Be Smart When You Decide to Start a Small Business Online

The internet has made it possible for more people than ever before to fulfill their dream of starting a small business. All you need is an idea, an internet connection, and someone who is willing to design a webpage for you, and you will be able to call yourself an online entrepreneur. Before you get too excited, you do want to consider the fact that every single year online businesses, especially ones that are less than a year old fail, there are some things you can do to make sure that when you start a small business online that yours will succeed where others have failed.

It is now unusual when people decide that they are going to start a small business online, they assume it isn’t going to cost them anything. While getting the business up and running won’t cost as much as creating a brick and mortar business would, there will still be come expenses, mostly marketing. Before doing anything rash, you are going to want to take a careful look at your personal finances and ask yourself if you are in a position where you will be able to give your online business the launch it deserves.

A common mistake that many would be online entrepreneurs make when they are about to start a small business online is that they don’t take it seriously. They think that just because they have a good idea, that the product is going to sell itself, but this is not the case at all. If you want your online business to be a success story, you are going to have to learn as much as you can about marketing. There are some entrepreneurs who decide to hire a marketing specialist but this can get pricy. Online marketing isn’t difficult to learn, you just have to be willing to spend some time researching the topic. Keep in mind that once you have opened your online website for business, marketing is something that you are going to have to address every single day, especially during the first year.

One of the things you are going to want to keep in mind when you are marketing your online business is that you are going to want gear your marketing specifically to your target audience as opposed to just shooting it out on the web. The best way to identify your target audience is to ask yourself who your ideal customer is going to be.

When you start a small business online it can be a challenging experience, but it is also full of possibility. Every so often, you are going to want to remind yourself to sit back and just savor the incredible journey.

Availing the Best Web Development Firm

Websites are high on demand as it is through a website or web portal that more and more people are finding ways to earn some extra bucks. Besides these part timers, there are more serious people who wish to eke out a flourishing business through deft usage of Internet. The monetary prospects have resulted in a wide surge in the requirements of websites. This huge demand has subsequently led to the mushrooming of numerous agencies and individuals. This huge pool of providers can leave you perplexed in choosing a suitable firm or person.

If you are not able to decide from the number of proposals that you received from firms and individuals then you should better take decisions after considering the following things.

Go for an Experienced Firm

I have seen many people opting for freelancers and ruing their decisions later. Freelancers might come cheap but they are not trustworthy, they stretch a project too long (I have seen several instances where a person struck a unique idea and sourced it to freelancers which took it so long that the project lost its relevance), and they often tend to stop in mid-way. On the contrary, I know some freelancers who have truly satisfied the clients. My point is- if you have the money, choose a firm and that too an experienced one.

Prototyping

A genuine and experienced firm adept in the required technology will soon provide you the prototype of the website. Even if they ask for some amount for prototyping, you can pay them as it will help you to save larger sum in later stages. Firms that somehow manage a project would refrain from providing the entire solution as they have a system which manages the projects in bits and pieces. In fact, a prototype would tell you what to expect.

Signing of NDA

The more unique your project, the more protective you should be, as in case of any spillage you would lose the first-mover advantage. It has been seen that many small and ill-managed firms leak the project details or they try to copy it for their usage. So, it is advised to go for the firm which is willing and prompt in signing an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement).

There are other things like cross-checking the references etc to help you get a professionally developed website.

Points to Consider When Selecting the Most Appropriate Web Design Agency

As soon as a large number of company owners are contending to have their internet sites registered and also hosted, it is natural that the amount of website design services will certainly improve. Every web design company will certainly tell you they are the number one, however is there any accurate test to spot which website design service is best? Below are a couple of the crucial issues which could very well lead you to the very best web design firm.

1. Past Experiences

Is the website design service aware of the attitude of your prospective buyers? It is the customer that really needs to be ultimately attended to, via the website. The consumers character and also inclinations ought to be taken into consideration when designing the website.

2. Pricing

Are the services offered by the web design agency truly worth what’s quoted by it? You must clarify the product price and services contained in it. Comprehensive information about the pricing can be gained through comparison of prices of different web design firms on the web.

3. Search Engine Optimization

Is the web design company amply trained on the techniques for search engine optimization? This aspect is critical because this could bring up the website to be listed in top of the search engine results. This is crucial for increasing the number of clicks. It’s volume of clicks which have a huge impact on the purchase done through the website. An internet site can sell the products only once an individual visits and gets persuaded from the description on the online site.

4. Efficiency:

Is the website design agency constructing internet sites that are efficient at switching the site visitors into buyers? This is very important for profit generation and then finally return on investment incurred to design this internet site.

