Build Your SMB Web site on a Budget

By Steve Windhaus | Posted September 01, 2004
When I first started my own business consulting shop back in 2000, I quickly realized the only way to reach the regional and national markets — without killing my very limited budget — was to set up a Web site. Cash flow was tight, and I simply could not afford the services of a Webmaster.

After spending my share of time and money reading how-to books and learning the various software programs, I had created a site that's easy to navigate, easy to look at and, most of all, one that delivers the right amount of relevant information.

Developing a Web site involves lots of different steps and processes, but you can't go very far without the software. This article focuses on the variety and the cost of various software programs to get you started.

The Big Three
Many professional Webmasters take great pride in developing Web sites without relying on any of the Big Three in Web site design applications, Adobe Go Live, Macromedia's Dreamweaver and Microsoft's FrontPage. I'm all for on-the-job-training, but WYSIWYG quickly became my favorite acronym.

Pronounced "WIZ-zee-wig" and short for What You See Is What You Get, WYSIWYG helped this dummy learn Web site development. I didn't have the time to learn HTML, the language used to develop documents on the Internet.

With WYSIWYG, you write whatever it is you want to say on your site in plain English (or whatever native language you use). As you insert the content, the program automatically converts what you write into HTML — in the background.

When you're finished, you can view your content as it will appear on the Internet or you can look at as the HTML code. The Big Three applications let you use WYSIWYG in one window and watch the HTML language written in another window.

Personally, I don't care how the HTML works. I stay in the WYSIWYG window. Over time, I have developed a degree of HTML literacy, but I only edit minor changes in HTML.

Big Three Pricing
At $199, FrontPage wins the price war compared to $399 for Adobe Go Live and Dreamweaver. On the other hand, Adobe and Dreamweaver have more tools and, complimentary applications that can help you develop a more sophisticated Web site.

When I started my site, I used in FrontPage because it fit my pocketbook. It's much easier to learn, but lacks the layout and graphic "bells and whistles" that Adobe and Macromedia offer. However, those two competitors are working to simply their applications to win over the minds and pocketbooks of dummies like me. Being a creature of habit, I remain with FrontPage, but I also use some of the competitors' tools like Flash, Fireworks and Adobe Acrobat.

Lesser Known but Cool Alternatives
As my Web site development skills grew, I experimented with other, less expensive applications, many of which are not widely known or commonly used in Web site content.


Xara 3-D Software
Design your own Web site logos using Xara 3-D software.

Xara of Great Britain offers an excellent product line of Web site software for graphic and navigation enhancements. Xara 3D, Webstyle and Xara X help you develop logos, 3-D fonts and a wealth of navigation bars and graphic enhancements.

These easy-to-learn applications are compatible with FrontPage and Dreamweaver, and you can't beat the price. Individual applications range from $25 for Menu Maker to $189 for Xara X.

A formidable competitor to Xara and Adobe's Photoshop, Easy WebGraphics (aka NetStudio 2000) offers most of the Xara functions and retails for only $109 ($99 for the download only).

Go with the Flow
You can use flow chart software to graphically demonstrate the steps taken to provide a service, show an organizational chart, and develop a site map and so much more. RFFlow is my favorite. It's inexpensive ($59 for the boxed version), easy to learn and provides excellent results. Other notable flowcharting products that offer much the same qualities include SmartDraw 6 ($69) and IMSI's Flowcharts & More ($39.99)

PDF-formatted content makes it easy for people to download information from your site, and Adobe Acrobat is the product of choice. For example, you can download a free business plan template from one of my Web sites. I wrote the content in Microsoft Word and with the click of an icon, Adobe converted the content into PDF format. I uploaded it to the Web site and now visitors can download the outline onto their hard drives.

Since Adobe costs $299 and $99 for upgrade, you might want to check out Planet PDF to view its comprehensive listing and product descriptions of PDF converters. Surprisingly, prices range from $49 to beyond $450, depending on the functions you choose. Adobe Acrobat isn't cheap, but its reputation and ease of use keeps it in my software library.

Get Graphic


SmartDraw 6 Software
SmartDraw 6 lets you create a variety of charts for your Web site.
For those of you who have worked with graphic software for a few years Harvard Graphics should sound familiar; it's one of the granddaddies of graphic software. Harvard Graphics Pro Presentations 3 package includes applications you can purchase individually, including the chart software, Instant Charts for $29.95.

Finally, Macromedia Flash continues to grow in popularity on the Internet. But you don't have to blow your budget on a $499 copy like I did. Take a look at an inexpensive alternative. WebSmartz 2.1 retails for $59.95. Although I haven't tried the product, $439 savings certainly makes it worth the download. there is one caveat, however It's a download only — you don't get a box, CD or a hardbound user's manual.

In short, you'll find many lesser-known, less expensive options to help you build a Web site. These options not only save you money, they're relatively easy to learn and integrate into your Web site content. Plus they give you control over the layout and content of your site.

Steve Windhaus is principal of Windhaus Associates, a business plan consulting firm serving small, existing and startup ventures throughout the United States and overseas. His clients range from technology-based firms in software development, e-commerce and telecommunications to retailers of ATV's and watercraft and a variety of service firms. Steve is a published author who also conducts training in business plan development and participates as a judge in business plan competitions. Steve can relate to small biz environments relying on computer technology. His skills and use of many related technologies are all self-taught. If you have a question your would like to see Steve address in a future article, send it to us today.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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