Many entrepreneurs use January as a time to take stock, to review business goals, do inventory, perhaps even take employees on a retreat. If you plan to start 2003 with planning and overview tasks, don't forget to include your company Web site in the mix. Whether you need to update an older site, revitalize one that's gathering cyberdust, or tweak a working Web site, consultant Donna M. McGuire of Upper West Web in New York City has some timely tips:
• Before hiring a designer, look at other sites in your industry and collect information about what you like and dislike. Pay special attention to your competitors' sites, and find ways to make yours stand out from the pack.
• Define what you want changed in your site, and mark printouts of your current pages to show prospective designers, along with your logos, print ads, and other marketing materials. Tell them about your goals for the site and ask for suggestions.
• Don't think the designer with the biggest name is necessarily the best fit for your needs, and beware of Web developers and designers who use computer jargon. Never forget: You're the client, the one who will be paying the bill, so don't hesitate to insist on explanations in plain, easy-to-follow English.
• Get estimates from several professionals. Be leery if a redesign proposal seems too low or too high. The one that appears too cheap may be taking shortcuts, while an astronomical estimate may be a red flag signaling even more expense down the road.
• Get the contract in writing, and make sure that it includes a provision stating that all logos, graphics, and content developed will become yours. You paid for it, so make sure it's absolutely clear that it's your property.
• Be wary of any developer who insists on maintaining the site. You may be in for high maintenance costs.
• Let your designer know that you expect to see the homepage and one underlying page as soon as they're created. This will save you much heartache and expense later on.
• Remember, if you really want to tap into the power of the Internet, your Web site should be interactive. Think about using satisfaction surveys, quizzes, or follow-up reminders on the site, and include reciprocal links to other sites to help increase traffic.
• Consider creating a directory page of useful links. Don't think of links as driving traffic away from your site. If your customers find it useful, they'll remember your site as a good resource, making them more likely to return.
• Make sure the search engines know you exist. A free service called www.dmoz.org will get your site placed on the major search engines.
By Karen E. Klein