OMG I need a website — An Essential Guide for Those Who Have Never Had a Website

So you’ve never had a website, and you don’t know where to start.  It’s okay, everybody has a “first” that they’ll always remember.

You’ll feel a whole bunch of anticipation in the lead up, believing how special this one site will be.

And it will be special, because it will be your first.  But just like all things in life, it only gets better with experience.

This guide is to help you with that first website.  Call us your “wingman” or “wingperson” to help you with some of those things that you may have no clue about.  We know your cousin, or BFF told you something or other about how your first website will go.  We’re here to throw in some secret tips to make sure you can finish it, rather than leave it undone in frustration.

Identify Your Needs

Okay, we promise, this entire article will not be riddled with innuendos.  It just so happens, that you really must identify what your website needs to do, before anything else.  Here are a list of possible requirements:

  • Does it need to be listed in local search, for a local market
  • Does it need targeted landing pages for specific products
  • Does it need a contact page, a contact form, or phone number in an easy to access region for mobile browsers
  • Does it need to provide a list of resources
  • Does it need web hosting
  • Does it need to sell products online (eCommerce)
  • Does it need a blog

Those above possible requirements are a good place to start.  But you’ve seen the competition, you probably already know what you need, and what you want.  Make a list, and know what items you must have, and those which can be considered at a later date.

Identifying Your Skills

Hey, we may all thing we’re “Maverick” from top gun, when it comes to anything computer related — or not.  Regardless, as we often say here: “put your aces in their places”.  You need to play to your strengths, so do what you do best.

There are definitely things you can do to make your first website a success.

  • Market research — what is your competition doing online
  • Know your market, and know what they’re looking for in terms of products and services online
  • Know your content, and know what it is that should be written for your site

Once you’ve identified what it is that you can do, and do exceedingly well, then focus on that, and hire out for the rest of the project.

Considering this is your first website, you really need to let the professionals handle the technical aspect of things.  You wouldn’t expect to build a house, run the electrical, plumb it, put up the drywall, siding, roof, never-mind the foundation and the walls, if you had no experience.  You hire a professional.

Same with the web development.  Unless you are well versed in a number of web development languages (HTML, CSS, JS, PHP, Ruby on Rails, Liquid, ASP.NET, SQL) and APIs (WordPress, Shopify) or development tools (Dreamweaver, Expression Web, Visual Studio), the development of your first site should be left to a professional web developer.  You can learn a number of skills, yourself, on this first website, should you need to ever have a second.

Identifying Your Budget

As a business professional, you understand time is money.  If a customer of yours wants to hire you, you charge them for your time.  Sometimes it is a flat rate for an entire service, or you sometimes you just charge an hourly rate.  Either way, time = money.

There’s a very common adage in business: Good, Cheap, Fast — only pick two.  Good & cheap, won’t be fast.  Fast & good, won’t be cheap.  Cheap & fast, won’t be good.

Know your budget, and what you’re prepared to pay.  A typical basic website setup will run you anywhere from $500 – $1,500.  If you’re looking for something with more bells and whistles, you could be looking at $3,500-$5,000.  If you need the most killer site compared to anyone in your niche, you’re looking at $10,000+.

Consider that your first website, unless you have a killer idea, should run you around $1,000 +/-.  It is going to take time to get this project to completion.  These are just some of the things your web developer is going to spend time with:

  • work with you to get the initial parameters of the website sorted out
  • get a design figured out (either custom, or pre-designed)
  • get the content from you, and implemented in your website including setting up your pages, navigation, blog, and catalog
  • get the images for your site from you, perhaps resize them, and place them in the appropriate locations
  • create a logo, or take your existing logo and configure it for your site
  • set up your sitemaps
  • submit your site to the search engines
  • test the site for mobile phones and tablets
  • test the site for speed performance after all images and content are set up
  • get your website linked to your google business page
  • registering any domain name, set up any hosting, and publish the website online

And those are only some of the more general tasks.  There really are quite a lot of technical aspects that your web developer might not explicitly detail.  Understand that most qualified web developers charge $100/hr for regular development.  More intensive development can run you more.

