By DEREK NEUTS, MS
As a small business owner or manager, do you consider your small business website to be a part of your company? In other words, does it have the same (or similar) marketing budget as your other platforms? Does your website have a game plan with a specific, outlined purpose, or was it built “because everyone else has one”? A website should have a purpose, such as generating revenue goals through tangible, measurable acts, such as providing leads through a sales funnel process, providing consumer education on new products and services as part of a pre-sales initiative, or selling products and services directly to one’s customers. Without a purpose, and a strategy to achieve those goals, a small business website is nothing more than a form of advertisement that takes up space, doesn’t make sense, and can’t communicate with your target audience. This type of planning doesn’t apply to any of your other marketing efforts, so why should it apply to your website? If this sounds like your company or situation, you’re not alone, as this is a very common oversight when strategic and contingency planning is lacking.
While you may be tempted to build your own website, thinking that you’ll avoid what’s being discussed in this article, my advice is simple: don’t. Instead, deal with these business issues head-on and manage them instead of allowing them to manage you. All too often, I encounter a combination of operational and decision-making factors that boggles the mind and increases the odds that a project, product, or service will fail. Most of these issues are budget centric, such as:
The website is both a marketing and advertising tool, as it provides you with a strategic platform to build awareness through indirect branding, consumer education, and indirect purchase influence (the marketing piece), along with a more direct approach across online channels to present the offerings and ask for the sale (the advertising piece). While specific marketing and advertising techniques through your website can’t be included in this particular blog post due to time and scope, the act of not budgeting for either of these critical functions can only lead to financial and operational hardship. Your site isn’t an electronic bulletin board or a neon sign that you “set and forget”. It’s just like a document, living and breathing, that can be updated based on your needs. Neglecting your site is the same as neglecting any other special project or department, and you negate the point of your business model by failing to integrate your site.
Of course, the thought process surrounding what the customer will “like” is subject to what the owner or manager likes, without the foresight to understand that the user flow, design schema, content, and context has to be relevant to the customer. Parallels between how the company represents itself and conveys that information to the target audience must be based on fact, not feelings or speculation, as not all potential users think, browse, or react like the owner or manager who is in charge of developing the site.
You, as the owner or manager, need to make a conscious decision to actually include your website in your business model as an extension to branding, marketing, and advertising functions, providing it with equal importance in the bottom line. Failing to do this can not only waste valuable resources you may or may not have by spinning your wheels in subset areas of marketing and advertising but can also show the world that you either don’t care or that you’re uneducated about the purpose of having the site, to begin with. No one wants to be that person, and there’s always time to change your filters and practice viewing these aspects of your business differently. The same amount of care that goes into any other marketing campaign should be poured into decisions regarding the website, but that’s often not the case. Money and budgets often come in as the arbitrator of decisions regarding the website on face value, without consideration to the business model. The knee-jerk response is to get the cost of development pushed down as much as possible instead of focusing on getting the job done right, which also entails a realistic assessment of needs. This can also include ensuring that the individual, agency or team working on your project is also the right fit, that their qualifications are a match for the objectives at hand, and that development costs are at reasonable market rates. I will never recommend any company to “go cheap” as it’s only going to hurt the business in the short and long-term planning phases, and you’ll end up hiring someone all over again to pull it out and redo work that should have been done right the first time.
All too often, small business owners without any project management guidance will create a small business website based on their own needs, wants, and desires, as opposed to those of their customers. This is a huge issue that can sabotage any small business, as the owner or manager plays the role of a web designer without having such expertise, and then makes generalized assumptions about what their target audience will like. Of course, the thought process surrounding what the customer will “like” is subject to what the owner or manager likes, without the foresight to understand that the user flow, design schema, content, and context have to be relevant to the customer. Parallels between how the company represents itself and conveys that information to the target audience must be based on fact, not feelings or speculation, as not all potential users think, browse, or react like the owner or manager who is in charge of developing the site. It’s human nature to make assumptions such as this and project them onto others, but it can really hurt your business.
Not only is this behavior poor leadership, but it’s aggravating to the developer (if you have one), as they’re not being allowed to follow best practices in their own profession. To avoid scenarios like this, listen to your developer, and if they have project management and marketing professionals on their team, utilize those resources. It’s okay to not have all the answers and defer to an external source, rather than pretending to have all the answers and wasting valuable time and money following pursuits that aren’t evidence-based. If your small business website project has an official project manager on board that works with your web developer from the same agency or is contracted to work with them, then this is an excellent person to discuss your project goals with. Their job is to listen to your needs, come up with a realistic set of options for you, and generate a proposal based on your budget, timeframe, and business objectives. They are very used to seeing a variety of challenging situations and yours may be no different, but they should be able to professionally handle it.
The bottom line is that your small business website must be aligned with your business model, and have a true purpose and strategy if it’s going to be considered an asset to your marketing and advertising efforts. In another blog post, I’ll also discuss an extension of this topic, one that’s also just as controversial that discusses delusional belief systems and how these projected management practices can skew site vision, leadership, direction, and provide a business with “just a website” that doesn’t function as intended. When scenarios like this occur, everyone gets blamed for poor performance, except for the small business manager in charge of the site build.
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