Design Readiness Checklist

checkmarkSTYLE PREFERENCES

The clearer you are about what you are looking for, the easier it is for a designer to give it to you. Take some time to look for web sites that inspire you. Write down notes about what you like and don't like about each one. Start with your competition, and think about how you will differentiate yourself. Then branch out and look at industries that might have a style you like. Do you like classic lines? Try searching for high-end furniture galleries. Do you like hip and urban? Try some of the fashionable restaurants in your town. Prefer the fresh and clean look? Search for natural health and skin care sites.

If you've collected a stack of business cards over the years, pick out the ones you like that have web sites and take a look. Take your favorite magazines and look at the advertising section. Scan the ads and if anything stylish catches your eye, look up their web site.

Pay attention to your initial reaction, but also spend some time getting to know the site. Is it compelling? Does it seem like it would appeal to your target audience? If you were looking for something specific, would it be easy to find on this site?

It also doesn't hurt to look at the large retailers like Amazon.com and Target. Thousands of people buy from these sites each day, so they have likely done some research into how to make things effortless for their customers.

While you are looking at web sites, bookmark ones that have a writing style that you like as well, to help inspire you when you're writing your content.

checkmarkMARKETING PLAN

Marketing is vital to any business venture. Hopefully you've already thought about these things—if not, it's never too late to write a marketing plan.

There is a difference between marketing and design. Marketing helps you define who you are, who you are selling to, and how you are going to reach and appeal to them. Design helps implement your marketing plan and goals. Without marketing, design is just making things pretty. Now we enjoy making things pretty, but we also enjoy making web sites that will actually be used, and we enjoy giving our clients a good value for their money. So we recommend that people have a plan for how their web site is going to make them money or bring them customers before they start building it.

Your web site will not automatically get traffic just because it is there. Building traffic takes time and effort, or money, or both. Depending on what your plan is, you may need to research and learn about search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing and pay-per-click (PPC), or you may rely on your existing marketing methods (like your retail store or direct mail) to drive traffic and customers to your site.

We have written several articles that cover the basics of SEO and we can build your site to be search-engine friendly, but we are not SEO experts. You will also want to educate yourself as much as possible because SEO is a constantly changing field and strategies that were recommended a few years ago can be useless or have negative effects today.

checkmarkPHOTOGRAPHY

Professional photography is a must for online sales. This is especially true for sensory products like textiles or food. Clear, well-lit photos that show the detail of a piece can make or break a sale. When planning your photo shoot, be sure to get clear product shots (and close-ups if appropriate), as well as some general photographs that can be used as graphical components in your site and marketing materials. These photographs could be groups of your products in an artful setting or people using your product. Ask for your photographer's input on how to capture the essence of your product and how to display it in creative and appealing ways. Great photography is a cornerstone of great design.

Stock photos or imagery can also be effective in giving visual interest to your site and in establishing a style. We can help you find photographs, but searching through stock photos is a time-intensive process and we find that it works best when both our client and us are on the hunt for the right image.

checkmarkCOPY (WEB SITE TEXT)

Writing your site's content is an area where doing it yourself can be beneficial. The key is to let your personality shine through. For all the anonymity of the net, reading a web site is a personal experience: when your customer is reading your site, they'll probably be alone and sitting about 10 inches from their screen. Keep their attention by being real—and not just on the "about" page. As a small business you have an advantage over gigantic retailers—you can actually care personally about your customers. You also likely have put a lot of your own passion and drive into your business. Make that show: it's magnetic.

Write web site copy that is light and engaging. It's always better to stay positive—talk about your products great qualities, rather than your competition's bad qualities. Keep it energetic, upbeat, and easy to read. Web users tend to scan and jump around a lot, so make sure you have headings and bullet lists. Your copy should be easy to digest and should allow the reader to pick out what is most important to them and find out more about that particular subject.

Quality content can be a powerful aid in selling your products. Take this site for instance: we wrote a lot of copy for this site and we add to it frequently. A lot of design firm web sites are pretty skimpy and their sites never get updated. But we're willing to bet that reading all this content and helpful information is more convincing of our expertise than flashy graphics or marketing jargon would be. Writing content demonstrates knowledge in concrete ways, and it also helps you connect to us as a person and creates trust. Trust is important to any business relationship—and freely offering good content is one of the best ways we've found to create trust online.

Before you start writing, outline the mood and style you are going for, and where you want to direct your visitors. Keep these in mind as you write, and periodically review your content as you go to be sure it is focused and consistent in style. Be sure to highlight your product's strengths in clear language.

When you have finished, show it to three people—at least one in your target audience. If your readers can't easily describe what your product is and why they should buy it (or if they are so bored that they don't finish reading)—rewrite your copy.

checkmarkSITE PLAN

A site plan lists what pages you are going to have on your site. It can be as simple as a list or outline in Word, or it can involve fancy flow charts with arrows and colored shapes. Usually the first kind is fine unless your site is pretty complicated. You may decide to change certain things about your site plan as you go along in the design process, but it gives your designer a place to start.

checkmarkDOMAIN NAME

Choose your domain name carefully to make sure it is memorable and easy to spell, especially when spoken over the phone. Avoid dashes or numbers if possible, as they require additional explanation (is that the number 3 or three spelled out?). Register your domain through a registrar like 1and1.com or GoDaddy.com. Use the Domain Name Checker below to see if your desired domain name is available.

 

checkmarkWEB HOSTING

There are many hosts to choose from but only a few that offer unparalleled customer service, reliability, and adequate hosting features. Therefore, we recommend using large trusted companies that have a proven track record. Either 1and1.com or GoDaddy.com are excellent choices.

checkmarkMERCHANT ACCOUNT and PAYMENT GATEWAY

A merchant account lets you accept credit cards as a form of payment. It is underwritten by a bank, either an online bank or a normal brick-and-mortar bank. A payment gateway forms the technological bridge between your web site and the bank. Banks often bundle gateways with their internet merchant account packages. When getting a merchant account, be sure that the bank knows you want it for online sales. For more information, read our FAQ on merchant accounts and payment gateways.

If you wish to save some start-up costs you may wish to use PayPal as your payment processor. PayPal offers services that mimic a combined merchant account and gateway, without any start-up fees. They also bundle in a shopping cart. PayPal is excellent for new merchants who want a low-risk and easy way to start selling online.

If you've got all the above pieces in place, you are clearly ready to get started! Head on over and fill out the Request Quote Worksheet.

 

 


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