Web Wise

Launching or updating your company’s website is like any other business expense. You get what you pay for and you should go in knowing what you need.

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Whether you've been in business for a while or are just starting, your service needs to be found by customers. Doing so in the modern world means having an Internet presence. You may be in the Yellow Pages and be getting some word-of-mouth, but customers today are more likely to find you through a computer search. If you're not on the Internet in some way, you won't receive that call.

Websites are more than just a route for people to find you. It's easy to tell people about new services, display photos of what you do, publish customer testimonials, provide customers with an easy path to your email, and even allow people to book their own appointments or pay for supplies or services.

Getting on the Internet is not something you have to lose sleep over. There are tools and other professionals at your disposal, yet there also are traps to avoid.


There are two primary ways to put your business on the Internet: Do it yourself or hire a professional.

DIY websites operate on a simple concept: You pay an Internet hosting company a monthly fee, typically $5 to $16. In return you can store a certain number of pages on their servers. These companies typically also provide software templates that accept your information.

If you have prepared a Christmas card or brochure using a template in some writing program like Microsoft Word, you already know how DIY Web design software works. You put your words in boxes, upload photos, and the software drops your pieces into a predefined layout. Then it generates the lines of computer code that tell someone's Web browser – Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome, for example – how to display the website on a computer screen.

If you're on an extremely tight budget and all you want is some sort of Internet presence, these DIY sites may do the job for you, says Daryl Schmucker, who runs Noble Webworks in Bradenton, Fla. He suggests two that produce decent results: weebly.com and squarespace.com.

To a degree, Schmucker competes with the DIY services he mentioned. "In another way I'm not, because a business owner typically doesn't have time to put a nice website together and manage it," he says.

So for DIY, price is the good news. Now for the bad:

Some of the DIY software simply doesn't work. Websites are blank or information is missing, and the do-it-yourselfer is unlikely to know how to fix this even if he knows how to test his pages with one of the free tools provided by the World Wide Web Consortium (www.w3.org), which sets Internet standards.

Next, these sites are basic. They won't let your customers book appointments, for example.

And there is no individuality. Your site will look like any other company that used the same template.

Next, DIY sites also don't do any search engine optimization. That is the process of inserting keywords in a website so it is more likely to be among the top results in an Internet search.


A designer can produce a more complex site. You pay more, but you get a customized product. A basic site produced by a professional service may cost a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Greater complexity raises the cost.

In his market, Schmucker says, adding the capability to accept payments (called e-commerce) will approximately double the price of a website because there is a great deal of work involved in setting up the payment software and establishing secure connections to a business account. Another costly complexity is installing software to integrate appointments booked by customers on a website with appointments booked by the staff in your office.

If you decide to consult a designer, go in prepared. Do some exploring and come up with examples of websites you like. Also have an idea of how many and what types of pages you need. For example, you may want a page for photos, a page on which customers can find your contact information, and a page of customer testimonials.

Social media – services such as Twitter and Facebook – are another option to consider. They are an outgrowth of time-honored business practices: maintaining relationships with customers. Some website designers set up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for their clients, and using either an in-house or freelance writer will see to it that those pages are regularly updated with news or articles about the market. Search engines like Google like sites with high-quality, frequent updates, and that's difficult for a small-business person to do.


Whatever services you decide on, make sure everything is spelled out in a contract. Without one there are simply too many chances for financial misunderstanding.

The contract should specify the services you are buying, such as the number and types of pages on the site; complex services such as scheduling or e-commerce; who is responsible for providing the words and photos to be used on the site; who will maintain the site (solve problems and update the information), and whether there is any extra or ongoing charge for that.

The contract also should provide for the immediate or eventual transfer of intellectual property to you, the business owner. That means the rights to the information published on the site and to any custom software or code created to make the site work. Do this and it's like a truck you own: You may do as you please with the website information, including have someone else work on it later. Fail to do this, and it's like someone else owning your truck: You can use it, but only in ways the owner allows.

Schmucker offers one other piece of advice: Register your own domain name or Internet address. Don't let your designer handle that detail and maintain any residual rights to the name. Like the name of your business, that domain name is an asset, Schmucker says. Register it yourself and you cannot be held hostage should some dispute arise between you and a Web designer.


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