Henry Ford once balked at an invoice for $10,000  that he received from a special engineer (Charles Steinmetz) for a solution that Ford’s own engineers couldn’t solve.   Ford asked for an itemized bill.  This is what Ford received:

Making chalk mark on generator: $1

Knowing where to make mark: $9,999

Ford paid the bill.

Understand that while just about anyone can become a web developer, just like all other things, the skills that are required to be a good web developer take years to develop.

Identifying Your Best Developer

Nothing is quite as powerful and trusted as word of mouth.  If you can find someone who has used a web developer and had success, you should interview that developer first.

But in the event that you cannot find one, where do you go?  Well, you can try your local yellow pages.  When going through them, looking for “web developers” make sure to check their website.  Check their facebook and twitter social media profiles.  Are they active in those forums?  Are they contributing to them?  Are they actively engaged?

Once you find one that is actively engaged and has a pretty killer website themselves, check to make sure they’ve got a portfolio of work.  You don’t want someone who only has a couple of websites under their belt.

Find three developers using the following criteria as a base, and then set up some interviews:

  • Do they have a facebook page and are they active and engaged on it.
  • Do they have a Twitter profiles and are they active and engaged on it.
  • Do they have a Blog where they are sharing information, regularly.
  • Do they have a kick-ass website themselves
  • Do they have a portfolio of equally kick-ass sites they have done

Identify Questions To Ask a Prospective Developer

This is where the list that you made in the “Identify Your Needs” comes in.  You need to ask your prospective developer if they can accomplish each of those requirements.

In addition, you need to ask them:

  • How much is it going to cost?
  • What is the turn around time for start-to-finish completion?
  • When can they start?
  • How many years of experience do they have?
  • How many sites have they done?
  • Do they also offer ongoing maintenance/webmastering? (this may be something you are interested in after the project is done)
  • What rates are involved with ongoing maintenance/webmastering?
  • What platform would they put the website on? (WordPress, traditional website hosting, Shopify, etc)
  • Do they also do web hosting, and domain name registration? (if you do not have that arranged already — remember, you can usually host wherever you want)
  • Do they have a list of clients that you could talk to as a reference
  • Ask them to describe a situation where something went wrong with one of their clients and how they resolved it
  • Ask them if they provide training on using the site (if it is managed online) after it goes live, so that you can manage it yourself.

Identify What You Should Have Ready for your Developer

Every web developer will have their own set of requirements for content.  You should, at the very least, have the following ready before your projects begins:

  1. A list of pages that you want in your site
  2. A list of pages you want in your primary navigation
  3. Content for each of your pages (usually in a Word or similar document)
  4. Any images that go with the content for each of your pages (put a copy in your Word document, for reference, but also have a high quality version as a regular .jpg/.png file that you provide to your developer)
  5. Any additional images for home page featured slider (if you have one)
  6. If you’re doing eCommerce, a list of:
    1. your categories with their description and any photos
    2. your products, with their name, price, description, and photos
  7. Your logo
  8. Your website hosting information (if you are hosting with another provider)
  9. Your social media profile page addresses (Facebook, Twitter, Google+)

Your developer will probably have a similar last — make sure you’re on the ball with your information ahead of time so that you can be ready to start your project ASAP.

Identifying What’s Next

After the website is launched, you really need to consider how you’re going to be doing updates.

If it has a blog, who’s going to be posting to it.  Can you do this?  Or do you need to hire a blogger?

If it is eCommerce, are you going to be able to manage the orders online?  Add more products?

If it seems to much to manage anything yourself, you’ll need to set up a plan with a webmaster (possibly the same person that did the initial development) to manage your site.  Many webmasters charge a monthly rate of anywhere from $100 – $1000, depending upon your needs.  Again, remember that time is $, so if you’re not into learning all the things that it will take to manage your site yourself, or you simply do not have the time, you’ll need to compensate someone to do those tasks for you.

Once It Is Done

So your first website is done — wow, what a mind blowing experience.  You learned so much, and it seemed to just happen.  If you have a good developer, it will be an enjoyable experience.  We hope you find a great developer, so that you’ll remember your first website with a smile, and won’t be hesitant to do another.