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Starting your own website: this is the third in a four-part series about childbirth professionals and how they can use the Internet more effectively.

Building a website has many advantages for the childbirth professional, the obvious one being advertising in a way that was previously out of reach for most childbirth educators and birth professionals. It wasn't that long ago that your phone number was the most important thing to have on hand when you met a potential client or student. Now, more often than not, it seems that when you meet a potential client, she'll say, "What's your URL?" when trying to find out more about your services.

The Advantages of a Website

Having a website means that clients can find you 24 hours a day. They can get information about your services and read whatever information you have on your website so that they can get a sense of who you are and what you offer, all without calling while you're having dinner or standing in line at the grocery. The web allows the consumer to do some basic comparison shopping for childbirth professionals, contacting only those who best match their needs.

As the manager of the information that is displayed, you have the unique ability to list exactly what you want known. You can add pictures of your classes, schedules and your biography. You can even have fun areas like a recommended reading list or a section of testimonials from previous clients. If your site is technologically capable, you can even take registrations and payments for services.

The Disadvantages of a Website

As with all good things, websites come with some potential drawbacks. The two biggest are not knowing who is there and how to reach out to them, and not using the technology wisely.

While you would hope that if someone viewing your website had a question, she would contact you for clarification, there is no guarantee. You also lose the ability to ask potential clients/students questions that would help you tailor your website's content to that particular person and her needs. This can be managed with the amount and type of information you include on your site.

Mismanaged technology is probably the larger issue. Not understanding how best to design a website, getting bogged down in too many gadgets and "clutter" on your site, and not responding to inquiries or having bad information will also bring your business down. For these reasons, a website needs to be seen as a responsibility, not merely inexpensive advertising.

Wise Websites

In the process of designing your website, whether you or someone else will do the actual design, look around at other websites that you like. These do not need to be childbirth-specific for the design portions. What elements do they have that attract you? What color schemes? How do they use pictures and images to draw you in? What annoys you when you look at a website?

Now step back and make a list of how you would like your website to work for you. Do you want it to function only as a brochure? Do you want to have a schedule of classes or services listed? What about prices? Or would you like to have the ability to register students for classes?

Think about how potential clients will learn about you. Will you have a biography? Will you post information about your philosophy? Can potential clients call or email you? Will you have a blog accessible from your website? What about a Facebook or Twitter feed?

Who Will Build Your Website?

Once you have a good idea of what you want, you need to decide if this is something that you can realistically build on your own. There are many free sites that allow you to build a website, as well as programs that will help you. If this is something that is fun for you or that you have always wanted to do--go for it! The beauty of a website is that you can change it every five minutes if you want or need to do so. Forget the static brochure!

There is also the option of hiring someone to help you. This often makes a nice bartering project for a client if you know someone who has that skill and needs your services. Other inexpensive sources of website help include a local high school or college student who needs to build a site for a web design class, past clients, or your own children. Do let me say that web work is often underappreciated and even if someone agrees to work for free, it is best to offer them something in return, even if it's a gift certificate for iTunes or for a favorite restaurant. This will help you build a relationship anytime you may need help in the future.

There are also paid services you can use that will take you through every step of the design process. This can cost you as little as $100 to as much as $10,000. You do not need a $10,000 website. For the average childbirth educator, this is not worth the money spent, so when gathering estimates, that one should be dropped from the list.

Doing your homework ahead of time will make this process easier. You should go into this process being able to say nearly everything that you will need:

* How many pages do you need? (Home page, schedule page, bio page, etc.)

* Do you need a logo designed or just scanned and cleaned up?

* Do you want your own domain? (ex. robineliseweiss.com, yourcitycbeclass.com)

* Do you need any special items added? (blog, Twitter or Facebook feeds, etc.)

* What contact information do you want to have listed?

Having a website should not be your total marketing venture, but a good website will bring you people that you may never have reached any other way, regardless of how great your marketing plan was without the internet. Be sure to avoid these small but costly mistakes on your website:

* Check your email or voicemail regularly. Swift callbacks are important to your business success.

* Be professional. Don't try to mix business with pleasure. You don't want to have something silly or unprofessional as your email address. Ex. mombuysjunkcars@aol.com

* Keep schedules up to date. There is no bigger turn-off for a potential student than finding last year's schedule when she wants a class now.

10 Sites to Help You Design Your Website

* http://www.copyblogger.com/imfsp/

* http://webdesign.about.com/od/beginningtutorials/a/ aa060198.htm

* http://html-color-codes.com/

* http://webdesign.about.com/od/strategy/a/hire_web_ design.htm

* http://internic.net/

* http://personalweb.about.com/od/gettingstarted/a/ gettingstarted.htm

* http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/

* http://weblogs.about.com/od/blogdesign/tp/5-Ways-ToFind-Blog-Designers.htm

* http://www.oswd.org/

* http://www.noupe.com/design/ten-most-commondesign-mistakes.html

Hiring a Professional

Whether you pay cash money or barter for professional services, you'll need to know exactly what you are getting. Be sure to ask questions about how the page is set up including information about search engine optimization (SEO) (helping people find your website via search) and how it will be maintained. For example, will they help you with future updates to the page? If so, how often and how extensive can these updates be to be included? Is that included in the agreement or does that come at an extra fee? Are they willing to show you how to maintain your own website? If yes, be sure that you know how to access it and make the changes.

(Good advice: http://webdesign.about.com/od/ strategy/a/hire_web_design.htm)

By Robin Elise Weiss, BA, CLC, LCCE, FACCE, ICPFE, ICCE-CPE Robin Elise Weiss, BA, CLC, LCCE, FACCE, ICPFE, ICCE-CPE, CD(DONA) is a childbirth educator, doula and trainer in Louisville, KY. She lives there with her husband and eight children. You can find her on the web at http://robineliseweiss.com and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/robineliseweiss/and on Twitter @RobinPregnancy.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Growing Your Business
Author:Weiss, Robin Elise
Publication:International Journal of Childbirth Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2010
Words:1316
Previous Article:Pregnancy, Childbirth, and the Newborn: The Complete Guide, 4th Edition.
Next Article:The first issue is born.
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