Home| About UsPortfolio | Price Quote | Samples| New Article | Request Form | Business Directory | Links  

"Business SHOPPING FOR A WEB DESIGNER; Having a Web site has become a marketing essential. So how does a business find the right designer to create the Internet presence?"

By LEE HOLLAND, Staff Writer

Wilmington Morning Star
Copyright 2000 Wilmington Star-News
E-mail Sujen Web Design

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 getting online.

   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 any business."
   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 lives."
   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 contract.
   "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 message.
   "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 want."
   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," or visits.
   "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 the page?
   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 Southeast.
   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 stand out.
  The illustration at right shows a cartful of Web pages from local designers :