Your website may be the backbone of your entire company, especially if you are an online retailer. And there are a wide variety of options for developing your website, so choose carefully. For example, there are online services, like Microsoft Office Live (a StartupNation sponsor) and TemplateMonster, that will provide you with the tools to create your own site using templates, and they'll even set up your web hosting for you.
If you need a customized and complex site, you may decide to hire a website designer and programmer. Designers create the look and feel of the site, and design any artwork, while programmers are the ones who build the “back-end” of your site and make it actually function. It’s also possible to find a professional who is both a designer and a programmer, if you prefer to go that route.
Regardless of which path you take, you must first decide what you want in a website.
Here are a few things to consider:
- What is the primary purpose of the site? Do you want to sell products (e-commerce)? Do you need to provide information? Will your site contain multimedia elements like music and video? All of the above?
- Will you host the site, or do you need someone to host it?
- How often will the site need to updated?
- Do you want to be able to update the site yourself or pay someone else to update it?
There are content management systems available that let non-technical staff update images, text, and pages on a website.
- Who will develop the content for the site?
And finally, if you're operating on a tight budget that really doesn't allow for hiring a website development firm, you can ask if an individual developer is willing to do the work on a freelance basis.
Questions to ask a prospective website developer:
- Do you have experience in designing and programming a site similar to mine?
- Do you design and program yourself, or do you outsource some of the work?
- What is the timeline for designing and programming my site?
- How many designs will you "mock-up" for me to review?
- Do you charge by the hour or by the project?
- How many corrections am I allowed to make before you charge me for additional work?
- Will you also host the site and secure a domain name?
- Do you have experience building search-engine friendly websites, and can you provide examples of sites you've designed that rank well in natural search engine results?
- Can you point me toward a sample portfolio of websites you have designed?
- Can you provide me with your website address so that I can take a look? (You can tell a lot by looking at a web design company's site. Would you hire a plumber whose own kitchen sinks is leaking? The same holds true for website developers)
If you are planning to accept credit cards as a form of payment, you must have a merchant banking account. Merchant banking accounts can be tough to come by for startup businesses.
Factors that merchant banks take into consideration:
- Whether you already have an established business
- The type of product(s) you are offering and the amount of sales volume you expect
- Your credit risk, including personal credit history
- Whether you have ever applied for bankruptcy
- Whether you appear on the Terminated Merchant File List or MATCH file
- Whether you have a website and clearly state your return policy
- Whether you have ever been convicted of credit card fraud or a related felony
To find a merchant banking service, the best place to start is your current bank. If you qualify for a merchant banking account, you will need to invest in some hardware and software to process transactions. There will also be fees associated with your application, each transaction, each statement and customer support.
If you don’t qualify for a merchant banking account just yet, and you want to operate an e-commerce business, a service such as PayPal may be right for you. PayPal let's you accept credit cards online without a merchant account and works with many of the shopping cart systems available.