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Making the Most of Your Web Site


Question: I am in the process of upgrading my Web site and am trying to locate a good firm to do the work. It seems as if everyone these days is a Web site developer. How do I go about choosing the right one for me?

--Jonathan Silver, Los Angeles

Answer: You're absolutely right, there are many, many development firms out there and more are cropping up all the time. They vary from the extremely small operation to the largest corporations around. Of course, the larger the firm, the larger your budget will have to be to hire them.

Unfortunately, no industry standard has yet been established in the Web world for best practices, but there are several things you should consider when choosing a development firm. First, determine what you need from a Web designer, then get referrals from colleagues and interview several.

Some questions to keep in mind: Do they have a good client list? Do they have well-designed sites in their portfolio? Do they offer Web hosting services? If so, what kind of servers do they have and how much will they charge for space on the servers? Are they offering e-commerce capability? Do they have secure servers for credit card transactions? What kind of bandwidth capability do they have, and can they handle streaming media, if you need that? Will they maintain your site once it has been designed, or do you need to handle the day-to-day business and updates yourself? Will they register your domain name and register your site with search engines?

Once you match up the electives you need with a few firms that provide them, get estimates for their design services. Ask for references and check them personally before you hire any designer.

Once you find a firm that you can work with, a few other factors should be considered: Get a budget and schedule drafted up front, with timelines and due dates in writing. Define goals for the site and determine your target audience, so the design will appeal directly to your customers. Agree on site "architecture" with the designer and develop a flow chart together for how the site will be structured.

These are the main elements of working with a Web developer. The good news about Web design is that there are an infinite number of existing examples that you can check out by doing a little surfing. Pick out sites that you like and think about why you like them. Are they organized well? Is it easy to find information on them, or difficult to navigate through many pages? Are your competitors' sites well done? Why or why not? The more analysis and thought you put into your site, the better it will turn out in the end.

--Valerie Shavers, creative director,

Studio 8, Los Angeles

Beauty Salon Needs a Make-Over

Q: My two sisters and I run a hair and skin salon. A new Gelson's is coming to the shopping center where we are located and we need to remodel our business soon to attract new clients and employees. How can we get funding for the upgrade?

--Julie Casper, Monarch Beach

A: Before you search for funding, you need to come up with a good estimate on cost. Since the shop will have to be closed while the remodel takes place--unless the clients can be convinced that saw and plaster dust are good for hair and skin, to say nothing of the lungs--the project may cost more than you realize. Don't forget to budget for post-remodeling promotion, which will be needed to bring back former customers and attract new ones.

Once you have a good idea of what it will take to accomplish the remodeling, pay your expenses while the shop is closed, and bring in customers when the shop reopens, there are several places to try to find the money.

If the space is leased, you may have trouble getting a loan to spruce it up, since you have nothing to collateralize. But if the shop has been in this location for three years, you could try to persuade the landlord to contribute to the remodel in exchange for a longer lease. Point out that it is cheaper for the landlord to keep you as a tenant than to find a new one. The cost of the remodel can be added to the rent payments over the length of the lease, which would probably have to be extended. During negotiations with your landlord, you can also point out that your business is planning a promotional campaign to increase its customer base. That information should help your cause, since promotions that your shop does will translate into additional traffic for the center as a whole.

As to the promotions, try to line up strategic alliances with other merchants in the center. You could offer customers of the other businesses some kind of discount on your products and services, for instance.

If you have business interruption insurance, check with your broker to see if it would help you in this situation. Also, consider becoming certified as a woman-owned business and apply for a loan guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration under one of their small-business loan programs.

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