More and more small businesses are developing a web presence, often without any experience of either graphic design or Information Technology (IT) services. A basic website can cost anything from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand and at any business event you'll find web designers queuing up to help.

Many websites are below standard. In business today, your website is your shop window – but many people seem to be trading from the back of a van!

So, if you suspect your web site is letting you down, what can you do to improve it without wasting your money?

The first step is to take a deep breath and ask a few customers what they think of your site. Try comparing it with other, similar businesses and with any written promotional material your company has produced. Does the web site support your overall brand image, or does it do something else altogether? Do you have information, articles, newsletters and other content that could make the website more informative?

If the feedback convinces you that a new website is a must, your next challenge is to find someone who can help you achieve the right result. Web designers vary a great deal in terms of quality, speciality and cost! Finding the right person can be difficult.

Compiling a brief

A detailed brief will assist a web designer in delivering a website to exact specifications. Erica Smeed of Bjornandme.co.uk, specialists in high-quality maternity and children's wear, commenting on her experience of sourcing a web designer said: “I wasted a great deal of time answering questions – next time I will provide a more detailed brief and only deal with people who can match my requirements.”

Spending time on detailing your requirements including branding and cost will help you communicate what you want.

Selecting the right person

Obtaining samples of past work is an important part of the selection process, any good web designer will be able to supply details of websites they have worked on. It's important to choose a designer who either has a style that you like – or someone who can work in a range of styles and produce something that suits your business. Equally important is to find someone who is clear about how much they charge and what you will get for your money. Ask the designer to provide a written quotation for the job showing the cost of the planned work and also the cost of any changes or extras that aren't included within the main quote.

The final choice is likely to be down to your personal preference for the way that each designer approaches your project. Ideally look for someone who is enthusiastic about the project and who you feel understands what you are trying to do.

Getting it done

Having made a choice doesn't mean your work is over. The designer will need your help in choosing design options, checking the overall look and feel of the site and in providing text or copy. Many designers find this to be a big issue with clients who promise that copy will be provided but fail to deliver. If you find writing a chore or are just too busy then you should either ask the web designer to help (which may incur further costs) or find a specialist copy writer who can do the job. Of course that means going through the whole briefing and selection cycle all over again!

Business benefits

E-retailing can extend your customer reach, promote your services to a wider audience and boost your bottom line. A well-designed web site can be a real asset to your business – but remember that all that work shouldn't stop at the time of delivery. Once the service is live, it needs to be maintained.