Web terms SME operators need to understand #4: Scalability
Of all the terms we are exploring in this series of blog posts, this is probably the most critical in terms of saving you significant cost and pain over the duration of your online journey.
Put simply, “scalability” refers to the ability of your website and its underlying website platform to “grow with you” affordably. So instead of being confronted with considerable cost when you want to add a new feature or section to your website, it has already been foreseen and planned to ensure only a small additional cost and sometimes nothing at all.
As it turns out, it’s THE single issue that most frustrates or restricts the small business operator as they are confronted with unforeseen costs for adding what amounts to a simple technology feature.
Taking advantage of your inexperience
The fact is that the majority of small business operators have little understanding of the kind of website features they are likely to need in future.
This quite understandable lack of knowledge is often exploited by unscrupulous web “professionals” who know full well what your future developments are likely to be, but conveniently for them, fail to build in this “future proofing”.
So when you turn to them to add new features or functionality, they rub their hands together in the knowledge that you either have to accept their charge to do so, or face the cost of re-building the website from scratch.
So you actually want to alter your website?
Probably the most common example of this occurs with Content Management Systems (CMS) – tools that allow you to alter or edit your website content without needing a degree in Computer Science.
What happens is that the unsuspecting business operator briefs a web designer on their website requirements and fails to specify that it should come with a CMS.
So the designer provides a quote and in turn wins the business and builds the ensuing site – knowing full well that they will have to be hired for the ongoing maintenance of the website.
Once the business operator realises that they need to actually alter the website on a regular basis, and once they start getting expensive maintenance bills from the designer, they ask for a CMS to be added to the site.
The problem is that adding a good CMS “after the fact” is a major renovation, usually costing more than the original site build.
All care, no responsibility
Because the business operator didn’t brief the designer to include this capability in the first place, the designer feels that they have a legitimate claim to charge for building it in later.
But truth be known, they often know full well that you will be needing a CMS in future so deliberately withhold this information from you, hoping to ‘lock you in” to a future and considerable expense.
Alternatively they can actually lie altogether and say that due to the way the site is “structured” a CMS can’t be provided.
And because you haven’t asked for the CMS, you have your hands tied and are forced to cough up.
I’ve literally come across dozens of situations like this, where the developer concerned has literally tied the hands of the business operator by failing to properly future-proof their initial work.
So how do you ensure you have a “scalable” website or web platform?
Knowledge is power
Like pretty much anything else of a technical nature, you need to do two key things:
1) Ask around for good supplier experiences.
2) Arm yourself with enough knowledge so as you can question your web professional in an informed manner.
Much scalability depends on the industry you are in. But having worked on literally hundreds of website projects, I can tell you how most website requirements grow over time.
First is the need for the aforementioned CMS, then, if your product or service is appropriate, a secure eCommerce (shopping cart) capability. Most eCommerce sites in turn require at least a simple Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system – a fancy name for a client database.
Before long a business operator will want to take advantage of the brilliant Return On Investment that email marketing can provide, so will need an Email Marketing System. At some point they will also want to measure the effectiveness of their web presence so need comprehensive traffic statistics.
Soon enough, many realise that online forms or surveys are a great way to collect information while improving productivity. Once they start to add regular content, they realise that it would be very useful to have dynamic homepage capabilities – where news headlines and snippets can be added without having to re-design the front page of your site.
And on it goes, depending on all kinds of factors.
Now if these features aren’t included or at least planned for at the outset, you can literally be up for tens of thousands of dollars as you add them one by one.
But if your web professional has any degree of integrity, they will allow for many or even all of them from the outset, making your online evolution as painless as possible.
If your designer or developer isn’t looking after you in this way, it may well be time to find another.
Have you had a bad experience due to a lack of scalabilty? Tell us all about it by commenting below.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.