In the three years or so that we have been designing websites in Cornwall, after relocating from the Midlands, I have had a chance to interact with a huge range of businesses, organisations and individuals about their online plans, and I am always surprised at how differently people can approach this subject.

From the up-to-the-minute tech heads, who simply need a bit of design to sit on top of their technology, to the complete novices getting their first website and treating the whole thing as a great big adventure, and just about every level of engagement in between those two extremes.

Our biggest difficulty can sometimes be finding exactly the right solution for each person.  There is no point creating a dynamic, all singing and dancing website for someone who either has no interest or lacks the skills to keep it up to date.  They are infinitely better off with a quieter site, one which perhaps ticks over with their occasional Facebook updates, or on which the number of things which can look out of date is minimised.

Every business needs to match the right product or service to each customer in order to remain successful, and we are no exception.  Sometimes that is simple.  If you walk in to a shoe shop and ask for a black leather lace up shoe in a size 10, well it stands to reason that you have spent time thinking about what you need, and the job of meeting your needs has become correspondingly simpler.  Sometimes the difficulty with getting the right product is when the only real limit to your options is your imagination, and websites can be a bit like this.

Now I hate to limit people's imagination, but here are a few thoughts about what you might consider before buying your next website, whether it be from us or someone else.

Be Honest about How Much Time You Have

Everyone who knows us will be aware that we really like the Content Management System Joomla.  It allows us to build just about any website Caroline can design, it has more functionality and fancy plugin software than we could explore in our combined lifetimes, and yet remains pretty straightforward to create and update content even for the not-so-technical.  But, even if you can update your website, it doesn't mean you will.  And there is nothing that says 'keep browsing' more than a website with upcoming events that are six months out of date.  If you won't update your website regularly, then your online search visibility will suffer, that is an unfortunate reality.  But in my mind that is better than saying you've done nothing for half a year!

Do You Use Social Media?

Some of us love it, and some hate it, and some treat it as just a simple fact of life.  It can be a great means of personal communication and an effective business tool.  I have never met anyone who has become a serious business user of social media who didn't already buy in to the principle.  If you are unlikely to tweet, then don't ask for a twitter feed on your website - again, it will just look out of date.

Do You Have A Marketing Strategy?

Not all businesses plan things in great detail.  I am a compulsive planner, and nothing makes me happier at the start of the week than having all of those proverbial ducks lined up.  If you do plan your marketing, be absolutely sure you have included your website in that plan, and then design your website to match all of your other marketing streams.  That means consistent branding, being sure the message is the same on your shopfront, your leaflets, your social media and your website.  It also means being aware that the majority of your market place is now likely to be online, rather than walking in to your office or shop.  How are you going to signpost people to what you do if they are in Manchester and not Cornwall?  Or indeed Manhattan?  I once read that launching a website and then leaving it to do it's thing was akin to setting up a lemonade stall in the middle of the Gobi desert and quietly waiting for customers.  It sure is a gap in the market, but doesn't mean anyone will find you.

Look at How Other People Are Selling

Nothing gives you ideas like finding out what your competition is doing.  Of course your website wants to tell people a little about you and how you do business, but you've got to go a little bit further.  What is your biggest selling point?  Is it the quality of your customers?  In which case, get them on to the website to vouch for you.  Is it the product and the way it is designed?  In that case get the product onto the website, and replace it every time you update the product itself.  Is it your superior customer service?  In that case be sure that every sentence of your copy screams 'We are Here to Help'.  Part of our job is to help you identify these Unique Selling Points, but nobody knows your business better than you do.  If you know your competition, then take a look at what they do, draw some inspiration, and see if you can take it one step better.

In conclusion, always be aware that your website is a huge part of your total marketing effort, and while it would be nice to think that potential customers will see your brochure based website, like the cut of your jib, and pick up the phone to make an enquiry, the reality is that you need to coax them in.  Whether that is being clear about your calls to action, presenting your work front and centre to demonstrate your skills, or simply writing great copy that makes people want to do business with you.

No matter how much time you have available, getting the right approach to this online presence from the outset can be a massive boost, or waste a great deal of effort if you haven't got it right.  Our recommendation is to have a really good planning session at the start, and get all of your ideas, limitations and skills written down and clear at the start.  But then, I am the compulsive planner, so I would say that.