Note to readers: This is the first column from Downers Grove resident Cavanaugh Gray on the issues related to new business owners. New columns will appear periodically on this website.
During the Golden Era of the Internet, we all watched as countless companies crashed and burned due in large part to their untested, web strategies. I remember thinking, "If they could only get this ‘web thingy’ right."
Enamored by the Internet, I remember taking a web certification course figuring there might be an opportunity for me somewhere down the road. However, I quickly realized that all of that coding was not for me. Years later I would need some of those skills to help launch The Entrpreneur Café, LLC.
As fate would have it I was fortunate enough to find someone who would help me translate my lofty web goals into reality. This month, we launch our first major web redesign in years, and looking ahead this is sure to be a work in progress. However, this time around I learned a lot about the web design process that I missed the first time around. My hope is that nontechnical and technical entrepreneurs alike can use what I’ve learned to launch their very first site or update an existing one.
Website Benefits and Myths
There are a lot of benefits to a operating online. For starters, the web offers an opportunity to expand a business’ distribution channels and reach customers around the world. Operating online is the equivalent of keeping your "electronic doors" open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This allows you to increase your earning potential.
Having a website allows you to better educate your target customers and lower the overall cost of doing business. When I first launched my company’s website, I admit that I was a little naïve. I thought that web development would be easy and inexpensive. I initially thought that making money on the web would be a cakewalk – if I build it they will come.
Starting out I had no idea how to translate true customer service offline, let alone online. I also had the misconception that if I hadn’t launched a site by that time, then it was already too late. The reality is that it’s never too late to bring a quality product or service to the web. Lastly, I believe my biggest misstep was not understanding the need for a separate web strategy that would fit into my larger business plans.
Developing A Design Checklist
My first attempt at a site felt more like a brain dump instead of a calculated approach to web development. With no rhyme or reason, I simply incorporated ideas into the site as they came to me. That first website had all the elements that I wanted in a site, but I doubt if the content offered any real benefit to site viewers. This time around, I started off by putting myself in the customers’ shoes – designing a site around the needs of my target market.
If you have a niche business then I recommend making sure that those efforts translate well online. With the rise of all things social, I think it’s hard to build a website without factoring in how social media might help you build an online community.
In developing the new website I found myself thinking long and hard about what kind of content would keep visitors coming back. You might not have international plans for your business at this time, but because the web is a global platform it doesn’t hurt to have a broader vision at the outset. It’s important to keep in mind that web related marketing requires a full array of integrated online and offline efforts in order to drive traffic.
Lastly, make sure that your website says credibility; viewers will likely stick around longer on a well designed site.
Web Development Strategies
I can talk strategy all day, but translating offline strategy to the web can prove challenging. However, I was fortunate enough to be able bounce my ideas off of a qualified web professional. For those small business owners in need of a bit more web strategy help, I recommend trying to answer the following questions:
• How well suited are your products or services for selling on the web?
• What are the objectives you have set for your company’s website?
• Will your site have a simple design and how easy will it be to navigate?
• What’s your web investment and how will your rate of return be measured?
• How will any order fulfillment be handled?
• What are your tactics for marketing the site and drawing traffic?
The biggest lesson I would say I am learning on my second attempt at a website has to do with being mindful of giving customers what they want. With so many different functions to juggle I can see the small business owners’ case for not having a site (no need, cost prohibitive or lack of time).
With an estimated 61 percent of all internet users turning to the web to research products and services, one thing is clear. Developing a winning website may take a little effort but the positive impact on your business could be well worth it.
Cavanaugh L. Gray is a Downers Grove resident and is the Director of Business Development for The Entrepreneur Café. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 877-511-4820. To read a chapter from his new book "The Entrepreneurial Spirit Lives: 25 Tales to Help Entrepreneurs Start, Grow, and Succeed in Small Business," visit www.ecafellc.com.