5. Visuals

It’s a common fact that appearance carry more impact when compared to the text. There are many cases where the products or perhaps the services offered by your website should be presented by illustrations or photos, animated graphics and also clips. It is also correct that these visuals don’t have any specific influence on the search engines. A decent website design agency understands how to stabilize the text and visuals. The web design service provider ought to be adept at techniques that will facilitate the embedding of images with little effect on the speed of downloading.

6. Content and Layout

The web design agency to whom you give the work of website building ought to understand how to create a good content and layout. The content should be persuading. It must know the value of embedding the responses from the former buyers upon the website. The firm must be able to build a layout that is simple to navigate and simple to download. Should the page layout is messed up and confusing, it can create a bad effect. The website needs to be appropriate for the web browser so it could be downloaded quickly.

7. Flexibility

The web design firm should be able to design such a internet site which is a bit flexible to upgrade too.

Small Business – Choosing the Right Web Agency

Choosing the right web design agency can be a make or break decision for many small businesses, it can mean the difference between a website which works for them, or a website that doesn’t. Or, in more succinct terms, the difference between a website that supports the business and one that costs the business (time, money, reputation, brand).

A large part of Hot Lemon’s online business is helping our clients redevelop their websites because their current websites are, for want of a better phrase, “not fit for purpose”. These are not websites our clients have done themselves, in which case you could forgive them, but so called “professional” websites developed by “professional” web design agencies.

This has eventually prompted me to write this guide to choosing the right web design agency for your small business to help other small businesses of repeating those very same mistakes.

Who’s to blame for bad web-design?

Quite simply, the agencies developing the websites and the small businesses commissioning them. So, that would be everyone!

The agencies are to blame because they don’t engage with their clients, they cut too many corners and they try to template design and technology too much in order to meet a specific price point. The small businesses are to blame, because they are driving the market to a low price point, they don’t want to invest much in their website, and they don’t get involved in the process as much as they should.

Bemusement – the internet is important

Of constant bemusement to me is the way some small businesses go about developing their online presence – their website. The internet is so persuasive now, and used by so many consumers in many different ways, that a robust, professional online presence is a necessity for any business, no matter what sector, no matter what size.

However, many small businesses still approach the development (and use) of their website in a casual manner, to them, the website is of secondary importance rather than primary. Unfortunately, with this mindset, many small businesses will never experience the benefits of what a good online presence can deliver, and why it is so important to invest time and resources into it.

The race for the bottom – the bargain basement website

This attitude by small businesses can be characterised by the increasing preponderance of web design agencies offering “all inclusive”, “professionally designed” and “tailored for you” websites all for the princely sum of £199.

Now fundamentally, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this bargain basement web-design.

However, you really do get what you pay for. Bearing in mind these agencies have overheads, and they are businesses too therefore they need to make a profit themselves, the actual development cost spent on a website like this might be as little £80 to £100. The agencies in order to meet this price point need to pare down the design process to a minimum. Hence use of templates, generic pictures, generic text.

The resultant website might look ok. But does it work for your business? Does it reflect your brand? Does it communicate what you do properly? Does it sell your business? Can you find it on Google?

An old adage: “you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”

Top tips for choosing a web design agency

Hot Lemon has developed some top tips for any small business to use when choosing a web design agency, these are:

