When Is It Time to Hire a Professional?

You’ve got a small company. You’re not sure, but you think you need a Web site. At least you want to try it out and see what happens. But you don’t have a big budget. Maybe you could do it yourself. Or, better yet, you’ve got a relative or friend who knows a lot about computers — why don’t you ask one of them?

This is a typical scenario for many small companies that don’t have big marketing budgets. The owners of these businesses are savvy enough to know that they need an online presence to provide information to potential customers, but many have turned to a family member or friend to design their Web site.

This may work for some first-generation Web sites, but small companies, just like big ones, need to move on to the next generation of Web site design. And that’s when it’s time to stop having your brother design your company Web site.

I was amazed recently to find out that the founder of an organization that I work with — a very busy man who travels all over the country speaking and consulting — actually taught himself FrontPage and designed a site for one of his projects. The site looks like it was designed by an amateur, and I was surprised that he took it upon himself to design it when he could have paid a professional to do it for much less than the cost of his time.

Another small-business person I know, a tennis professional who runs summer camps for kids, had his bowling buddy design his site. There’s cheesy animation and too much copy, and the navigation and page layouts are poor. His primary marketing strategy is still to print a bunch of brochures every year and mail them out to potential campers. The Web site is totally disconnected from this direct-mail effort and doesn’t add much marketing value. His target audience of 13- to 16-year-olds are totally Web-enabled, and he should be, too.

Now we all know that sophisticated Web sites with fancy graphics, animation, and interactive features can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop. But when your purpose is to inform, rather than to entertain or impress visitors, it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money to create a decent site.

In fact, basic custom Web sites with 10 to 20 pages can be created for about $3,000, which is probably about as much as designing and printing a new brochure would cost. For $5,000 to $10,000, you can get a Web site with a little more sophisticated graphics, maybe some animation, and some interactivity.

The salon where I get my hair cut recently launched a Web site. Rather than design a custom site, the owner subscribed to an online appointment-booking system that provides him with a template Web site design (that looks custom) plus an appointment-booking feature. The drawback to the site is that there is not much room for custom features (like photos of the salon or technicians), but it is an inexpensive, effective solution for a small business with an established client base. What’s more, the site doesn’t look like it was designed by a relative or friend.

So why is it that most small-business people don’t take it upon themselves or get amateurs to design their company newsletters or brochures, but they do for their Web sites? Maybe it’s because most of us are self-taught when it comes to computers. But learning how to type copy in a Word document or compose an email is very different from designing a Web site.

Perhaps it’s that many small-business owners don’t realize the potential of their Web site as a marketing tool, or they’ve decided it’s better to have some Web presence than nothing at all. Maybe they like having family members involved in their business. Whatever the reason, in the end, when it comes to Web site design, most of them come to the realization that it is time to hire a professional.

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