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Embarking on a site design project? Here's the homework you should do so that it doesn't become a "Money Pit"...

1. Create a List of Pages - Even if they change at the advice of your site team, you should outline the pages you think your site should have as a starting point for discussion.

2. Sites You Already Like - Create a list of 3 to 5 Web sites you like for their design - and- explain what you like about them. Are there specific colors or fonts? Do you like the site's layout or background pattern? Spend a week or so looking at other Web sites both in and out of your industry. What sort of special tools and features do they have that you might want? It is extremely smart to point to visual examples of what you want.

3. Special Features - Are there any special tools or automations you want? For example, do you want the site to automatically send emails to people who submit a form, or save the form submissions into a database? Do you want to be able to upload a bunch of pictures and automatically create photo galleries? Anything automated is typically going to cost more and you want to make these things clear to find the right company and get an accurate quote.

4. Investigate the Competition - What do your competitors do well and do really badly? Learn from their success and avoid their mistakes. It is easiest to identify the good, bad and ugly before diving into your project so that you'll be looking at things with a fresh eye.

5. Budget - What's yours? Do you know what's realistic and how much you have to spend? (If not, keep an eye out here, I'll be providing a Web Site Budget Benchmark).

6. Timeframe - Do you need the site up by a certain date? Is there an event or marketing push that the site needs to be online for? Typically you'll want give a basic HTML site 6-10 weeks and an eCommerce site 8-12 weeks.

7. Existing Materials - Do you have a logo, business cards, brochures or corporate font? Remember to send your designer anything you can showing how you've presented your company in the past.

8. Content! - Write as much of your text in advance as you can stand. One can never really understand a site so well as when one actually reads the text that is going to be used. Write as much of your text as you can will also help you clarify your needs.

9. Web Site Goals - Exactly what do you hope to accomplish with your site? I always tell people "a Web site is like an employee" you wouldn't hire someone without giving them specific tasks and knowing how they are going to directly impact the bottom line would you? You should treat your Web site the same way.

10. What are your calls to action? - What do you want visitors to do. "Click around and read about my company" is not an acceptable answer. If you are not selling ads, there should be something your site inspires people to do. Call you? Buy something? Join a mailing list? Make sure you know what that is and make sure your Web site accomplishes it.

This is a list that should make most Web site service providers smile with glee.

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