Having a website these days is almost a necessity to doing business. Whether you’re a retailer, providing a service, or are operating purely online, launching a new website needs the same careful consideration as launching any business.
Write a Website Business Plan
A well thought-out plan is vital to the success of any business or new venture. Who are your target markets and are they online? Are your competitors online, and if so, what do they offer? How will you market your site?
What do you want your website to accomplish? A website can be used as a distribution channel (selling direct to customers) and/or as an advertising or promotional tool, so it’s important to know what you what your website to be.
Refer to the How to Write a Business Plan article for guidance on how to write an effective business plan.
If applicable, you’ll also want to consider consulting an accountant and a lawyer for issues to do with ecommerce, taxation, privacy, and other legal rights and restrictions.
Reserve Your Domain Name
Even if you’re not going to be online for several months, you should carefully research and reserve your domain name as soon as you can.
Your domain name doesn’t have to be your business name; a location, campaign, or task-driven domain name can be just as effective. Take your time to research your domain name options, and choose a domain name that is simple, easy to spell, memorable, unmistakable, and that you like and that will inspire you and your customers. You might also want to consider reserving both the .ca and .com extensions (to avoid confusion in your market), as well as potential misspellings. Read more about domain name extensions and see domain name tips.
Register Your Domain Name on Key Social Media Networks
It’s hard to turn on the news without hearing about Twitter or Facebook, or to read a business magazine that doesn’t mention LinkedIn. Online marketing efforts are shifting and social media networks have become a viable and, in some cases, an essential online marketing tool.
Your small business may not use these sites yet, but you likely will in the future. Like a domain name, it’s important to register your business and/or domain name on key social media networks.
Research Your Options for Web Development
Launching a website involves many skills and disciplines. Here’s what you’ll need to consider:
- A website requires design, coding, copywriting, and online marketing. If you’re operating an ecommerce site, or collecting customer information, you’ll also have to take into account backend systems like payment processing and database management. Larger companies can offer a lot of these services, but are more expensive; freelancers usually specialize in one or two areas and tend to charge less per hour or project, but you’ll need a roster of talent.
- Do your due diligence. Before choosing to work with a company or a freelancer, make sure to ask for references and portfolios. We recommend that you create a request for proposal (RFP) to better communicate your website objectives to your potential suppliers. This can help them give you an accurate estimate of the duration and cost of your website project.
- Don’t overlook open source applications and tools that are freely available on the web (e.g. WordPress) that can give you a website at the fraction of the cost of building one from scratch.
Get a Contract
A signed legal contract can protect both parties in a web development project, whether you’re working with one company or several freelancers. A contract is a written agreement between you and your suppliers, without which there is no legal proof of the terms and conditions of your project, such as delivery, payment amount, schedule, expectations, type of work, and future support.
Build Your Website
Before proceeding with website development, you should:
- Create a prototype or design mock-up (called a “wireframe”) and get feedback from your friends, family, and user groups made up of potential customers.
- During early development, consider the user friendliness of your site’s design and navigation.
- Ensure your content focuses on your customers’ needs and helps them accomplish what they would like to do on your site.
- Give your customers a good first impression by having good content and web copy.
- Make it easy for people to find you online by optimizing your website for search engines.
Read articles and attend seminars on how you can improve your website. By learning about web tools, technologies, and trends as they emerge, you can make better decisions about how to improve your website, and generate more traffic or sales.