There is nothing like a technology project that seems huge, daunting, and enterprise-defining to make an entrepreneur realize how poorly organized his business feels.
Sure, he knows why his company is the best at what it does. He knows that if his prospects would just call him, walk in the door, buy his product and hire his staff, they would love him and help him achieve every goal he's ever set. In the very marrow of his bones he knows this is true. The only problem is this: his business is brand new, and no one knows it exists.
When an entrepreneur sets out to build a web site, it is often in the midst of all kinds of other huge projects that are high on the priority list at the outset of launching a business. The web site, however, is the one that provides the platform on which every other project must come into sychronization; where the systems of marketing, operations, accounting, and customer service overlap; and where the entrepreneur must automate every single process that currently exists only in his head.
The web site trains the entrepreneur to think through his business.
What Is This?
What and who is this business? Is it serious, offbeat, young, mature? Is its audience hip or square? The world of branding spreads far, far beyond the company web site -- and yet, without investing in developing a personality for that company -- along with a identity materials that reflect it -- an entrepreneur can't make a single decision about the site. Just a handful of the web site decisions you cannot make without addressing your brand are:
- Domain name
- Written content
- Visual content (images, photos, etc.)
- Social media collateral & placement
How Does It Work?
There is always a system in place to get the work of your organization done. Even if that system is that work comes in, you throw it at the first available staff member you see, and they fumble it until you yell at them and do it yourself at midnight, that is still a system. When you are forced to describe your system honestly, it may not sound great to you. You'll have to make a choice, at that point: refine your system; or to admit that it's not ideal and focus on some other aspect of your business that does work well. Eventually, you'll have to make those refinements. In the mean time, you need to know and be able to describe your process at least internally in order to make the following decisions:
- sales processes
- how will you calculate shipping?
- how will you calculate tax?
- how will you manage your inventory?
- accounting concerns
- do you have merchant accounts?
- do you take credit cards?
- does your online store need to interface with your accounting software?
- customer service issues
- who receives the responses from your contact form?
- what information should the contact form collect?
- who will answer email received through the site?
- will there be anyone to answer the phone number published on your site?
- will there be anyone to receive and answer mail at the address published on your site?
- how quickly will you respond to contact form submissions, emails, phone calls and mail?
If an entrepreneur cannot answer every single one of the questions above before beginning the development of his web site, then whatever estimated time that developer has suggested should be automatically increased for each unanswered question. It will inevitably take time -- more than you'd imagine -- to think about, discuss, and decide upon the answer to any of those questions above.
Here's a surprising fact: very few new business do know all of these answers before they start developing a web site. The development process always brings out more concerns than they ever imagined. Getting the answers does a lot more than just help complete the web site; it helps solidify the business, ground the entrepreneur in well-thought-out plans, and create a more stable environment overall.