Filed Under: Small Business, Online Business, Business Resources
website seems to be one of the simplest things to launch today.
Everywhere you turn, companies are giving you what appears to be
the perfect website for a startup. It's like walking into Ikea and
buying a bookshelf: All you need to do is put it together. Seems
simple enough, but before you buy an off-the-shelf website, understand
what you're buying and what you need for your business.
Take a moment to sketch out what you need from your
website. Today's websites are more than just online brochures, and
the first thing to do is outline what you need from your website.
Here are few features you may want to think about when creating
your list of needs:
We all want to control content on our websites and be able to add
and edit text. How flexible do you need the text control to be on
your website? Do you have special features in mind for working with
your website content? Are you concerned about the number of pages?
Will you be starting with five pages today, but grow the site to
15 or 20 pages in the next few months.
Design and Layout
Do you have an idea about how you want your website to look and
work? Do you want your website to have a navigation bar at the top
of your webpage, the side or both? Are you hoping to have some pages
with a layout that is in one color and a separate section in another
color? Some template services only allow one theme, so this is an
Do you need your website to collect information through online forms?
Will you need more than one form on your website? Where will you
want these forms? For example, will you want the web from to be
apart of the design like a price quote or only on the contact page?
Will your website be providing audio or video? Do you have the know-how
to code these items for the web, or do you need your website application
to help with this service? Do you know how large your average file
size on your video will be? Some applications limit uploads over
Are you planning to sell online? How many products? Do you want
your website to have all the tools needed to collect credit cards
securely? Do you want to show two or three views of your product?
Do you want exact shipping costs calculated based on your products'
weights? Will you need your website to provide the orders to a third-party
fulfillment company or distribution center?
There are many questions here, and many more you
should ask yourself. By taking the time to outline your needs now,
you can know what you're shopping for in a website application provider.
Think of it like making a grocery list before you go food shopping:
If you don't have it on the list you may forget it, and then get
distracted by the other things on the shelf. Buying off the shelf
means knowing what tools you need that application to provide. This
outline will also prepare you to review set-up costs and monthly
When you use an existing application, you're essentially
borrowing it. The design and function doesn't belong to you. You
provide the images, video and content but the application is licensed
to your business.
Evaluating Web Applications
Now that you have your list, you can go shopping find the prepackaged
tools that fit your needs. Start by reviewing magazine articles,
blogs and support pages. These resources will provide you with expert
reviews, customer feedback and a realistic expectation about support.
Most applications provide a test drive, but until you really use
something you never know what it's missing. The support pages or
knowledge bases on web applications will tell you about issues,
past bugs and open items. Another great place to start understanding
the application you may be interested in are the customer forums.
Not all applications offer this type of community, but those that
do are giving you a great place to look around and see what they
and other customers do to support one another. Remember: A website
uses technology and with new browsers and upgrades things can change.
Be aware of how they handle change.
Read the Fine Print
It's not really fine print: The terms of service agreement on every
website application tool is open and available for review at any
time. Take a few moments to read through this agreement because
you'll have to check that box before you work with the company.
Outlined on the service agreement page are the acceptable use policies,
fees, licensing agreement and copyrights. It will also outline the
company's policies regarding protection against fraud.
found an application that meets most of your needs, recognize that
a web application will never be perfect. Buying off the shelf means
cost-effective, and with this decision you're telling yourself that's
the priority. Perfect means custom, and that's a different journey
with a different budget. When you're starting out or growing, "compromise"
is a word every business owner comes to know. When buying a website
in a box, you'll find the right solution for your budget if you
understand it's a compromise that will lead you to a successful
Jennifer Shaheen, the e-marketing
and Technology Therapist, has more 10 years experience working with
small- to mid-sized businesses on their e-marketing and web development
needs. You can learn more about her by visiting her web site, TechnologyTherapy.com.