Create a mock-up and other suggestions before you get started
Use Photoshopor other graphics software to create a site mockup. (Layout and Design) Mock-ups allow you to make preliminary decisions about your general layout and site appearance. It can be useful to make several mockups with menus and graphics. Use your mockups to try several different design layouts. Don't be afraid to experiment. Leave plenty of whitespace but be creative in your layouts of menus and text.
Look at other websites and find interesting designs. Bookmark the websites that you find interesting. If you find a website that you really like, think about emulating the design on your own page. You're not going to copy someone elses work, but you might want to mimick their approaches and designs in your own designs.
While looking at other peoples' work, Look at the front splash page. What do you like or dislike about the opening page?
Observe the structure of the site. What is interesting about the navigation of the site?
Can you immediately determine the purpose of the site?
To what degree does the site's purpose guide the design choices? Is the webmaster doing a good job communicating his / her message through his / her design?
What kind of design features might users expect from a site of this type? Is their design elegant, dignified and easy to use? Or is the design difficult to navigate and not logical in its placement of content?
What ideas can you get from the sites that might work well in your site?
Print out your mock-up's and give them to several people to evaluate. Evaluation is important because other people might see things in your design that you have not considered. Attach a survey to the mockup that your sample audience could printout to give you feedback.