The most important part of making a great website happens before you pick any images, write any copy, or install any software.
Our clients are counseled to do some important homework prior to starting construction. We think you ought to know a great deal about how others in your industry are using the web. We think you should know as much as possible about what works well for them, and what they could do better. Competitors aside, what about the visitors at the site? Site owners often know a great deal about the people with whom they do business, and a great deal less about everyone else. If a site is built primarily (or exclusively) to serve the existing clients, the results are fairly easy to predict.
Harper Vance is very experienced at doing this kind of research for our clients, and they often comment that the research has greatly altered their thinking about what they desired in a website.
Business isn't war, but it can feel like it when you're constantly fighting battles with inadequate competitive information. Smart site owners spend the time and money to evaluate the enemy's strengths and weaknesses before they go into battle.