By Stefan Sojka
Don’t throw the real baby out with the virtual bathwater.
There is something about online business that tends to set us up for a huge amount of misaligned expectations. With everything just one click away, the hidden complexities of Web functionality lead people to believe that it all happens auto-magically. Some coder just copy-pasted in a few lines of recycled PHP and ‘whammo!’…instant global success story! I have had people seriously enquire about replicating eBay and/or FaceBook for $5K and honestly believing that should do the trick.
It’s kind of understandable. Most of the hard work is hidden in scripts and files and thanks to the limitless talent of a planet full of awesome GUI designers, everything looks so slick, clean and simple. The Internet is the most complex entity in the known Universe, yet its astounding success is due to its belying simplicity. If it didn’t look and feel easy to use, it would still to this day remain the bastion of computer scientists, hackers and brainiacs.
As a business owner, I still need to contend with the complexities. If my business model is almost exclusively an online model, such as selling downloadable software, I am going to need a team of coders on hand to manage the high level of sophistication involved; security, functionality, payment, membership management. Imagine; a Website as deceptively lightweight as Twitter requires 140 employees to keep it running – at a loss!
The big growth area now seems to be hybrid businesses, with one foot in the online space and one foot in the real world. Think of pizza delivery. You need a complex online system to manage and process customer orders and an efficient off-line operation to get the pizza to my door within 30 minutes. Similarly, sites like Groupon rely enormously on the online component delivering deals and getting online exposure to billions of users, but without the real-world participating businesses delivering on those great offers, Groupon’s image could turn sour real fast.
Then there are your businesses that most of us are engaged in, that operate primarily in reality but use the Web to promote products/services and attract new business. Even the simplest of “brochure-ware” sites need to be created to a high standard to reflect the quality of the business and to have some basic technical expertise applied, even if it is just for contact forms, updating content and measuring the site’s performance.
There is no avoiding the fact that I have to get the technical stuff right. But what will really make or break the operation is everything else. If I expect that the code will magically solve all my business problems and make me an overnight squillionaire, it will be at my peril. Technology alone will not cut it. Why does software keep on getting upgraded? Because it will never be perfect. It’s what we do with it and how we integrate it into our business that counts.
Here’s what I focus on; customer service, communication, quality control, administration systems and processes, accounts, building relationships with valued associates, ensuring (not assuming) that I am on the same page as my customers, diarizing everything, keeping time-sheets, keeping my desk tidy, my files organized, and my inbox manageable. You know, all the stuff that prevents my life and business from descending into a chaotic nightmare and will only get worse the more things grow.
Every business now must have a layer of technology surrounding it and you have to get the right solutions and systems in place. But as technology pervades our lives and the lives of our competitors, it’s the fundamentals of off-line business practice that will determine our ultimate success.