Below are some questions you should consider if you think you need a web site. Only you know the answers to these questions, and obviously, the final decision will be yours.
Of course, I'd love to help you get your web site up and running, and I pledge to make sure that you're happy with it, and that it will meet your needs. Just in case you have any questions about basic web terms, I've created this page to explain them in everyday English.
Okay, now on with the test! Remember, be as honest and thorough with your answers as you can.
1. First of all, will your site be a personal or business site?
Let's look at family sites first. They're great for several reasons. Family members who are living far from each other can keep up with what's going on using a web site. Different family members can be correspondents for their part of the family and can be responsible for sending information and pictures in to be added. It's also a great way to learn more about family genealogy. My dad's family has a web site, and we've heard from folks all over the world who may be related to us, however distantly. To help learn even more, we also subscribe to several genealogy sites that help us get in touch with other families who may also be connected to us.
Besides family sites, there are also simple personal sites. If you've got a hobby that you're very involved in, you might want a site that can let you share it with others who may also be interested. For instance, there are many music sites, where someone has gone to the trouble of transcribing songs they like, adding guitar tabs or sheet music, and then they post it for other musicians to enjoy. Some other good examples include cross-stitching or related needlework, or poultry raising. Just go to a search engine like Altavista or Mamma and type in cross stitch, and see how sites are listed - it's amazing!
Then we come to business sites - there are just as many business sites as there are personal sites, if not more. Think of any type of business you can imagine and run a search - when I searched for "antique book stores" on Altavista, I got 53,161 results, and each search engine will give back slightly different results, according to how they are structured. And next week, if I search again, the list will be different. The internet is constantly changing - more sites are added, sites drop off or change their address, or some simply quit updating and then drop off the search engines. (No site should ever, ever remain completely static.)
If you're interested in having a personal or family web site., then your next step is to find someone who can make sure you get the site exactly as you want it.
2. For your business site, there are several things to consider. First, is your product something that will have a fairly wide appeal?
If your product is not something that would have a market more than a few hours' drive from your business, then you might reconsider having a web site. After all, if your customers can drive to your business and pick it up, why should they shop on-line? However, if you want your product available over a large area, or 24 hours a day, then you might need a storefront web site. After all, it would be great to know you can be making sales even while your "real" store is closed. You also will be able to make sales without having to pay someone to man the store. Just make sure that you have ways for your current and potential clients to contact you and ask any questions they may have. Customer service should be the most important thing you give your customers - if you treat them well, believe me, they will continue to use your services, and more importantly, they will advertise for you.
Next, is your web site going to be an extension of your store, where customers can buy online, or do you want a more simple site that piques your audience's curiosity, so that they'll want to contact you? Either way, your web site always needs to project the personality and mission statement of your business, as well as you. When your target audience visits your site, they should get an immediate feel for what you represent. An antique store that specializes in French Provencal furniture shouldn't "feel" the same way a bookstore that keeps thousands of X-Men comic books in stock. Each place has it's own target audience, and each audience has different expectations. Just imagine going into Books-A-Million, where there are lots of folks sitting in comfortable chairs, looking at their favorite books. The folks there know that they're being invited to browse the books, have a cup of coffee and stay for a while. That atmosphere has been purposefully created to make them stay as long as they want, and more importantly, buy as much as they can!
3. Now that you've decided whether you really need a site, and what kind it's going to be, what is the next step?
I'm very glad you asked that question! Your next step is to get some basic ideas about what you want your site to do. There are several questions you'll need to ask yourself as well. Will your site sell items or services, or will it be for advertising only? Do you have a color scheme in mind? What is your target audience? (And no, the answer to that question is NOT "everyone on the internet"!)
Everyone has some ideas about what their web site should look like, and one of a web designer's main jobs is to help you find out what your ideas are. When you hire a web designer, your main job is to make sure you find someone who will honor your wishes, and make sure the site looks it's best. Web design can be complicated, fun, and exciting, but most of all, it's got to be a team effort. Make sure you find someone who wants to play on your team!