Firstly let us assume that you have the design and content of your site completed as the basis for the rest of this article. It is important to have gotten this far with the development of your web project before you begin the site launch process. It is important, for example, that you not only have the layout and style of your site finalized before you consider launching, but that you also have a minimum amount of content prepared for you site prior to launching it.
Launching a half finished, incomplete site with little or no actual content only discourages first-time visitors to your site from ever coming back. If your site is of an e-commerce nature and you intend to provide a good or service, it is crucial for your company's image to ensure that all the procedures are in place to process orders through your site before you go ahead and launch it.
Upon the completion of your site you may decide to have a design firm or site manager launch the site for you, but this will cost you extra. The alternative is to launch the site yourself, which will save you money while giving you valuable experience in setting up and maintaining your own site.
The first step that you need to take is to secure your domain name, which is the address that your future client will type into their browsers in order to reach your site (e.g. www.YourName.com, www.YourName.ie etc.). The actual content of your domain name is largely up to you, and will reflect your business name and image. Domain names, in general, are quite cheap to purchase and can be bought for 1-5 years at a time. Once you have decided on your name, you must now go to a domain name registrar (such as www.register.ie) to check and see if that name is available. If it is not, then you will have to change your choice of domain name slightly, or perhaps go for a .NET instead of a .COM, for example.
The 'top-level domain name' for Ireland is dot IE, but unfortunately the process involved in registering a dot IE domain name is very complicated. Furthermore, the dot IE domain name is more than twice the price of dot COM's and dot NET's (€70 on average for dot IE compared to €25 for dot NET!). Hopefully, this situation will improve in time.
Now that you have bought your domain name, you will need to purchase some space on a web server to physically "host" (store) your web site, so that it will be available to your clients, 24hrs a day. There are many companies that provide web-hosting packages; in my personal experience some are awful (I could tell you some horror stories!), while others are fantastic. As with the large gulfs in quality of service, there are also large gulfs in the size of the annual fees and hidden set-up charges that many of these companies charge.
If you are operating within Ireland (or even if you are not), then I would like to recommend www.host.ie as a potential web host for your site. They offer a full range of entry-level to advanced hosting options at great prices. Furthermore, their back-end server support for you site is excellent, while your site space will be operational in a matter of one or two days.
Now that you have secured your domain name and hosting option for your site for the first year, it is time to think about how you are going to launch the site. This is a technical process which is beyond the scope of this article, one for which you may need qualified help. You have three options:
A site can run into teething problems in the launch stage, and somebody with solid technical skills may be required to iron out these unforeseen difficulties.
With the very public nose diving of many dot COM's into the pavement in reason months, many entrepreneurs are shying away from the e-commerce start-up sector. For the most part, many of these companies went under because of bad business practices, not because the Internet is bad for business. The most obvious mistake that many of them made was having massive start-up costs, employing too many people too soon, and blowing vast amounts on promoting and marketing a product or service that was probably doomed from the offset. Remember, if it won't sell offline, then it won't sell online.
Due to the coverage of such high-profile financial flops, many start-ups are now opting for a "soft launch" approach. This can give companies the breathing space they need in their first year to get their procedures in order, build their client databases, and build confidence and trust in their brand. The best way to think of this approach is that of a "test phase", to analyze the market, and to see if the demand exists for your product/service.
If the demand is not strong enough to support your venture, then at least you have saved your self the embarrassment (and money!) of an over-hyped launch.
Launching a web site in the current economic climate may seem like foolhardiness in the face of imminent global recession. However, recession's pass, and competitors with higher costs struggle to remain afloat while they are overtaken by more streamlined, low-cost ventures out competing them in meagre times.
The key to launching your site successfully is to be realistic about costs, only do those actions that you know you are capable of doing, and pay professionals to do the rest. The days of dot COM's spending $1 million on the building of a web site before it has even been launched are over, that kind of venture capital is just not there anymore. The low-cost, soft launch approach holds the answer to your future e-commerce success.
Updated 2020 : note that the above post is out-of-date, given this post was originally published in 2001, but is left here for archival purposes.