  • recommendation – use your network, if a colleague can recommend an agency you can use their experience to help you with your choice
  • talk to several agencies – don’t just go to one agency, talk to several. Do they treat you as a client or as a potential cash-flow?
  • don’t make a decision on cost alone – cost is important, it’s why we budget for things. However, the cheapest is seldom the best. Saving money in designing a web site can lose money in the longer term from lost business
  • do they use English? – English is a wonderful language, however, many people don’t use it and decide to use jargon instead. If an agency can’t be bothered to talk to you in plain English that you will understand, can you really expect them to spend the time getting to know your business
  • do they understand you? – Has the agency bothered to get to know you, get to know your business, your market? They are designing your primary communication channel, they need a good understanding of you in order to do that effectively
  • benefits not features – the web is full of features! But what real benefit are they to you? Be wary of long lists of features, this is especially the case for e-commerce sites
  • beware of the up sell – you are getting someone to design you a website, be wary of agencies trying to sell you other online services for your business, whilst often useful, they can tie your business down
  • copy-writing – is the agency going to help you write the content of your website, or just design the website. Writing effective web copy is not an easy skill
  • templates – have a look at the agency’s portfolio, do they all look the same? Are they designing to a template? Many low cost web designs are template based – it’s where they save the money – not necessarily a problem, as long as the template is good for you
  • Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) 1 – the agency should offer internal SEO as an integral part of their service – not as an add on. SEO is so important it needs to be done from the start of the design process
    • SEO 2 – get the agency to explain what their SEO services are in plain English. Get them to explain their internal and external SEO services to you and their costs. Further, ascertain whether they do this in-house or sub-contract it
  • Content Management Systems (CMS) – many agencies make CMS a key feature, but do they tell you everything about CMS and is it right for you? Key things to consider:
    • ease of use – whilst you don’t need to be able to code in order to update a website with CMS, many of them are not as intuitive to use as they should be, indeed, quite the opposite
    • proprietary or published – CMS’s can come in two forms – proprietary (i.e. written specifically for a specific website), or published (Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, Coldfusion etc.), in which case the CMS is adapted for your website. Proprietary is usually more intuitive as written specifically for you, but can tie you in. Published can be less intuitive and more templated.
    • templates – CMS websites generally follow similar template designs, especially the published varieties, your choice in layout and design may be limited
    • flexibility – because many CMS designs follow templates (with some agencies just changing the logo on the template and then selling it to you for £500) they lack flexibility, you may well be limited in what you can do within your budget
    • content – just because you can update your website, should you? Were not all copywriters, and this together with the relative inflexibility of CMS websites can lead pretty quickly to some messy websites. Further, if your being sold a website with CMS is the agency going to help you out with copy-writing and SEO? Do you know enough about SEO to write search engine friendly copy?
  • e-commerce – many small businesses are attracted to the online world because of e-commerce and the ability to compete with the big boys on equal terms. Err no. The first thing any agency should do is to administer a dose of reality to your e-commerce dreams. It’s not impossible to be successful, but it’s not as easy as you may think. Things to consider asking your agency about e-commerce are:
    • software – your agency is very likely to use commercially available e-commerce software for your website, the larger agencies may have their own software which they re-use. Find out which one their using and Google it! You might find out that your paying an agency just to change the logo
    • beware of the up sell – many e-commerce packages are hugely capable, able to list and manage thousands of products and do wondrous things – this might be over-kill if all your after is a simple e-commerce website selling a few items
    • ask for options – if you’re just going to sell a few things online, make sure your agency gives you a range of options, from the cheap to the expensive. For example, PayPal provides a free e-commerce facility that can be used with any website!
    • understand the amount of work involved – often, the easiest part of setting up an e-commerce site is the design itself, understand that inputting your product details with appropriate tags and descriptions can be very time consuming – will your agency help?
    • templates – because e-commerce websites are usually based on published software, and have very complex databases related to them, they tend to be very similar in how they look as they are generally set up using templates. This could be an issue if you want to differentiate how your e-commerce site looks compared to your competitors, ask you agency how they can differentiate your site from your competitors
  • beware of the plugins – use of specific plugins might make your website look fantastic, but understand that not all of your customers will have those plugins (for example Flash, Quicktime, Java, Real player files etc. ). Ask what happens to your sexy looking website when the visitor doesn’t have Flash installed for example (iPhone’s don’t play Flash). Also, the content of Flash files are not indexed by Google, so you need to make sure your agency is communicating the content of them in other ways for search engines
  • standards matter – ensure your agency codes their websites to international standards. Those standards are there for a purpose, to ensure that websites work regardless of browsers and operating platform. As a minimum you should insist that your website adheres to W3C standards for HTML / XHTML. There is no excuse for not designing a standards compliant website, apart from laziness!
  • testing – find out what the testing regime is at the agency. Web pages display quite differently in different browsers and operating systems, what works in one browser doesn’t necessarily work in another. Find a computer with Internet Explorer 6 on it (still the default browser on 10% of all computers) and test your website on it (IE6 is usually the worst culprit for displaying websites incorrectly)
  • relationships are key – above all else, do you feel that you can do business with the agency and build a working relationship with them. Things do wrong – fact of life – do you feel your agency is going to be there to help and support you when it does?

I think that’s pretty exhaustive list of tips and things to consider when choosing a web design agency for your small business.

Things to consider

Whilst the above is pretty comprehensive in terms of assessing web design agencies, it’s not all one way traffic. Small businesses equally need to consider several points as well before beginning the web development process. For example:

  • your website is likely to be the primary communication tool of your business – your shop front to the world. Therefore dedicate appropriate time and resources to getting it right
  • understand that you get what you pay for. You will not get someone understanding your needs and the needs of your business and then design an effective website for £250!
  • if you do not understand the internet, find someone who does. Find out why SEO is important, and what drives good SEO (chances are, the £250 option will become less attractive on doing this) – as a wee plug, Hot Lemon is quite happy to chat
  • do not trust anyone who can’t explain things to you in plain English
  • don’t get too drawn into CMS and fully featured e-commerce sites, understand that your good at your business, not necessarily at copy-writing, graphic design or web design
  • whilst most websites have similar structures (it’s intuitive!), don’t be satisfied with a template design. Your customers will recognise that you can’t be bothered with your own website – so why should they?
  • your website is a critical tool for your business, don’t treat it as an add on, treat it as an integral part, and commit the time and resources appropriate to it.

