1. Write out a clear idea of the purpose of the website before you begin any work on it.
Most people skip this step because they think it's obvious, it's important. What is the number one purpose of your website? To bring in new customers? To advertise current promotions and specials? To build trust potential clients before even meeting them? Or simply to keep up with the Joneses?
All are valid reasons for having a website, and most likely you will want to take advantage of all of these, and more, benefits of having an online presence. But unless you have a clear idea of the number one result you want to get from your site, it's unquestionably you will manage to achieve that.
2. Stay objective.
It's tempting to fall madly in love with your new virtual 'baby', especially if you built it yourself. But beware … Down that path there be dragons.
If your number one goal is to bring in new, paying customers to your business each month and if the search engines do not know you exist because your website code is too difficult for them to understand, they will not be able to send you visitors which will hopefully turn into customers down the line.
Or if 90% of the people who come to your site get lost and can not find what they are looking for, they will leave before you are able to convert them into customers.
3. Decide early if it's important to get free search engine traffic.
If it is important to get free traffic, then your designer / developer needs to know that as early as possible, as it will affect how they code the website.
In fact, if it's important to you to then the first thing you should be doing is making a list of keywords, or search terms, that you think your future customers will use to find you on the internet. (If you wait to do that step until some or all of the pages are built, your designer will need to spend extra time changing things, which is money out of your pocket.)
4. Be prepared to work a bit.
I know, everyone says that building a website is a must and it will really help your business, but the real truth is that you get out of a website exponentially how much you put into it. Even if you have hired someone to do the technical stuff, the you still need to give them some of the content. Testimonials are great and often overlooked on small business websites, probably because it takes more time and effort to contact customers and get something written up.
Also, writing a few articles or blog postings about things you feel strongly about will not only help your traffic results but it goes a long way to building trust with the reader before they ever meet you.
5. Pick a good website designer.
First, be sure you have at least done step 1 and step 3 above. Once you have a good idea of what results you want to get from your website and whether or not good search engine traffic is important to you, then you will find it easier to know when you have found a good match or not.
Be sure to look at the websites in their portfolio to see if you like their style.