In business, one of the most important places on the Internet is your own Website. So why do so many business Websites seem so unplanned, unprofessional and unfinished? Do they really not care, or is something else going on?
I see two main factors conspiring against small business when it comes to Websites. The first is the potential infinite scope and complexity of a Website – this tends to immobilise most people as they don’t know where to start. The second is the false sense of simplicity that the hugely successful Websites lull us all into, giving the impression that they practically built themselves.
As users, we make ‘one-click’ book purchases, transfer money from country to country, bid furiously in auctions and buy plane tickets in the exact same window where we read the ‘about us’ page of our local pest controller. From where we sit, it’s all the same – easy, fast and cheap. We forget that the Auction site spends about $800 million a year on programmers. Perhaps it is understandable that I got a phone call from a guy recently who wanted me to help him build ‘another eBay’ with a $5K budget! As far as he knew, eBay was just a page on a screen with a few buttons on it.
If you want both a good laugh and the reassurance that you are not alone in your own incomprehension of what makes everything tick online, try http://clientsfromhell.tumblr.com – real-world examples of just how out of touch some of us are.
There is hope. With a little research and perhaps a bit of professional advice, you will learn to spot the difference between a $5K site and a multi-billion dollar global enterprise. You might realise exactly where you fit in: Somewhere in between. Simple, affordable Websites can do amazing things, but they can only do what they are paid to do. You are the one paying, so you need to know what you are paying for. So start planning.
Before you approach Web designers for quotes for an unspecified length of string, work out what you want the site to do – write the draft content, collect the images, determine what features would be perfect for your business, decide how you want people to communicate with you, get some legal advice, business advice & technical advice. Draw some rough wire-frames & collect a long list of links to competitor sites, sites you like and sites you hate. Look around and see what other people are doing. Ask yourself why particular sites seem to work so well – they probably planned it that way.
Your Website, if done properly, will be the cornerstone of your business. It performs marketing, communication, branding, positioning, PR, showcase, statistics collection, customer database, Search Engine Optimisation, reputation and good will. It is one of your most valuable assets, performing all these services for you even while you sleep. So invest in it, starting with your own time. Plan, plan, plan!
Try http://www.e-businessguide.gov.au as a starting point, then get out some paper and start scribbling.