Kitchen Design Online – Understanding the Work Triangle and Kitchen Layouts

Good kitchen design online means having a layout for your kitchen that provides an efficient and pleasant area in which to prepare meals and do related tasks. Understanding the kitchen work triangle concept and basic kitchen layout types is a valuable starting point to design a kitchen online that you like.

The kitchen work triangle consists of the distance between the sink, refrigerator and range or cooktop. Each one of these areas becomes a focal point in the kitchen and forms the three points of a triangle with different distances between them. Done correctly, proper kitchen design online will give you the most efficient food preparation area layout in your kitchen.

Whether you’re remodeling an existing kitchen or building a new one, an efficient kitchen design online means that your work triangle minimizes the number of steps the cook must take between the three areas during meal preparation and cleanup. The total distance from the sink to the stove to the refrigerator and back to the sink should be not less than 12 feet total nor more than 27 feet. Each triangle leg should measure between 4 and 9 feet in length. The kitchen isles should be at least 42 to 48 inches wide to allow people to move around easily and for appliances to be opened with ease.

When selecting the floor plan for your kitchen design online, here are basic kitchen layouts to consider:

* L-Shaped Kitchen – this is the most popular kitchen design. It consists of a long leg and a shorter one and this type of design can be used in small and large kitchens. The L-shaped kitchen gives you the possibility of having a center island depending on the space available. In general, this design will have 2 or 3 appliances on one wall. The usual arrangement is to have the refrigerator at one end, the range or cooktop at the other end with the sink located in the middle. This shape of kitchen generally provides good traffic flow.

* Double L-Shaped Kitchen – this kitchen design has a lot of cabinet space and plenty of counter space. This design is used in large kitchens with two cooks, and it has two or more entering areas, which can cause traffic flow problems. To avoid some of these problems, create two separate working areas on each L of the kitchen so that work flow does not get interrupted by human traffic.

* U-Shaped Kitchen – this kitchen design online shape has three walls instead of two, and the sink usually is located in the middle wall section. The refrigerator and range or cooktop are usually on the side walls opposite each other. The U-shaped kitchen design gives room for ample countertop space, and you have three walls for cabinets and appliances. This kitchen layout tends to create a working triangle that is very efficient.

The working triangle for the U-shaped kitchen should be around 26 feet or less. The only problem with this type of kitchen design online is that sometimes the two U corners are not used appropriately. Make sure you buy the appropriate storage items for the corner cabinets created by the U shape design. The U shape design can also create dark kitchens because of the shape and the quantity of cabinets. Using skylights, large windows, lots of under-cabinet task lighting and light colors will help keep the kitchen bright with sufficient light to see what you’re doing.

* G-Shaped Kitchen – this type of kitchen shape is becoming very popular, and it gives you a fourth wall to use. The G-shape can be used if you have more than one cook in the house. This fourth wall section can be used for a counter, island and storage space. With this kitchen layout you can have two sinks, perhaps two cooktops or two ranges. You could have two working triangles — one for sink, cook top or range and refrigerator and a second working triangle with another sink, built-in grill and cooktop. It allows two cooks to do different things at the same time and entertain large groups of people.

* Single-Wall Kitchen – if you do not have much space, you may only be able to have an I-shaped kitchen. No problem. Just be sure the sink is placed between the refrigerator and the stove. Locate the refrigerator so that the refrigerator door opens away from the kitchen sink. This is a very common arrangement for small kitchen design online where narrow spaces exists.

* Galley-Shaped Kitchen – this type of kitchen design is more common in apartments or in homes where space is limited. It is often called the corridor style. The kitchen cabinets and the appliances can be located on opposite walls for better work flow. Place the range or cooktop on one side of the kitchen along one wall and the refrigerator and sink on the opposite wall.

To eliminate traffic issues in this type of kitchen design online, one entry is often closed off. This type of layout should only be used by one cook. If you want to maintain both exits, place the refrigerator near the end of the galley kitchen for easy access. This way, your family and friends can reach the refrigerator without interfering with the person who is cooking.

If you need extra storage in the galley kitchen, install tall kitchen cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling. Wall storage is crucial. Buy a stepladder to use when you need to reach the upper shelf of the cabinets, and place the items you use less frequently on the upper shelves.

By understanding the kitchen work triangle concept and how you want your kitchen to function, you’ll be more likely to create the kind of kitchen design online you’ve always wanted. Today, kitchens are often viewed as the hub of the home as well as a social center for family and friends. Planning your kitchen and doing kitchen design online can be a challenge, but the rewards you’ll receive are very much worth the time and effort.

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