Why “future-proofing” your website can make or break your business

Your second piece of website work is your web professional’s moment of truth

As a long-standing web professional, I’d love to be in a position to say that adopting and embracing the digital world is going to be a snap for the average SME operator.

It would make everyone’s job so much easier if it were as easy as say creating a Yellow Pages or newspaper ad.

But, really, nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is, the digital world is actually pretty complex for the average SME operator, with no real sign of it becoming much easier as new developments emerge at frustrating regularity.


Death, taxes and digital development


Take, for example, social networking. As little as five years ago, few smaller businesses considered it a serious promotional medium for them.

How times have changed. Now, social networking is one of the fastest-growing promotional avenues there is, whether it be for customer engagement, publicity, advertising or even customer service.

But, for the smaller business operator, learning how it works is yet another thing they have to fit into an already crammed work schedule.

Even though it is now 20 years old as a promotional medium, that old mainstay, the website, still takes some understanding before you part with your hard-earned.

Websites are quite unlike any promotional vehicle a small business has ever had to purchase.


An electronic brochure and storefront

In some ways, it’s like a full-colour brochure, but with a ready and willing audience already built in. Then again, it’s a bit like one of the many software applications that a small business uses.  In other ways, it’s kind of like an old Yellow Pages ad.

In fact, it’s fair to say that it’s a convergence of these three predecessors – the presentation capabilities of a brochure, underpinned by software, and able to be listed in a search technology just like the directories of old.

But, what makes websites unlike any previous promotional medium is their “extensibility” – their ability to grow and morph over time.

It’s really the first time you could take your original work and append and improve it over time, unlike its predecessors, which were almost always trashed and replaced.

The problem is, not all websites are created equally when it comes to alteration and improvement over time.


The cost of alteration and improvement

Some websites are simple to alter, whether that be to amend the presentation, content or functionality. Websites that allow you to do this are said to have optimum extensibility, or are mostly “future-proof”. Even better is when the small business operator or their staff can make as many of these alterations as possible themselves, saving on designer or developer labour each time a change is required.

At the other extreme are the websites that have no or little extensibility. These websites offer their owners little opportunity to alter the website, instead requiring the designer or developer of the website to do this on behalf of the business operator, and often racking up considerable sums in the process.

These sites also suffer from becoming “static” and dated because of the costly barriers to keeping them fresh and up to date.

Unfortunately, often the only way to find out just how extensible your website is, is to find out the cost of making changes the changes you want to it. That is, the second piece of work you require from your web pro.

If you have been provided with a truly extensible website, these changes may amount to very little, if anything at all.  But if this second estimate is pricy, you may be up for significant sums over time.

So how do you know how extensible your website is based on your initial website estimate?


How to become “futureproof”

There are two main ways to ensure your website is futureproof.

The first is to understand what features and functionality (because these are the most pricey parts) businesses in your industry usually need over time.

A good way to do this is to ask peers in a LinkedIn or similar group. Just let them know that you are creating a wishlist for your website and would like to know what you should include both upfront and in future.

Then, when briefing your web pro, you include a list of “future requirements” so they can outline the likely cost of adding these in future.


Impartiality around technology

The second is to ensure your web professional is as “technology agnostic” as possible. That is, they are not aligned to any one development platform. 

This means that they can cherry pick the best platform for you, instead of jemmying your requirement into their favourite platform and suffering the consequences of this approach later.

Unfortunately, these “multi-platform providers” are not common, so you will need to search them out.

But, by applying careful attention to these two requirements, you will end up saving yourself much cost and heartache, compared to the high-cost and high-maintenance alternatives.


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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