By in An Independent Retailers Twitterings

To Develop a Website or Not?

Following the success of our website havens.co.uk I am regularly asked how much does it cost to set up and is it worth it?

For our business the Internet has become a vital sales channel. In these difficult economic times retailing on the high street has become challenging and adapting and changing the way we do things has been critical.

We set up our first web site in September 2000. I produced a schedule of our aims and objectives along with a business plan and a broad idea of the content. I then submitted this schedule to a number of providers and had quotes from £2,000 to 22,500!!! At that time having a website designed was all fairly new, so I decided to plump for a local supplier in the middle of the range of quotes, hardly scientific.

Our website was born and we soon received our first orders and fraud! A cloned card was used to send a canteen of cutlery abroad, shortly to be charged back by the Credit Card company! You live and learn.

Since then we have built a relationship with Leigh Mason of  Silkstream. Leigh was seconded to us as a graduate trainee on the Shell sponsored STEP Scheme . As an eager, fresh faced guy he listened to my pearls of retail ramblings, interpreted them and came up with a solution to totally overhaul our initial website. His tolerance of my limited technical knowledge and his ability to make things happen as I would suggest “that is how a customer would see it” has ensured that we have developed a relationship which has seen the launch of his very successful web design and marketing company and the successful growth of our Internet sales. Moreover I count him now as a close friend and look forward to the continue success of his and our businesses.

In November 2008 we launched our completely new site which is taking us to the next level. Watch this space for further stories on our Internet trading experiences.

When asked what should a website design cost, I reply that you need to answer a number of questions before you can estimate the cost and the effectiveness. In no particular order I list my thoughts:

  • Is the Website to sell the Company or its products ?
  • If you are wanting an e – commerce site to sell your products are you committed to treating it as a new store or branch ?
  • Are you selling branded product or generic items?
  • Are you prepared to totally commit time, resources and money to the day to day operations involved in running, developing and marketing a website?

Now a list of Do’s and Dont’s again in no particular order

  • Do research your potential design providers contact the companies they have worked with
  • Do research the web market. Google the key words that you think the consumer would and see what comes up
  • Do research the competitions offer
  • Do use either your brand or a google friendly URL or Domain name.
  • Do draw up a detailed plan of the pages and format you want the site to take
  • Do take on a provider who listens to your needs and is prepared to understand your business as few will know your business better than you.
  • Do draw up an Internet marketing plan.
  • Like and trust your provider as you will be working closely with them, particularly in the development stage.
  • Make sure your enthusiasm for the new venture rubs off on the staff who will be running it for you. Engage them early.
  • Do update, refresh and change your website daily.
  • Don’t expect to get sales immediately
  • Don’t skimp on the set up costs of your website, by all means get like for like competitive quotes to establish market price but do not dumb down the spec. to save money. Better off waiting until you can afford to do it properly.
  • Don’t expect the site to drive itself

I am sure the real experts will add more to this but it will get you started and thinking.

One thing I always say and that is the initial development and building of the site is only the start, the shop fitting if you like, it is the easy bit. The challenge is to constantly update the content. I liken it to a shop window, if you do not change it the passer by will quickly pass it by! The other key thing is the marketing of your site – you can have the best site in the world, if it is not high up on the search engines no one will get to see it.

There is no doubt that having a website can drive people to your business and build online sales too. However if you are not committed to it then you might be better saving your money.

We nurture, feed and love our site looking to improve it daily, as a result it has grown into a very meaningful business and our ambitious expansion plans are fast becoming a reality.