Starting a Business?
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Design Your Own Website

Hiring a web designer is not always feasible for small businesses. Lack of time and money may mean that the custom designed website may have to wait. It is possible to design your own website, thereby by saving time and money.

Design degree or not, you know what you want your site to look like. The first step in any design process is brainstorming. Gather your team. Discuss what websites you love, and which you despise. Bad design evokes deep-seated emotions, so it’s important to avoid the elements that turn you off.

First Steps

Look at what you want the website to do. The site needs to serve the business’s purpose. Through brainstorming, determine how you will best create a website that fulfils the needs of the business and its audience.

Perhaps the site is for an organization for cancer survivors. You will want to look at organizations that focus on healthcare and well being. What are the main design features of these sites? Color? Placement of text? Use of images? Design elements?

Next Up: Website Design Software

After determining the budget available for the design, look at design software. Popular website design software includes: Macromedia Dreamweaver and Microsoft Front Page. Both software programs require a high level of competency to execute a website design. If no one on your team has design expertise, consider designating one person as the “designer-in-training.” The budding designer should take a class focused on one of these design programs. Check local colleges and universities for available classes.

Watch out for web design software that requires a high-level of expertise to create an attractive finished website. If cost is an issue and a group of people will work on the site simultaneously, find out the cost of multiple site licenses.

If you do not have design expertise, consider DIY -- do-it-yourself services. Do a web search to determine what free software is available.

With SnapPages, you can design a site in a few hours. Website owners can make changes to the site easily as there is no coding necessary. SnapPages offers a free account, but upgrading to the paid version is recommended.

Other website building tools are:

  • Yola.com -- you can integrate photos from Flickr and your PayPal shopping cart, and Google Maps can be added to your site. Yola’s drag-and-drop text and easy editing tools are easy to use. Try the free version, then upgrade for $49.95/year for a year’s worth of extra features.
  • With Weebly.com, you can choose from 70 designs or customize your own. Adding extra touches like video, photos, or music is a snap. Weebly is free, with an upgrade available.
  • With WordPress.org, you can create a blog or a website on a WordPress theme and many free or inexpensive templates are available. WordPress is free, but you will need to purchase a domain name.

Content Is Key

Where would a website be without strong webcopy? In an online environment, less is more.

Keep paragraphs short. Write headings that ask the reader to do something...a call to action. You might want the consumer to buy the product, take a poll, participate in a focus group, or simply tweet a link to a website to his social media network.

Graphic elements must tell the company’s story. While it is fun to upload every widget and gadget known to man to your website, carefully assess each graphic. A map of the world showing where customers to the site live works if the map is a mass of red pinpoints, illustrating your global reach.

Design Elements to Try

Once a basic template has been created, you can test drive the site. Remember, the website is the first step of your customer’s journey. Your customer may have found the site through a word-of-mouth contact from friends, through a web search or by happenstance. Whatever way your customer arrives on your site, keep them there as long as possible.

Make your site professional looking with strong colors, clean design, and lack of clutter. The strong colors, which include red and blue, will draw the customer to the site. Avoid pastels...they’re too wishy washy. A clean design lacking in clutter will encourage a visitor to explore more of your website.

When it comes to photos, the more is not the merrier. Do you have one stunning photo of your product or three so-so photos? Go with a single photo instead of many photos for a more appealing and professional effect.

Draw the customer in to the website with clear brand identification. If every branch of the company uses a slight variation of the same company logo, decide on a universal logo. Use the universal logo on all outgoing correspondence, publications and the website.

Customers need a method to contact your company. The “Contact Us” tab should be prominent, easy to access and placed on the home page.

Links. Must. Work. Is there anything more frustrating than clicking a link on a website for “Sales” only to find an Error Page? Test all links.

Final Countdown

Before formally launching the newly designed site, do a test drive...in fact do several. Have your employees, friends and family test the site. Can a customer find the “Sales” link easily? Is the “Contact Me” tab readily accessible?

Once all kinks are worked out, you’re ready to start sharing your new site!

Starting a Business?
Join Docstoc's 100% Free Quick-Launch Guide to Starting a Business! Curated Exclusively by the Editors of Docstoc