No matter how tight your budget, writing up just enough HTML code to set up a static webpage doesn’t really cut it any more. If you want visitors to your site to take your business seriously, you should make sure that it’s as well designed as possible.
Ben Moore from digital marketing and communications company, Positive Image -- which boasts a client list with big names from Volvo, Next and Dell, to Jaguar and Kodak -- advises companies to make their site as strong as possible: if it looks good, it will instil faith in your organisation. The website is the shop window of your business, and first impressions last.
Ben insists that brand identity is very important: “You make the brand look professional through a decent design job on the website. And it’s not just the front end you have to consider, it’s the functionality too. The site needs to be built properly; it needs to be fully tested and to have the right hosting. If it crashes, that looks bad.”
It could be worth your while to get a bit of expert advice: one error that companies often make is starting off with a budget that’s too low. It is possible to go online and get templates, put copy up and get pictures off the internet. But it’s full of pitfalls. As Ben warns: “There are copyright and royalty issues: you may not know where to look for the right kind of stock photography and so on.”
We spoke with Sophie Cornish of Notonthehighstreet.com, whose website has had at least three different manifestations. She told us that going with a design consultancy was really the best option when she first set up a new website for a business start up.
Sophie says her web design knowledge was nothing like what she learned over the six months spent liaising with the agency: “My partner Holly and I weren’t highly accomplished but we knew what a CMS was and a bit about how e-commerce sites worked. I probably could have written code for a basic HTML page if you’d held a gun to my head, but I really couldn’t have built the whole site.”
An agency has the experience and breadth of knowledge that the average start up company cannot approach. Designers can draft a site plan that will project your brand values and deliver on all your practical requirements without compromising on functionality.
A good company will be able to point out the kind of features you will require on a site. They will be abreast of current trends and can design your site so that it is up-to-date and competitively positioned.
And generally, they won’t try to over-sell and ‘pimp’ your site: it shouldn’t cost the earth. As Ben explains: “It would be very easy for an agency to up-sell their services and say, ‘you need this, this and this’; but I think a responsible organisation – and there are a lot out there – would advise on what’s required at whatever stage you’re at.”
Any agency acquiring a new client benefits more from being honest and upfront. After all, if you are happy with the site they produce, you’ll want to keep them on a retainer to update your website and they’ll keep you as a client for a good period of time.
However, budget is an issue, and some agencies could turn you away if your budget is too small: you need to be realistic. There’s probably no point in a one man band going to some of the top London design agencies.
Start-ups should start small and work within their budget, as Ben advises: “Choose a local agency, a small one where you can maybe get a little more value for money and who will guide you through the process. The big corporates can afford to go to the London boys: they want that bit of extra value, the kudos of working with the big guys. For start-ups, there’s no real need to go to the big boys.”
At the end of the day, a web designer is an investment rather than a luxury. You can build your own site, but templates and DIY websites that you buy online are quite impersonal. A paint-by-numbers site doesn’t differentiate between the templates and the companies that use them: if you don’t have a site designed for your company, you run the risk of being one of a crowd.