When working with new clients, McLain applies the same principles he used to build his own business. "I tell them to announce their Web addresses in print and radio ads and in press releases," he says. "Even if someone doesn't intend to buy your product or service, there's a natural curiosity to look at a home page. It's like browsing through a magazine. It's fun."
"Clients often don't know what the Web site should do," Stoner says. "If the design firm is doing its job, it should start by asking a fundamental question: `How am I going to make the Web site work for my client?' It's not about what to communicate, but how to communicate."
Talented designers concentrate on creating an engaging environment that communicates something important to the viewer, according to Brewster. "It's not about ramming information down people's throats," he says. "Often, 200 carefully chosen words can say more than 2,000."
It takes time and thought to create an imaginative Web site. Depending on the complexity of the information and the client's goal, Brewster charges from $15,000 to $200,000, and has taken up to several months to launch a site. (His fees also include the updating of his clients' sites.) McLain confines himself to smaller projects, and charges between $300 and $2,100 to create a Web site. "I spend a lot of time coming up with good estimates," he says. "If I miscalculate my bid and the project runs appreciably over my estimate, I wind up losing money."
As for attracting new clients, both men emphasize the importance of selling value. "Just telling someone you can design a fantastic Web site doesn't demonstrate anything," McLain says. "A prospective client must see the value in doing it. They have to understand how it can fatten their bottom lines."
"New sites are being launched every day," McLain says. "Every site, good or bad, can be a lesson. Evaluate each one to find out if it's accomplishing anything. Ask yourself what you would do to improve it. That basic question will keep you razor-sharp."
McLain stresses the importance of frugality in the beginning. Monitor your expenses and try to get things done cheaply. "Don't make the mistake of expanding before you're ready," he says. "Don't make the assumption that business will get better. The only time to expand is when you have enough business to finance it. Even then, make sure you're able to keep up the momentum. The one thing you don't want to have to do is pull back."
As business improves, McLain recommends contracting work out until your business stabilizes. "It's a good way to handle more business," he says, "and is certainly cheaper than putting someone on your payroll." Both men agree that growth ought to be carefully planned and constantly evaluated.