Do You Need A Website Part 1

By Kristen Huff
Copyright © 2005 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in February 2005, Volume 30, No. 8 of The Engravers Journal
 
Joanne and Roger Bastarache in front of R&W Engraving's wall of plaques.  

 


     When Joanne and Roger Bastarache, owners of R & W Engraving and Quick Copy Center (www.rwengraving.com), decided they needed a website for their shop, they weren’t sure what they wanted. They just knew that websites were the wave of the future, and they thought they should get one to stay current with the times.
    Running their shop in Biddeford, ME, was already a full-time job, and neither Roger nor Joanne had the inclination or time to learn how to build a site. Fortunately, their local phone company had an offer. For just $300, the phone company would help them design a three-page informational site about their company. And just like that, they had a website. It was everything they could hope for, right?
    Wrong. “No one saw it,” says Roger. “We spent that money, took two or three months working on it, and then no one knew it was there. The only people who knew about it were the ones we were telling. We basically had no response.”
    Undeniably, websites are here to stay. But is a website right for you? And if so, how should you go about developing one that’s worthwhile? There are many things to think about if you believe you need a website. It’s such a constantly changing field that it’s no small task to create and maintain a site. In an EJ survey, 68% of respondents said they either had a website currently or planned on having one within the next six months. But before you jump on the website bandwagon, there are several things you need to consider.
Do I Need a Site?
    Whether or not you need a website depends on who you are and how much time and money you’re willing to devote to the endeavor. If you’re already doing all the engraving or sublimating you can handle and you don’t want any more business growth, then you probably don’t need a website. But if you could stand a little growth, a website might be the way to go.
    Those with functioning, visible websites agree that it’s a good way to grow a business. A website can allow you to sell more, find new customers, and create new business relationships —all without leaving the building, and probably with the same number of employees you already have. It can turn your local engraving shop into a national (or even international) one, if you’re looking for that.
    In addition, the R & I industry is changing in nature. Al Abramson, owner of Halls Executive Gifts & Awards in Santa Rosa, CA, has noticed a transformation in the last few years. “We have a very large showroom,” he says. “We have a large display area, with lots of product shown, but nobody has time these days to make a trip into the store. Executive assistants need to get this or that award, but rather than come in and visit, they are doing it online. We used to have lots of foot traffic, but now we have to think up ways to get people to come in. Our foot traffic is getting smaller and smaller.”
    Like the Bastaraches, Abramson decided he needed a website to help grow his business, which specializes in executive gifts, awards and trophies, ad specialties and wearables. But the road to his current website was a long one. He too started out with a “canned” website that offered some information about Halls, but he ran into the same problem as did the Bastaraches: no one saw it. “We got our first site through ARA,” says Abramson. “It was our first go-around with this sort of thing, and it was a nice site. But we really weren’t getting any hits. We sent our customers to the website, but it didn’t do much for them, either. It was informational, and it explained the services Halls has, but we weren’t on any search engines. We didn’t have any links to anything else. It just wasn’t doing what we needed.”
    It’s not that an “informative” website isn’t useful—you certainly don’t need a full e-commerce website to benefit from a presence in cyberspace. An informative site can be very useful for people who are new to town, or for getting your current customers general information about your shop, your products, the engraving services you offer, your contact information, and even directions on how to get to your shop. The key is, the site needs to be seen before it can help anyone. Whether or not creating a website is worth your time and money, is a decision only you can make. Before plunging in, consider the following factors.

 
Al Abramson in his shop, Halls Executive Gift & Awards.  

What’s the Website’s Purpose?
    Say you’re thinking you need a website. Before you go any further, you need to decide what the purpose of your site will be. Is it informational (as described above)? Or are you thinking you want to go all out and have an e-commerce site, where you sell trophies, ribbons, sublimated items or even your personalization services online?
    Determining the purpose of the site depends partly on how comfortable you are with computers. If you’re computer illiterate and uncomfortable even answering email (be honest—you know who you are!), then you should stay away from a full-blown e-commerce site for the time being. Your shop can still benefit from a website, but if you enjoy working on computers about as much as you enjoy getting a root canal, then you should start small with an informational site.
    Abramson decided he needed a souped-up website when he wanted to expand his presence on the web, but he realized his informational site was not getting any attention in cyberspace. He hired a site designer (we’ll talk more about how to find someone later) and worked with her for about eight months to get a functioning site that did what he wanted it to do.
    “The main purpose of our site is to generate interest in our business,” says Abramson. He and his employees emphasize the personal touch and building relationships with Halls clients, so Abramson shied away from a full e-commerce site where everything can be done online. Instead his website, www.hallsawards.com, shows and sells a limited number of products, including corporate apparel and promotional products. “Recognition comes in many forms: clocks, apparel, coffee mugs, etc. And in this industry, everything is custom. So we don’t try to list every single item we have,” says Abramson. “It’s more important to us to give people the understanding that there isn’t anything in recognition that we can’t do. We also think it’s very important to have the personal touch in a sale, so we like to talk to the person at the other end of the order when closing the sale. It’s nice to get some information about the person, so you can chat. It’s amazing what happens when you open that line of communication. You find out you both like boating or whatever, and the next thing you know, you have an order.”
    The Bastaraches decided the purpose of R & W’s revamped site would be twofold: to sell items (ranging from ID tags to embossers) and to get new customers to contact the shop. “Our site is aimed at both new and current customers,” explains Roger Bastarache. “Our visitors are about 80% new clients and 20% current clients. We put our vendors’ catalogs online—JDS, Tropar, PDU, etc. Then our customers can see exactly what options they have when they want an award, and they can call us to get the order arranged. Other items that we sell, such as embossers and rubber stamps, allow customers to order directly online. We have been fascinated because everything we put online has jumped in sales. Rubber stamps, for example, were a good part of our business before, and now they’re an excellent part. Or embossers—we used to sell maybe five embossers per month, and now we sell five a week. Everything we have online has picked up.”

