There’s a lot riding on a business website. It has to convey brand identity and professionalism and communicate the right message to visitors. Every detail plays a role, from the logo to the text to the design and functionality.

Although you may know all of this, perhaps you are like one of my clients, Marsha Friedman of EMSI public relations, who, despite knowing the importance of a good website, put off developing a new one for five years.

“I knew how important every detail was, so I was afraid the process would be long and painful and still, in the end, I’d be dissatisfied,” says Friedman.

I am amazed by the volume of calls I receive from high-level business people like Friedman, who have “fantastic” websites designed by the hotshot friend of the nephew of their sister’s third cousin. But their product, service or book is just not selling from the site.

They’ve spent months, sometimes years, developing their businesses or products, writing their books or becoming experts in their fields. Then, three weeks before they launch into the market, they grab the least expensive “web guru” they can find to build them a site.

Here are the five things I tell prospective clients so they can avoid this blunder:

  1. Have a clear understanding of your objective. If you don’t know or understand your needs and goals, you can’t explain them to your web developer. Think it through, and if you don’t understand something, do some research. Your web developer, regardless of his or her talent or expertise, will be only as effective as your instructions.
  2. Allow enough time to fully develop your site. You can’t be effective if you just slap six web pages together and attach a “Buy Now” button. Fully develop your strategy and content before you jump in. You can’t build a house without the right tools, materials and adequate time. Developing a website is no different. Without a blueprint, you’re just throwing darts at a board.
  3. Don’t be married to it. Be prepared to adapt. Don’t get too emotionally attached to your initial website idea. An experienced developer will help mold your initial concept into a polished, functional and, hopefully, beautiful online destination. Your developer should help you navigate the pitfalls, and you should trust in his or her expertise. When your developer gives you advice, it’s a good idea to listen. (Most of us have made all the mistakes already.)
  4. First impressions mean everything. The concept, content and message of your website are ultra-important. On the Internet, image is everything. Your site needs to clearly convey your message, and visitors should be able to easily find the information they’re looking for. You have eight seconds—yes, eight seconds—to capture their interest. The first thing your visitors see will make a huge difference in whether they stay with you or rush off to the next site.
  5. You can’t sell what people can’t find. So, now you have a perfectly developed website. It’s beautiful, it wows people, but you’re not selling squat. Why aren’t people ordering your rainbow-colored propeller hats? Because nobody knows about them. Without traffic, your website means nothing. So, your next step is media exposure, from building your social networking connections to getting into print or on TV and radio.

Make your website the cornerstone of your promotional efforts and before you know it, your awesome propeller hats will be flying off the shelves.

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Joe Thomas is the founder and owner of Left Brain Digital (www.leftbraindigital.com), a web development company. An award-winning web designer/developer, Thomas has more than 18 years of experience in print and web design and development.