Your expectations about what a website can do for your business need to be realistic. A website is not a "magic bullet" for your business, as some web developers would like to have you believe. It will not by itself dramatically increase sales or boost profits. Rather, a website is a necessary part of doing business, like having a fax machine, or a yellow-pages advert. These days most customers expected that a business will have a web presence.
Most businesses don't need a very complex website with features like shopping cart facilities, but it does need to be appropriate to your products, services and clients. Increasingly, customers are using the internet to research services and gather information to allow them to make better informed buying decisions. Businesses who are ready to help provide that information will generally profit from the investment, and gain a competitive advantage over companies that do not.
Good design and usability of your site is important because your website says something about your business. A website doesn't need to be large or fancy, but is should be competently built, reliable and professional. I have seen some quite large Western Australian companies whose web presence looks like it was built by someone's 14-year old nephew who "knows about computers". Your web presence is an aspect of your marketing, and it is too important to leave to an amateur.
It should be recognised that a website is part of your overall marketing strategy. For all the technology and hype, it is merely another form of communication. All the traditional rules of business and marketing still apply. It should be integrated with and supported by your more traditional marketing strategies like fliers, yellow-pages advert or newspaper advertising. A simple start to integrating your strategies would be to put your web address on your yellow-pages ad. Many potential customers want to gather more information before actually calling you. If your business is the one that helps them, they are more likely to contact you.
Your website needs to be more than just an electronic version of your brochure. To be effective, your site needs to allow your customers to take some action. At the very minimum, it should allow a potential customer to send you an email. This is a very simple and easy to create website feature that can quickly start the dialogue between you and your customer. However, you need to make sure that you monitor your email enough to make this feature worthwhile. I once sent an email enquiry asking for some information about holiday accomodation, but by the time I received a reply a week later, I had already booked and paid for alternative accomodation. As a general rule, email enquiries need to be replied to within 24 hours.
Design your website to suit your customers. They are the ones who will be using it, so it needs to be designed to meet their needs. To effectively design a site, you need to know what information or services your customers will be looking for, and make these things easy and obvious to find. You will be surprised by the number of websites that aren't designed with the customers needs in mind. Know your customers and design your site to meet their needs.
A website should not be about technology - it is about customer service and business. However, some technologies are available that are appropriate to market or sell particular services. For example, mailing lists can allow customers to subscribe and receive regular news from you about specials or changes to services. This 2-way communication can build a useful relationship. A warning though: the watchword here is "appropriate". I was looking to buy some large terracotta pots, and found the website of a large supplier. The website was mainly a virtual reality tour so I could pan around and look at the large showroom and premises. It was very impressive, but completely inappropriate use of this technology. The site didn't tell me about the product range, availability or price. I could see some pots in the distance as I panned around the showroom, but I didn't find the information I needed. I didn't want to buy the showroom, I wanted some pots. I went elsewhere.
In summary, customers expect that a business will have a web presence. A good business website needs to be designed to meet your customers particular needs. It should be reliable, give visitors a sense that your business is professional, and give them an easy way to contact you or place an order.