There are several stages of thought about creating a successful website. The first man simply wants a website because everyone else has it. His website ends up being forgotten about after it's created, and does nothing for his business except possibly drive customers away if they happen to find it. The second person does slightly better. She has a purpose for the website, but doesn't want to invest the time, money, and effort into making it a meaningful tool for her business. The man who develops a well-formed concept around his website and is willing to invest into it, but doesn't know how to go about it or does things the wrong way is our third person. His website will be moderately successful and might even drive in business and profit, but vastly underperforms. Finally, our last business develops a creative plan for their website, much like their well-formed business plan. They do their homework, hire an advisor, invest heavily into their website and end up with a polished product that is a driving force of their business.
Unfortunately, some people create a website simply for the sake of having a website. A business owner may understand the need for a website to survive in today's marketplace, which is a great first step. If he stops at that point his website will most likely do nothing for him. The problem is that he creates this website without having any idea about what its purpose is, what it will accomplish, and what he is going to do with it. This is the first tier man; you'll be lucky to find his website, and if you do it's probably sitting on a free host cluttered with their ads and background textures that date back to Windows 95.
In the United States, approximately 50% of small business startups fail within the first five years. Reasons such as lack of experience, insufficient capital, poor location, and competition are huge contributors to a majority of these failures. The underlying trend in these factors is lack of planning. Everyone of them is avoidable with a good business plan. Perhaps if the entrepreneur had written a business plan, he might have foreseen these difficulties and realized that he could not or was not willing to overcome them in order to succeed and not gone through with the business. This is not to say that making the plan will stop all failures, or that businesses do not succeed at times without fully developed strategies, but the numbers would be better had they outlined their ideas.
The same principles apply with a business website. The organization can't simply search "free websites", slap a few sentences and an image into a tired template, and expect to make something of it.
They must ask questions like these:
Why do I need a website? What is the purpose of my website? What will it accomplish for my business?
This is really the next step for developing a website, right after realizing the need for one. If a business owner never passes out of the first stage, expect the website to be a total bust.
With these questions in mind, he begins to see the website for what it is. This perception will change from business to business, and from person to person. However, a website can generally be viewed as the best and most affordable marketing tool available, and possibly even as an additional sales person (or team) on your staff. For brick and mortar stores starting an e-commerce shop, their website can be viewed and treated as an additional store location.
If for no other reason, you need a website because every business is expected to have a website. Instead of browsing the yellow pages, the average person goes to Google and types in either what they're looking for or (hopefully) your business name. If you don't have a website, you're missing out on valuable customers. On a cost per lead basis, your website will likely become your greatest marketing tool.
Even if you don't sell online, your website can most likely still be viewed as an additional member of your sales team. A business that sells laptops in a brick and mortar store but does not ship them due to insurance costs can still cement the sale via their website. It can give both a positive first impression, and a deeper look into the values of the company. The shopper can decide to buy from you just from the website, or they will decide to visit your store to feel it out better. If they are still deciding when coming into the store, at the very least it will save your salesman time because they already have a good idea about your business. This will save your salesman time, allowing him to close the deal sooner.
A website can generate money for almost any business, either by direct means (online sales) or indirectly. A conversion is not always as simple as going through the checkout process. So with this view of your website in mind, a business has to decide how much they are willing to invest in their website. As with hiring a new salesman, you can't expect it to work for you for free. Tossing a couple hundred bucks at it and saying, "make us some money" doesn't work very well either. It is a continual investment of both time and money. Instead of training, you will develop quality content and a good user experience to best make the sale. Rather than paying an hourly wage or sales commission, you might pay for search advertising or a search engine marketing.
The business owner that fails to plan her website adequately will not realize how much effort is involved in making it successful. She has it built, has some good ideas for it, but after a few weeks begins to realize that it is too much work on her part. She does not have the time or resources to invest. Instead of training a quality salesman that is capable of becoming a valuable member of her team, she neglects him too long and is unable or unwilling to afford his paycheck.
If she does realize ahead of time the involvement in the website and is willing to put forth the effort, chances are good that the website will become a valuable resource for her business. However, without the right research and knowledge it likely still will not live up to its potential. Building, maintaining, and marketing a website is not a side job. It takes someone (or someones) who truly knows what they're doing to maximize its return. As a business owner, you already have a thousand other things on your plate ahead of maintaining the website. Delegating it to someone savvy within your business can work if you are willing to allow them the time to invest in it. This means they will need to become an expert in the field. If you aren't willing to give them the time to study, research, learn and understand the processes behind it then they will fall short of expectations. This is our third tier business owner.
For a healthy, growing business giving the task of maintaining the website and its marketing as a side job to someone within the business is usually a mistake. There are three alternatives. The first one is to allow someone already within the company that understands the inner workings, values, and guiding principles behind the business to devote a majority of their time to the website. This has the advantage of using someone that you already trust and that does not have to spend time learning what you are all about, but they will need to learn all about Internet marketing and maintaining the website.
If you don't have someone already who is willing or able to learn the trade, or can't spare someone, then the next choice is to bring in a specialist onboard your staff. They already are knowledgeable about their trade, they just need to learn your business. Likely this learning curve is smaller than having a current staff member trained in their field. The biggest difficulty is usually going to be paying the cost of that specialist.
The final alternative is to hire a consultant, or a consulting company. They already know their trade and will most likely be less costly than paying a full time staff member. The disadvantage is they will not become as integrated with your business. This is a more viable option for smaller scale companies that cannot afford or don't need a full time employee for their website. Hiring a part time employee to maintain your website and Internet marking might also make sense for your business.