Often businesses try to reduce their web design costs by trying to do it themselves. This is fine as long as they know some basic programming or knows someone who can help them with the programming. If you do not know some basic html programming, it would take a much longer time for you learn the various aspects of web design and then build the website. Of course, there are products like Dreamweaver that could help you, but you still have to learn how to use the program and along the way you will realize that Dreamweaver is not a magic software. After all that work, the final product might not have that "WOW" effect that your customers would appreciate and you might not get the return on your investment of time and money. Furthermore, if time is money (and I firmly believe that it is) think about all the time (read money) you have lost in the process.

A better solution to this is to do the non-technical aspects of the web design project yourself and then hire a professional to do the heavy lifting that involves knowledge of programming languages. This will reduce your cost and time involved in getting a business website and at the same time you will have a product that is functional and useful for your customers.

Before you do anything about getting a website, do your research. Visit your competitors websites and make a note of the things you like and dislike. Also browse through websites that might be completely unrelated to your business and see if there is any particular website that catches your eye in terms of the look and feel. In this case, again identify the things that you like and dislike about each of these websites. There are things you can do yourself with no programming knowledge that can considerably reduce your cost of web design. For this first take a look at the various steps involved in web design:

Visit your competitor's websites

I am sure you have heard this and done it many times. Yet when you sit down to draft your website, you do not have much to go with. This is because we often make the mistake of visiting our competitors website as a business owner with a critical eye. To make the best of your time, visit your competitors website as a customer. Navigate through their website. Look at everything they offer on their website. Depending on what type of business you are in, make a note of the following:

  • Home page: What kind of information is provided on the home page? How is that information displayed - using images, flash or highlighted text?
  • Content and page navigation: Make a note of the menu items and features on their website. For simple informational websites, look for the flow of pages (menu navigation), how the information on each page flows into the other, color patterns, lay out of the pages, any interactive features that allows the customers to provide feedback etc. If it is an e-commerce website, look at the way the products are categorized, features that make it easier for customers to search for the products, how the featured products are highlighted and marketed, what is listed under each product - colors, size, numbers, model, manufacturer, price, discount etc.
  • Interactive features: Make a special note of the online tools your competitors use to engage their customers. The key to a successful online business is to engage your online customers. In a brick and mortar store, when a customer walks in, you immediately greet and acknowledge them, ask them how you could help them and present the different ways your products and services could help solve their problem. The same should be true for your online store. If you just build a website with information but no way for your customers to interact with you, you will lose them as soon as they come to your website.

Identify and finalize the website design

This includes the color scheme, page elements, images  and layout.  To finalize the website design put together the following:

  • Color Scheme: If you already have a logo, then the color of your website will be dictated to some extent by the colors in the logo. In either case, decide on a combination of two or three colors for your website. Again visiting other sites that you like (does not have to be your competitors) could help you with the color palette. Decide the background colors of your page, colors on the heading bar (where the logo is shown), color for text and links on your website.
  • Page layout and navigation: Decide the pages you want on your website and lay out the page navigation for your website - menu and sub-menu items for the website. Then for each page note down what elements you wish to have. For example, username/password box, advertisement bars, mortgage calculation form, related articles, menu, image gallery, videos etc. If you plan to have several features on the website, it would help to draw a rough sketch of the pages with these elements. You might not want to show the login box in all pages. So specify which pages to show it on. This sketch can be easily drawn using Microsoft Word or by hand on a piece of paper, nothing high-tech is needed. If you are comfortable with image software like Photoshop, you could also use that to sketch out an outline of your website pages. Web developers greatly appreciate getting a well defined page layout scheme from their clients.
  • Images: If you are comfortable with image software like Photoshop or Fireworks, you could also go ahead and create the various images for your website - logo, specials and promotions, images for gallery etc.
  • Content: Finally write down (by hand or using Microsoft Word) the text for each page - About Us, Home, Services etc.

Creating this layout scheme will also help you to give very clear instructions to the developer which can help to reduce later disappointments. From the perspective of a web developer, having all this information upfront reduces the time they have to spend going back and forth with the client to just get the initial information on what is it that the client wants. Remember, even the best web developer needs instruction on what is it that YOU like. A good web designer tries to develop a website that meets the clients taste. When you approach a web developer with all this well laid out information, you have a better chance of getting a discount on the cost of web development.