It starts off as merely an interest. Next thing you know it's a hobby. After a while, that hobby begins to generate revenue. Before you know it, you've got a small business on your hands.
That's how at least five Web page designers in Wilmington launched
their careers in one of the trendiest employment markets since folks began
The Wilmington Yellow Pages now list 16 places to go to get a Web
page designed for your business. And there could easily be twice as many people
in town ready to earn a quick $200 by putting your business' portrait on the
Internet for the world to see.
Wilmington's rapid business growth over the past 10 years has
coincided with the reliance of most businesses on computers -- and the drive by
most to create an Internet presence.
Nowadays, some consider a Web site as vital for a business as an
office or store.
"It's essential right now," said Wally Bock, a Wilmington
resident and author of four books about how to improve a business. He has a
special analogy about the importance of Web sites for business.
He said it's comparable to how a dog reacts to the sound of another
dog on television. It gets excited and wags its tail, until the sound is turned
off. Without being able to hear or smell the television dog, your dog loses
interest. According to Mr. Bock, having a Web site does the same for a business.
"Without a Web site, you don't have a scent," he said.
"It's very important," said Susan Jensen, owner and sole
employee of SuJen Web Design. "Every
product has to have a Web site. If you want to expand, you've got to get
there," she said.
Mrs. Jensen runs her small design business from her home in New
Hanover County. She has a computer station set up in her kitchen, where her four
little white terriers scamper around her feet and yelp as she works.
Like many of her peers, Mrs. Jensen was a stranger to the world of
computers only four or five years ago. In 1996, her husband, Jerry, who works,
"the 12-hour shift" as a production associate at Corning, bought her
first computer. The computer came with a genealogy program that got her looking
on the Internet for her relatives.
"Before I didn't know what the big deal was," she said.
"That was the catalyst."
Mrs. Jensen started absorbing everything she could about computers,
the Internet and Web design. The next thing she knew, it was 2000, and she had
13 clients for whom she had designed pages.
"I love it," she said. "I get all the satisfaction
when they tell me they really love their page."
Mrs. Jensen started her business small, and plans to keep it that
way for now.
"I just want to see people get started. I'm not out to be a
CoastalNet," she said.
Mrs. Jensen may be content where she is, but others are not. Other
designers, including Justin Luttmer of Inferno Web Design and El Brant of
elBrant design, have aspirations that extend beyond their current customer base,
and their livelihoods depend on it.
Mr. Luttmer got into Web page designing in college as a means to
make some extra cash. Eventually he decided it was the only thing he was
interested in, and thus turned it into his livelihood. At 23 years old, he has
moved back to his home in Wilmington after attending Washington University.
"I'm not as busy as I'd like to be, but it's picking up,"
said Mr. Luttmer, who so far relies purely on word of mouth to network his
business, much as Mrs. Jensen, Ms. Brant, and so many others do.
"I've been networking and going to things like Chamber of
Commerce functions," Mr. Luttmer said. "Advertising hasn't gotten me
So far, most designers seem to think there's enough business to
support them all.
"It's an expanding market," Ms. Brant said. "People
said it was going to die down, but it's becoming more and more a part of our
Not everyone's convinced, though.
Picking a designer
"There are too many designers out there," Mr. Bock said.
"Close to half of them do not know what a good business Web site is."
Mr. Bock said there is a strict procedure he recommends to those
who are trying to sort through 40 or 50 designers who all look the same and all
want their business.
"The first thing I do when I meet a designer is ask him to
name five good business Web sites in a similar industry. That's the on/off
switch. If he can't do it, I immediately go elsewhere," he said.
The next thing to do, Mr. Bock said, is to ask the designer to name
five good, relevant business sites that he or she has done. "If they've
never done a good business site, you don't want them to start with you."
Another important point is to make sure the designer is someone you
would like to have associated with your business.
"If they have bad hygiene, or are rude or whatever, who cares
if they're a good designer?" he said.
The final point to remember is to make sure the designer knows how
to handle all the technical specifications that you think you might want for
your site. That includes owning the right software and machines that are capable
of getting the job done.
"If you want to set up an e-commerce Web site for your
hardware store, and you have an inventory of 200,000 items, you want a designer
who knows how big database stuff works," Mr. Bock said.
A final smart move, he said, is to read the fine print in the
"You want to make sure that you own the site after its
finished," he said. If it came down to it, a judge might very well hold
that the site is the artistic property of the designer.
Most Web designers agree that the most important characteristics
for a Web site to have are fast load time, easy navigation, and a specific
"The little guy has to define what he does very quickly,"
said Ron Vigneri, owner of vetechnet.com, a division of Wilmington-based Venture
Enterprises. "That means good graphic content, not a lot of reading and
reasonable download time."
"Give the public what they want," said Beth White, owner
of Abouttimeonline.com. "Know who your target audience is and what they
Price of e-commerce
Designers are learning that there is a lot more to a good Web page
than just making it attractive.
"I don't want the Web site to be an afterthought for a
business," Ms. White said.
The services of Web page designers stretch beyond the simple
creation of the site. For instance, a site will not benefit a business if the
customer cannot find it.
"I design all my sites for Yahoo! submission," Ms. White
said. She said Yahoo! is running about three months behind schedule; it's one of
the few engines that still uses humans to update its lists and designers it's
still the top site to aim for. It can be tricky getting your site on an engine,
but once done it can make the difference in getting your site "hits,"
"I recommend a few sites to all my clients," said Ms.
Brant. "There's Infoseek, Excite, Lycos, Hotlist and others. You have to
give each site special attention and really do what they want you to do to get
on their search engine."
Besides helping to get your site on a search engine, designers will
offer to contract for yearly maintenance of your site. If things suddenly stop
functioning as they should, who better to fix it than the person who designed
Many designers will also offer some sort of hosting contract as
well. For a site to be hosted, it must be part of a larger network or server
that organizes all the incoming hits and information that deluge a Web site.
Most community-oriented designers do not have their own servers, which can be
extremely expensive pieces of machinery. Instead, most have partnerships with
hosts elsewhere in the country.
"I use an international host instead of a local one,"
said Ms. Brant. "Local servers shut down when we have power outages from
hurricanes and things. Those who use a broad-based server don't have to worry
about that as much."
As designers grow their businesses, they could conceivably evolve
into some of the larger companies that you may have heard of. With 300,000
subscribers from Roanoke Rapids to Wilmington and in 37 counties, CoastalNet
holds the title of the largest Internet provider in eastern North Carolina.
"We currently have four designers in Wilmington," said
Janine Bilodeau, who handles Web sales and marketing for CoastalNet in
Wilmington. "We have seven more designers in western North Carolina who
will be moving here soon."
CoastalNet is owned by Durocom, an Orlando, Fla.-based,
full-service Internet provider that has a handle on the medium-sized markets in
The costs of having a web page designed for a business are as
diverse as the people who design them. Prices range from $50 for a single, basic
page, to more than $1,000 for a full site with multiple pages, maintenance,
search engine application and all the latest bells and whistles that make a site
The illustration at right shows a cartful of Web pages from local