We often hear people say, "I have a friend (neighbor/relative/etc.) that can make a website for me." It may be tempting to save a buck upfront and go this route. And actually, if that friend/neighbor/relative is a professional website designer, then that may be a great route for you to take. But many times the freebie or cheap site that you get is...well...not befitting of your professional image.
I have one very strong word of advice -- you get what you pay for. Truly, in this area, you do. I've seen many businesses go the cheap route and get friends or family to do their site, and it looks like it -- like someone threw together a site with Frontpage. If it's for a very small business that's just for fun (like scrapbooking for people) or something else small time, then that might be okay. But if this is for a profitable, professional business, then you definitely want your website to reflect your professionalism. I just can't stress this enough.
In addition to getting a design that you would be proud to have represent your business, a professional will be able to take care of all of the other details. A thorough developer will get to know your business process and be able to make suggestions for your site that will help to achieve your goals, whether it be to increase leads, increase sales, showcase products and services, increase employee productivity, and more.
A professional will be in tune with current design and usability standards, as well as cross-browser compatibility issues. If search engine standings are important to you (and they should be, if you have a business), then you'll want to go with someone well versed in current search engine optimization and marketing trends (it's not as simple as just plunking in some keywords in your metatags, like many people -- including many developers -- think). More importantly, the methods employed for such search engine standings should be ETHICAL. Many fly-by-night companies out there employ unethical practices, which puts you on thin ice to potentially be blacklisted from search engines. Definitely NOT what you want to happen.
There's so much more. Do you want your site to tie in with existing software that your company uses? Are you in need of any custom software or database development? What about secured areas of the site (intranet vs. extranet)? Do you want a seamless, cohesive look and feel to your site, or a hod-podge of third-party tools that are thrown together? Do you need a logo design? And if so, you will definitely want that logo to be top notch, since it will be on every printed piece of literature that your company uses. Check out any potential developer's portfolio. Are the sites visually pleasing and easy to use? Do they load quickly in the browser? Do you have to scroll more than two page lengths down? Do you have to scroll AT ALL to the right (big no no)?
Can you tell I feel very strongly about this? But seriously, that's why major companies pay to hire people full time to do this stuff. Yes, your neighbor's kid can throw something together with a free text editor and some web space from godaddy, but usually it pays to find someone with the experience and expertise, especially when it comes to your professional image.
Foundry Designs provides free, no-obligation website estimates for your projects.
(This post was a contribution from Terri, FDI Vice President)