So you want to start a website, huh?
Why Is Creating a Website So Complicated?
Starting to build and design your own website can be incredibly confusing. The process can be long, complicated, frustrating and some may even feel hopeless when they dive into the world of web development. I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to be so bad. I've tried to compile a list of things that most newbie's get wrong, along with adding in other tips and tricks of the trade from my 8 years in the business.
How to Simplify Your Life
When you start a website you will want to get organized first and foremost. Learn what you need and write it down in a detailed plan. You will want to look at your budget and what you need your website to do. This isn't an easy process either. Their are tons of questions you need to ask yourself before you start a website. Service businesses with only 1 - 5 pages may be much esaier, but content writing can get difficult and time consuming when you have a larger website. E-Commerce sites will have much more to think about as well. Below is a checklist of the main things you will want to include in your plan.
Website Design Checklist
See a list of items you need to think about before starting your website. This is a rough list, you will want to flesh out each section as you work through the project.
#2 Domain Name
This is really exciting when you first start out, but can easily become one of the most difficult parts of starting a website. You will say at some point "Everything is taken!" and get discouraged. My best advice for this is to get creative. Use something other than .com. Their are many options available, including
- .biz - Sites for businesses
- .co - Sites for companies
- .edu - Educational sites
- .firm - Sites for businesses or firms
- .net - Administrative sites
- .pro - Professional sites for accountants, lawyers and physicians
- .store - for e-commerce sites
- .web - Internet sites about the World Wide Web
The above list refers to sites generally in the US, for other countries you can check out this list of Country related Suffixes.
#1 Goal of your website
You will want to assess what you are trying to do with your website. Whether it is draw traffic, give a name to a brand, sell things, inform customers, interact with customers/clients, client interfaces, inform public, etc. It's amazing how many people don't have a good idea of what they want their website to do for them. This is where you will also roughly plan out how much money you have to build your website with - more on budgeting below!
Without a good idea of why you are building your website you will really put yourself at a disadvantage. This type of planning, or lack thereof, will lead to extra costs creeping up that can really damage a company just starting out.
This part of planning will serve as the brains of the website. It will outline your needs so you can describe them later to whoever needs to build or provide information for the website (think employees, or a contracted web developer, or development team). This list doesn't have to be very detailed at first, specifying an e-commerce site with paypal check-out process, and customer service space might be enough to start. Chances are that it will likely grow and turn into a more detailed plan as you go through the process of developing your ideas and website.
A good exercise to do is free write for 5 minutes about your website. Write anything down you can think of, from colors, to functionality, to description words. Things like red, elegant, scripts, grow client base, sell products, increase brand awareness, social media, about us, trusted brand, etc. can really help give you an idea of what you want, and also gives a raw list of attributes to any web developer, who can then hone in, more effectively, on your needs and wants for your site.
#3 Who will be in charge
You will need to define a very clear understanding of who will be in charge of what portions of the website. Everything from colors to fonts to content will have to be decided on, and the process will go much smoother if your team knows who is to make those decisions during the development process.
If you are designing your own website be prepared to write, write, write. A website is mostly writing, and if you aren't a strong writer, it may be in your best interest to hire someone to write good content for you.
What is your timeline... how quickly do you want your website up and running? It's silly how many people expect a website to take "no time at all". And while this can be true if you are building a one page service site using something like Wix.com, but if you want a custom site with personal touches, good content, functionality and technology you will need to plan out, realistically, how long this process will take. The best way to do this is to take your list of wants and needs, that you made in point number 1 above (Goals of your Website), to some web design companies and see what they would quote you, then add at least 30 days to that estimate.
Here's a secret web developers rarely tell you, everything takes longer than expected, EVERYTHING. Whether their were changes at the last minute, the content wasn't ready, the payment system was acting wacky, whatever the case may be, it happens all the time! Just expect it, and plan for it. Having the site ready early is much nicer than getting to the last hour and having to delay launch.
Another benefit to having a timeline is that when it's time to fill in content you will have already had a hard date for that content to be written and proofed. If you have a team this is incredibly beneficial for all involved, and leads to less stress and better content.
If you are among the others who do have a budget available for developing their site you will need to decide what your options are at your budget. Their are large firms you do very large designs/redesigns, incorporating tons of functionality, including admin areas, customer areas, product design, optimizing, seo work...pretty much the entire gambit in web development and design. These firms can costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and are really the best option for very intricate design projects. But know you will have to pay for this kind of service, but you will have entire teams at your disposal in case anything changes or pops up.
Mid-level Web Design Firms offer a level of service similar to large firms, but with a budget more closely aligned to Freelancers. With design firms you work with a small team, maybe even one individual throughout the course of your design period. The designer will bring your website to life with a team of marketers, designers, and programmers at their disposal. This is the ideal option for mid-sized companies looking to start or redesign an existing website. They can more easily give you the functionality and professionalism many companies look for when hiring a web developer. Pricing for these type of companies can be anywhere from $2,000 - $100,000+. If you have the budget, it is wise to get a few quotes from local companies and see what they can offer you, they could surprise you.
Your budget needs to be part of the initial planning phases, and you should already have a pretty rough estimate of how much money you have. Now I know their are plenty of people saying "I have no budget for a website". And this is ok, you are really in luck here. A website can cost you very little in upfront fees. You will absolutely need a website hosting company and a domain name. You can obtain these from godaddy.com for as low as $15.00 per month. The part that generally costs the most money is designing the website. You can do this for free if you are savvy enough to navigate the web. Sites like Wordpress and Joomla have very user friendly interfaces for installing your own Content Management Systems (CMS). GoDaddy makes this process much easier too with an easy install process available to all hosting accounts. A very novice user can install and get a website up and running in less than a week (for a simple site, of course).
Medium sized budgets can utilize an array of options, and is really the most fuzzy area of web design, but also captures the largest portion of web design clientele. From freelancers to local web design companies to even friends and family. If you ask around about websites you will probably get a varied response on what people's go to methods have been. Freelancers are great, and you can find some really talented individuals out there. Sites like freelancer.com, or even Craigslist.com are good sources to find freelancers. Some things to look out for when hiring freelancers is dependability. A lot of freelancers work at their own pace and will be much more relaxed/laid back in terms of professionalism (not all, of course, I'll have a ton of people yelling at me if I didn't really give that disclaimer). And quite a lot, I've heard freelancers leave jobs that weren't ideal for them any longer. Whatever the reason may be, it is a common problem in the freelance world, I've heard it time and time again. Of course, freelancing work can be much cheaper and be incredibly beneficial, since their are tons of people wanting work, finding a replacement may not be too big of a problem for you!
It's a Good Start, But..
These are really the bare bones to building a website, and each section will be fleshed out 2, 3, 4, 10 times before it's correct, especially building in the functionality, graphics, layout, and content. But by assessing your needs, budget, timeline, team members and domain name will get you started in the right direction!
Good luck! Feel free to contact me at www.rgweb.us if you need any web design or development help!
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