Most of us realise that when it comes to planning, smaller businesses operate in a very imperfect world.
While all good business courses and textbooks strongly advocate the need for a sound and regularly updated business plan, the reality is that the vast majority of SMEs don’t have one. If they do, it was set out to secure initial funding and, as a result, is now hopelessly out of date.
In fact, there’s a strong chance that your last business plan was written before current business mainstays like smartphones and social networking were even on your radar.
Given this reality, most of what I’m about to recommend as part of your website planning may not be feasible or possible.
But at least it might provide some insights into the kind of information required to ensure your website provides you with the best possible return on investment – even if it’s not performed as the textbooks prescribe.
Top-down planning is ideal
Unfortunately, the following top-down approach to website planning is practised by only a few web professionals – certainly at the level most smaller businesses will experience.
This is because many at the lower budget end of the market are far more concerned with your website’s appearance and functionality than the more fundamental business and marketing objectives your website really should be speaking to.
But let’s not allow that to put us off.
The correct order of procedure when planning a website is for it to fall out of:
- Your business plan
- Your marketing plan
- Your annual promotional plan
Because your website is essentially an online representation of your business, it really requires a well thought-out business plan to ensure that as many business imperatives as possible are catered for when planning your website.
For example, say you operate a small motel. Whereas in the past, the bulk of your bookings would have been made by phone or fax, nowadays online booking is the quickest, most convenient and most financially efficient means of booking a room.
This means that your website – in addition to promoting your motel – has essentially replaced (or at least sits alongside) your traditional means of booking. It is an operational requirement of your business.
In the absence of a good business plan (or at least business plan update), this critical component may not get the attention it deserves. What can result is a website that needs considerable work or even ditching altogether to accommodate your online booking capability when considered ‘after the fact’.
So in this case, two business imperatives (online booking and payment, and a clear ‘call to action button’ throughout the website) form the first part of your website requirement checklist.
It is fair to say that on average, at least 90% of the benefit you derive from your website will come from the marketing ‘department’. By that I mean it has played a key role in the marketing process, whether it is attracting new customers via a search engine result, capturing customer details for future direct marketing efforts or even saving you time in taking care of a customer query online instead of on the phone or email.
And because a website is now the most common ‘call to action’ there is for your various promotional efforts, it’s critical that it forms part of your marketing planning.
Say for example you are a tradesperson. As all tradies know, inbound phone calls not only disrupt your work, they can’t always be attended to.
But because your website operates 24/7, it can take a considerable brunt of these queries away from you and onto time-shifting devices like email and online briefing forms. These allow prospects to provide all the details you need to attend to when it’s more convenient for you – greatly improving your productivity in the process.
In this case, the marketing requirements for the website include a prominent phone number, other calls to action throughout the website and a briefing form capability.
Your annual promotional plan
Because they are the ‘call to action’ of choice, websites will play a major role in all advertising or promotional efforts you execute.
At the same time your website needs to create a consistent and seamless adjunct to your promotional efforts to ensure visitors know they are at the right website and intuitively know what to ‘do next’, whether that is find out more, email you, complete a form or pick up the phone.
Once you know what your promotional activities are going to be for the quarter or year, you can ensure your website is designed to best convert your prospect to a paying customer.
For example, you might create a ‘landing page’ for your search engine traffic to link to. Or a graphic which refers to a radio or television promotion and so on.
An ‘instant’ website specification
The result of all of this planning is that once completed, your website brief or specification will have essentially written itself.
Because your website will have been considered at every point of your business and marketing planning, simply collecting all mentions of your website – with some basic re-organisation – will outline exactly what your website needs to do for your business.
And with that in hand, you can create a website that will easily accommodate your future requirements instead of one that has to be completely revamped or replaced time and time again – a very expensive and time consuming undertaking for any business operator.
Even if fully fledged planning is not possible, at least bullet point many aspects of your business and marketing planning as possible – it will be a great help in this process.
What about IT?
You may well be surprised that IT or the IT department has not been mentioned till now – after all, websites are an IT expenditure, aren’t they?
I would argue to the contrary.
I think most business management practitioners would agree that the IT department are business enablers – they enable management and staff to use technology to best perform their jobs to reduce cost and improve productivity.
So it’s important that your business and marketing requirements are completed prior to involving your IT team or adviser. That way, they can glean a comprehensive understanding of what you want the technology to do for you, rather than them specifying technology that you may never be able to use correctly.
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