How much does your web professional really understand your business?

There’s an epidemic happening to smaller business operators out there, and Australian SMEs are not immune.

Worse still, they usually don’t know it’s happened till it’s too late.

That epidemic is called ‘dead end websites’.

The condition occurs when web designers or developers, either by design or out of ignorance, create a website that will not grow with the needs of the business client without significant and often prohibitive expense.

Absent scalability

In other words they create a website that lacks all important ‘scalability’ – the ability of your website and its underlying platform to add new functionality easily and affordably.

Before you know it, you are up for a considerable sum of money if you want your website to take on the functionality, design and content improvements you are now ready to adopt.

And when you challenge the person/team who created it about this fundamental lack of foresight, their common response is ‘You didn’t tell us you would need this functionality, so how were we to know you would need it?’

But I think this is merely excuse-making and potentially self-interested conduct.

Because anyone who has been in the web game long enough, knows that different industries or lines of business tend to adopt similar functionalities as they advance on their online journey.

Knowing thy customer’s future

Let me provide a very recent example of this.

A new client is in the field of counselling and coaching, an area that most would describe as ‘content rich’ due to the number of issues they can address and that their clients would be hungry for new advice and information on managing their respective situations or conditions.

Content richness is something of a holy grail when it comes to the online world. Not only does it provide greater opportunities to entice new clients to peruse the website and subscribe to an email or social network, it provides greater ‘hooks’ for search engines to be able to find and index this new content, leading to a more prominent search ranking and listing.

So, amongst other things, it would be important to create a website that allowed the client to take full advantage of this natural content advantage.

Your website wish list

Among other things, the types of features I would be recommending to someone in this line of business would be:

  • Blog or new article capability
  • An integrated email broadcast capability
  • A Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system underlying the email broadcast system and other aspects of the site
  • An online booking system for appointments, etc
  • Allowing for the addition of an eCommerce cart facility so as to take payments for bookings and other service bundles
  • Integrated form builder to create online questionnaires
  • Password protected area to allow the dissemination of confidential information

From a design perspective I would also:

  • Include a prominent feed of new blog/article content on the front page of the site
  • A prominent email signup area on the front page
  • Clearly alert visitors that they can book an appointment online
  • Encourage the client to consider having a logo created so as to enhance her ‘brand’ and lend greater credibility
  • Allow for the inclusion of prominent links to social networks the client has a presence in

Before you say, ‘but the client would be up for a fortune if they asked for these capabilities’, think again. These days you can get all of these features, including hosting, for less than $50 per month.

And these are not flaky, enthusiast-built functionalities but robust, secure and fully supported features.

Brochureware the result

Instead of taking this proactive and high ROI approach, the professional in question simply created a dead end and basic ‘brochureware’ site when, for just a little more investment, all of these capabilities could have been available from the outset.

The ensuing website completely failed to accommodate any transaction or genuine lead generation capability whatsoever, costing the client a range of lost business opportunities.

Instead, said client is now faced with scrapping what is a fairly recent acquisition and starting all over again.

The cost – essentially double her original cost not to mention the lost business opportunities, all when a deeper understanding of her business would have uncovered the need for a much more technologically sophisticated website and underlying platform.

A responsibility to educate

What providers servicing our SMEs are not grasping, or are deliberately avoiding, is that their clients are coming to them for advice as much as for their respective creative and technical skills.

Small business clients ‘don’t know what they don’t know’ so I believe the digital industry has a responsibility to educate them rather than opportunistically take advantage of this lack of knowledge – deliberately or otherwise.

If not, they risk not only giving themselves but the entire industry a bad name and in turn dissuade the client from improving their online presence in future and therefore impacting its bottom line.

Did your website come to an abrupt dead end? Without naming names, tell us about your experiences 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. www.theeteam.com.au.


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