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Improve your site with help from a professional

Gill Hunt, SkillfairAs a small business owner with your own website, the time will probably come when you'll need to commission a website from an agency rather on relying on your own skills or favours from others.

Perhaps your site isn't getting the results you want, or you need to update your content more frequently. Perhaps you need a site that is more search engine friendly or need more flexibility. Whatever your reasons, if you want to move your website on, it's worth spending time on planning, briefing and preparing.

Unfortunately, it isn't a case of simply phoning up a website designer and telling them what you want over the phone. Commissioning a website can involve significant work on your behalf, so set aside enough time to seriously consider what you need, and why.

Before you do anything else, you need to plan your website. Consider the objectives and scope of the project carefully. The more time you spend planning, the better your brief will be. The better your brief, the smoother the subsequent development process will be.

Be clear about your reasons for commissioning a new website before speaking to the developer. Do your homework. Find out what your customers want from your site. (You can send an email survey to your mailing list or post a poll on your site, to see what your visitors like and dislike about your current site.) What are your competitors doing (and not doing) online? How can you better that? And remember, you're the expert in your field, so don't expect the developer to come up with all the ideas.


To start with, ask yourself the following:

What are your key services? What do you want to showcase on your website?

What are your product or service benefits and what makes you stand out from your competition?

What do you hope to achieve for the business online, both in the short- and long-term?

What content do you want on your site? News, features or simply product information?

What works and what doesn't work on your existing site?

How often do you want to update your site's content? And who will be responsible? You can have your designer update content for you, outsource the work to a web content editor or do it yourself.

What is your website's target audience?

What action do you want visitors to take once on your website? Should they email you, place an order or register for further services?

Do you intend to sell direct from your website and accept credit card payments online?

You need to put all your answers to these questions into your website brief - the document you supply to potential developers.

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The brief

Your initial brief to web designers is crucial and can save much wasted time in finding the right designer for your exact needs.

Quote�Next time I will provide a more detailed brief�End Quote
Erica Smeed

Erica Smeed runs Bj�rn & Me, specialists in high quality maternity and children's wear. After emailing her website requirements to a few people she was inundated with emails and phone calls, mostly from developers who didn't have the ability to design the kind of site she needed.

"I wasted a great deal of time answering questions - next time I will provide a more detailed brief and only deal with people who can match my requirements".

Ultimately, the more the developer knows, the less chance there will be of problems arising.

Your website brief should include:

A discussion of your brand image, including logo, domain name etc.

Why you want a new website, what you want it to do and any information about why you think your current site is not getting the results you want.

The things you consider to be of high importance, such as good search engine visibility.

Details of your timescale and budget.

Finding a developer

The best way to find a suitable company is by asking for word of mouth recommendations from other people and finding out who built successful websites that you like. Review developers' profiles and seek references from people they've designed sites for. Remember, a web developer might design impressive websites but they might not be search engine friendly or they might not be good at maintenance. So make sure you ask the right questions:

What examples of previous work can you show me?

How many designs to choose from will you show me initially?

What do you know about building search engine friendly websites?

Can you provide references?

What are your fees, and what is the split between upfront and ongoing costs?

Quote�Look for someone who is enthusiastic about the project�End Quote
Gill Hunt

"The final choice is likely to be down to your personal preference for the way that each designer approaches your project. Ideally look for someone who is enthusiastic about the project and who you feel understands what you are trying to do," says Gill Hunt of consultant connection company Skillfair.

"Having made a choice doesn't mean your work is over though," adds Gill. "The designer will need your help in giving feedback on design options, checking the overall look and feel of the site and in providing text or copy. If you find writing a chore or are just too busy then you should either ask the web designer to help (which will cost you extra) or find a specialist copywriter who can do the job. Of course that means going through the whole briefing and selection cycle all over again! But then if you're having a new website commissioned, you need to be in it for the long haul."

What next?

Have you thought about whether you could benefit from an intranet too? Read about setting one up with your own server.

Get yourself noticed by adding your website to UK Small Business Directory. Sign up for free.

Do you want to start selling online? Read about payment services.

If you're really serious about the web then take a look at our guide to creating a website on a bigger budget.

Sign into Microsoft Small Business+ for free web-based training, online chat help and software support.

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Content management

Updating your own site content isn't as difficult as it may sound, especially if you invest in a content management system (CMS). A CMS helps you update your site content without needing expert knowledge. They cost more upfront, but you won't need a professional's help to update the site. In general small sites are easily updated by hand; larger sites are better managed with a CMS.

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