So you’ve decided that it’s time to develop your online presence? Why now? If you answer “because (fill in the blank) told me to”, stop right there.

If you don’t understand why you want a website, you can’t set goals and expectations for your site. Without goals and expectations, your site will be floating around in cyberspace serving only as an expensive (to you) way for customers and potential customers to retrieve your phone number or email address. Quite honestly, your money could be better spent on something more productive.

If you’re contacted by a company offering web design development or a host of any other services related to online media, stop and ask yourself if your company is ready. What do I mean? If you aren’t ready to devote the time and resources necessary to make your online endeavor successful, don’t half-donkey it. The development process is a collaborative effort between you and the company you hire. Don’t just hand over your brand and reputation to someone you don’t know and hope all goes well. Chances are, in the end you’ll get a product you might be okay with. How easy is it to stand behind and promote something you’re just okay with?

How can you be sure you are prepared to take the dive into the online world? There are some questions that you can ask yourself and others in your company:

Why do we want a website? Define the purpose of your site. Do you just want to tell site visitors your company history or do you want to sell them a really cool gadget that you think will change their lives?

What are our immediate goals for the site? Define what features are needed now in order to meet those goals.

What are our long term goals for the site? You need to understand these in the early stages of the project so that you can be sure the current direction will be able to accommodate those goals.

What is your budget for the project? Be realistic, don’t be outrageous. If you budget $100 for a website, the site you get will look like you spent $100.

Who will be responsible for site upkeep? Sounds like a silly question to ask before you even have the site, but there is nothing worse than an out-of-date site. In fact, you’d be better off without a site. People that use the web to find answers to their questions are looking for immediate gratification. If they happen upon your site and it has prices listed from 2008, they are going to expect those prices when they order and will be disgruntled when they don’t get them.

What is our timeline? The time required for each project can differ since the timeline is based on many variables that must work in conjunction to complete the project. If you need to have the project done in a certain period of time, you need to know that and act accordingly. Don’t wait until you have just 2 weeks to go live before you contact a company to do the work. Chances are 1 of 2 things will happen if you do that, they’ll laugh at you or you’ll get a site that looks like it was thrown together in 2 weeks.

Your website and any online marketing you do is an extension of your brand. You need to cultivate , nurture and grow that brand. That means understanding your options and making the best educated decisions regarding your brand. The company you choose should be able to guide you through the process, not tell you that you need a site just to make money.