (though Avaaz was originally started by a few people from their homes). There are services such as charitiestrust.org that allow you to take sponsorship for simple events.
This is such a vast area, one that has been covered in all the other topics so I won’t go into it in too much detail. This covers nearly everything on the web, if you have something to communicate and people who want to listen, or reply then a website is what you need. From webmail services like gmail or hotmail, to blogs such as wordpress or blogger, to social networks like facebook and myspace, to galleries of your images like flickr, to beautiful twists upon these ideas such as twitter. Communication is without doubt key to the web.
Know something that people don’t know? If it’s interesting and relevant enough then people will come (as long as there aren’t a thousand people already saying it, the photoshop tutorial blog is really not worth the effort any more, well unless you’ve done something amazing). Again you could start with a simple blog and if it takes off put together a real site and start making money from your knowledge, please don’t missunderstand me here and give up your job to charge people for tips on rearing frog spawn. You might make some money from advertising or if you’re knowledge is skilled then you might think about taking the role as a consultant.
10.To warn people not to just jump in
There are times when it is definitely worth spending the money, if you already own a business and do not have a website the chances are that you will really benefit from one, this will be long term in a lot of cases, but that is no reason not to start now. If you find the right designer (we’re not too bad, hint, hint 🙂 ) and have a good idea of how your business works then get stuck in. If not it’s time to do some serious thinking, your plan to sell hand painted plant pots on the web could easily fail but then again, it could be a huge success. So start small unless you have an airtight business plan; even then you could find yourself running a very different business to the one you envisaged. Definitely have a go though, even if you just test the market on ebay or similar.