These days, it is almost impossible for a small- or medium-sized business to succeed without some type of Web presence. In fact, customers expect to find the products and services they need on the Internet, and even if you have a brick-and-mortar storefront, a Web site can increase your sales exponentially. Of course, in order to make a Web site work for you, it’s important that you understand small business Web design.

Choosing a Domain, Host & Package

Before you can start a Web site for your business, you’ll first need to choose a domain name, a hosting service and a hosting package. While you might be tempted to go with the first company you find in a cursory Internet search, it pays to do your research first. For example, some Web hosting companies will waive the setup and domain registration fee when you pay for a certain Web hosting package.

In most cases, you’ll have to pay for Web hosting in three-, six-, 12- or 24-month increments, and many providers will give you a significant discount if you go with a long-term contract. Additionally, make sure you read the terms and conditions of any Web provider before you make a decision, because you may be limited to the content you can post, the bandwidth you can use and the data transfer you can initiate.

As for the domain name, your small business Web design plan will be based upon the domain name you choose. If possible, you will want to reserve a domain name that closely matches the name of your business, but this isn’t always possible. You can also reserve a name that reflects the products or services you sell, or that indicates the industry in which you do business. If you’re stumped and can’t think of a great domain name, read Andrea LaRosa’s article on debunking domain name myths.

Planning the Site

In order to establish a Web presence for your business, you will need Web design software to create the Web site itself. The software you choose will depend largely on your skill level – for example, do you know CSS, HTML or any other programming language? If not, a WYSIWYG (what-you-see-is-what-you-get) software package may be more up your alley.

You can also hire a third party for small business Web design, but this option sometimes exceeds the budget for a small or start-up company. If you’d rather handle it all yourself, you can go with a Web host like WordPress, Wix or Shopify, that offer online web design tools.  These inexpensive solutions will allow you to get your Web site up and running quickly, but without worrying about programming or fancy implements. However, keep in mind that the learning curve can be tough for some and your design is probably not going to look as good as one done by a professional designer.

Getting Your Site Up and Running

Now you’ll be ready to design the site itself and get it on the Internet. These days, much of the process is automated, and it can be executed with the click of a button. However, small business Web design does require a bit of forethought.

A great way to ensure that your site looks and feels the way you want is to storyboard the Web site first. Decide which pages you want to publish (Home, About, Contact, F.A.Q., Products, etc.), then draw the layout of each page on paper. Include a navigation bar that leads consumers to every page on your site, as well as complementary colors and readable fonts.

Once you’ve planned every aspect of your Web site, you can follow the instructions provided by your Web host to publish the site online. From then on, you’ll simply need to update the content with new information, as Web sites become stale rather quickly.