 

A look at the Halls' shop from the street.  

Build It Yourself Or Hire A Professional?
    The next major factor to consider when thinking about a website is how to build it. It used to be that you needed to know a special computer language, called HTML, to create a website. No more! Anyone can create a website these days—but you need to figure out whether you actually want to invest your time and energy in such an endeavor before leaping into action.
    There are many “websites in a box” that you can purchase at your local computer software store that will help you create an easy, informational website. These packages range anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. Or, you can usually download trial versions of website software packages for free and try it out for 30 days before deciding to buy. Or, many people choose to hook up with a company that provides “canned” websites, i.e. easy-to-create sites that are not necessarily customized to your needs, but can get your shop’s basic information launched onto the web. But should you go this route?
    Both Bastarache and Abramson say no: it was a waste of money. Colleen Fodrey, a website designer located in Indiana, agrees. “I’ve seen many ‘websites in a box’ on the shelves of people I’ve created websites for,” she says. “In the end, you get what you pay for. Even if you buy a program to help you create the site, you won’t have all the other programs that go into creating the buttons, fine-tuning photos, etc.”
    If you decide to hire someone else to build your site, you’ll have a wide variety of firms and individuals to choose from. “I’ve found that many small business owners are more comfortable hiring another small business for their web design, either a single person or a very small company,” says Fodrey. “Many mom-and-pop shops might be intimidated by big software firms that offer to create a site for you. It all depends on what you’re comfortable with. Some people prefer to talk to just one person regarding all their website needs. With a big firm you might talk to one person about the site design, another person about the artwork and photos, and a third person about maintenance.” On the other hand, working with a small business or a single website designer can have its drawbacks as well. What happens if your web designer gets hurt or dies? What if he or she decides to leave the field? These are all considerations to make when determining who to work with.
    The most important thing is that you feel comfortable with your designer. Whether your web designer is one of your customers who offers to redo your website for you (as in Bastarache’s case), someone you find from a small business-related association (as in Abramson’s case), or your Uncle Maury, you need to be able to openly and honestly discuss your expectations and feelings about the site as it progresses from idea to reality.
    “After we talked about the general direction we wanted to go in, we let our designer run with it!” exclaims Abramson. “She came up with some ideas and drafts, and together we narrowed it down to what we liked and what worked well. She was really good about listening to us and hearing our needs.”
    The Bastaraches found their website designer when one of their customers, Jessica Morin, offered to critique their first website. “When she called us back,” says Roger, “she said, ‘Do you know you’re not getting any hits?’ I said yeah, and she told me it was because no search engines were picking it up. She offered to work with it and do some minor changes, and we said sure! When we started getting calls from the new site, we were so excited! It was like having a baby. In her hands, our website has grown from three pages to over three hundred and fifty pages.” But neither site could have happened without open communication between the owners and the web designers.

 

Time & Cost
    There are many do-it-yourselfers out there who still might be interested in building a site themselves. In that case, don’t forget to factor in the time involved. It may take you an hour to figure out how to do something that would take a professional web designer five minutes. So what is your time really worth? If you can make more money applying your efforts to engraving pieces, ordering supplies and talking to customers than you could save by building your own site, it might be a better idea to hire a professional designer to create the site for you.
    “It probably took about eight months to get our site to where we wanted it,” says Abramson. “It wasn’t our designer’s fault – she’d ask us for something, and we’d get busy and it would take us a few months to get her the info.”
    A website’s cost can vary greatly, depending on what part of the country you’re in, what kind of site you want, and who creates it for you. Basic do-it-yourself website design packages are cheap—no more than a few hundred dollars. If you hire someone, you can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $100,000, all depending on the site you want created. You also need to know up front what future maintenance is going to cost you on a per-hour basis, because websites are constantly changing and, like your car, they require constant upkeep.
    The R & W website changes regularly, Bastarache points out. “We have a special on our home page that changes every month, and we have different icons for the different holidays and events that are going on throughout the year. There’s always something that’s changing visually, so when people return to our site they see something different.” But the Bastaraches don’t make these changes themselves; their web designer makes the changes for them, and they pay her each month for the maintenance she performs. Abramson tells a slightly different story. The revamped Halls Awards site is still fairly new—when this article was written, it had been up for just three months. Although Abramson isn’t having things changed on the site on a constant basis, his web designer spends a lot of time analyzing the data that comes in about who is finding the site and what search engines and key words they use to get there. She and Abramson frequently discuss what key words to use to make the Halls’ site pop up in search engines, and she is constantly fine-tuning that process. “You can easily spend $1000 a month in maintenance,” laments Abramson. “But you have to spend money to make money, and right now we’re just trying to create a presence and get seen on the web.”
    Joanne and Roger Bastarache, owners of R & W Engraving and Quick Copy Center and Al Abramson, owner of Halls Executive Gifts & Awards, are R & I professionals who have committed to building websites. We’ve watched them decide on the purpose of their site, they’ve tried the “quick” method and also experienced the “hiring a professional” method of building a site. Next month we’ll follow them through learning about search engines, registering, hosting and maintenance of their sites.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

EJ HOME PAGE