How to build your site
The importance of an attractive, cleanly designed site can't be understated - both in terms of appearance to potential customers and search engine optimisation. Sites such as Freelance allow you to pitch your website requirements to freelance designers and have them tender for the job, which can be a cost-effective method of finding short-term design help.
Remember, however, that you'll need to update the content of your site frequently. Paying a freelance designer to change a photo could become both costly and time-consuming. Ensure that you know how to make basic changes to your site's content and that you retain full control of the domain registration and hosting, in case you need to move your site.
If you don't want a dedicated web designer, it's possible to go it alone. Microsoft's Office Live and Google Sites allow you to build rudimentary, template-driven sites. But they all look similar, offer little flexibility, and you can forget about e-commerce features. They're a quick way to get a web presence, but not an option for anyone looking to make a living online.
Site-builder services from hosting companies such as Web Central offer more advanced features, such as the option to include online stores, blogs, promotional tools and full visitor statistics. These, too, are usually template-driven, but are more elaborate than Microsoft and Google freebies.
Be aware that although SiteBuilder tool comes free with Web Central's shared hosting plans, extras such as an e-shop, forums and online voting tools cost extra, and transferring your website and store front to another provider may not be possible.
Another possibility is using a ready-made platform, such as WordPress. It's best suited to content-driven sites seeking ad revenue, but WordPress plug-ins allow you to add store fronts.
A Content Management System (CMS) offers the most flexibility to design a fully featured website. It needn't cost the earth either: free CMSes such as Drupal and Joomla power many commercial websites. The CMS stores all the website's text, photos and videos in its database, and provides forms for entering new articles on to the website, making it easier for employees who aren't fully versed in HTML to update the site.
Not all small businesses will want to take the trouble to set up a CMS, especially if they lack technical skills. Some ISPs provide a managed CMS service, but you'll still need to learn the ropes.
Software such as Mr Site Takeaway Website Pro can also be used to design a shop front .