At this point, you might be thinking, ‘Do I really need to get on the Internet.’ I’m with you there. The problem is, if you just give in to that sense of urgency, it’s just too easy to make mistakes and do the migration by the seat of your pants. I’m sorry to break this to you, but if you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail. It’s very easy to lose a lot of money and time migrating your business to the Internet. It really is. There are all sorts of people who are more than happy to separate you from your cash. There are all sorts of vendors who will be more than happy to string you along as you change from one objective to the other.
It’s not uncommon for an online migration project that was initially projected to cost only a few thousand dollars to end up costing up to several hundred thousand dollars. Worst of all, the website doesn’t even meet the ultimate objectives of the business that put up the website. If you want to avoid all that unnecessary drama and hassle, you need to be clear about your objectives. You need to sit down at this point in time and avoid the urge to simply get a list of vendors together and put up a website. No. You need to fight that urge.
Instead, you need to sit down and calmly think about the objectives your website is supposed to address. Pay attention to the following discussion because they will walk you through a methodical and systematic way of clarifying your objects. Make no mistake about it, your objectives will dictate your goals. Your goals, in turn, will dictate the choices that you make as far as web development and strategies are concerned. If you are unclear about your objectives, you might actually end up with the wrong website or the wrong online presence.
I wish this was just a simple matter of wasting a few thousand dollars here and there or wasting a few weeks here and there. I’m sorry to report that the damage is actually much worse. If you play your cards wrong at this point in time, you might set in motion a chain of events that might damage your brand, not just online, but also locally and offline. This is serious business, folks. For every hour you invest in stepping through the process that I’m going to outline below, the more time and money you will save and the happier you will probably be at the end of this project.
Local Versus Regional: Are You Planning to Service a Purely Local Area?
Whether you own a local pizza shop, a mechanical repair company or an extermination company, or you sell local products, you might think that your business will not grow. You might think that you just need to service the same local area that you’ve been servicing all this time. It’s really important at this stage to be completely clear as to what your assumptions are.
Are you looking to grow locally?
Are you sure that you’re perfectly happy with the current volume of business that you’re doing?
Are you looking to expand your horizons and do business in all districts in your metropolitan area, or maybe even service the greater regional area consisting of cities surrounding the city that your business is currently based in?
You have to be clear about this. A lot of local businesspeople assume that they wish to grow, but they really have a very fuzzy idea as to what their future geographical reach would be. It doesn’t hurt to think big. It’s much better to think in big and ambitions terms now and build a website accordingly rather than doing it the opposite way. You have to remember it’s much easier to scale down than it is to try to scale up when the system that you’ve built is too constricting.
To further clarify your future expansion goals, you might want to ask yourself these questions: What are my short-term goals? What are my midterm goals? What are my long-term goals? I know that you might be thinking that you’re just offering hair salon services in your local area. You might think you’re just moving a few tires and auto parts here and there, but you really have to think about the future so you can properly scale your online presence. By simply thinking that the current state of your business will persist, not just next year, but several years down the road in pretty much the exact same scale and within the same area might be short sighted. You might actually be pointing yourself in the corner as far as future profits are concerned.
Once you have a clear idea of what your goals are and what your growth projections are and should be, the next step is to start thinking about scalability. If you are sure that you don’t want to grow into a regional or even a national player at some time in the future, then you can skip out on building scalability into your online presence. This is a very big step because if you skip this out, it’s going to be much harder and much more expensive to dial things back and try to build in scalability because in many cases, once you’ve started building your online presence, it can get really constricted at that point. A lot of your structural decisions would be locked in, so it’s really important at this stage of the game to think as broadly and dream as ambitiously as possible.
E-Commerce versus Online Catalogue/Business Card
Depending on the nature of your business, you might want to consider using your online presence as a point of sale or as a point of customer contact that leads to sales transactions. In other words, you’re using your website as a window to a larger market that ends up helping your bottom line. Best of all, this window remains open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. With that said, not every business really needs to leverage the full and complete e-commerce and online transaction capabilities of the Internet. Certain businesses just require an online business card. In other words, you just want to be found online and want certain fairly static information about your business to be always available online. Once you’ve achieved this, your needs are basically met.
You need to be clear about these two sets of functionalities. You might be thinking, ‘I don’t really need to generate sales online.’ You need to keep an open mind that the Internet is so flexible that there are also so many other sales related tasks that you can make available online through your website. Among these common variations are taking reservations, ordering products for pickup at your brick-and-mortar location, or simply taking information from your customers so you can service them better when they do show up in person at your physical location.
Don’t just think that since you don’t need to conduct sales online or process payments, then you should shift off automatically to simply put up a fairly static online presence, like an online business card, online catalogue, or online menu. No. Think more broadly. Are you looking to get some sort of information from your customers in such a way that you can close more sales online? If so, then you are looking to conduct sales online. This might not involve processing or actually conducting sales, but these functions are sales-oriented.
Alternatively, Do You Simply Need An Online Business Card?
As I mentioned earlier, maybe you don’t need a sales or sales related processing. Maybe you just want to publish your menu online or share driving directions. If your needs are fairly shallow and you just want to share certain types of predictable information that isn’t really dynamic or doesn’t change with time, then simply putting up an online business card is good enough. Still, doing so packs quite a bit of value for your local brick-and-mortar business.
Why? It adds credibility to your brand. It also enables you to put together an online portfolio that would-be customers might be interested in. Also, if people are going to be writing reviews about your business, they can put your website so interested people can go directly to your website and engage with content that you yourself have control over.
This is a tremendous value because you don’t want to create a brand where other people beyond your control have a direct access to and control over your brand. That’s the worst thing that can happen. You don’t want your brand to be defined by third parties. You want to have a hand in actively defining and shaping your brand, whether it’s online or offline.
Determine Which Approach Works Best for Your Business NOW and In The Future
Now that you have a clear idea of the two major groupings of an online presence’s purpose, you should come to a clear decision as to which approach or objective applies to your business, not just now, but also in the foreseeable future. Maybe you run a burger stand and just need to tell people where you are currently. Eventually you might want to start taking orders on the Internet. Factor this into your plans because as I mentioned earlier, it’s much easier to scale back than it is to scale up, especially if you’ve locked in certain key features at an earlier point in time.