In Web Site Development, Up Front Planning


A large part of our consulting practice involves helping businesses figure out how to develop web sites that complement their offline efforts. For an established business (i.e. one that is already up and running successfully in the offline world), this tends to break into three different pieces:

1. Where are the opportunities ? For example, “How can we use our web site to reach a broader market?”

2. Where are the problems? For example, “How can our web site reduce the number of inbound customer calls?”

3. Where are the threats? For example, “How might a competitor use the power of the Internet to undermine some aspect of our current business model?”

We begin the whole process by jointly writing a brief document (two or three pages long). In it, we address these questions, as well as a bunch of other basic, high level issues concerning where the web fits into the overall business.

When we’re done, we have a “spiritual guide” to the site; a conceptual document that keeps us on track, helps us say “no” to cool functionality that doesn’t add any value, and that moves us steadily and quickly in the direction of our stated and agreed upon goals.

Pretty simple stuff, but very powerful. If you don’t spend the time up front to figure out what you want and how it fits in with what you’ve already got, you will waste a ton of money and an unbelievable amount of time (trust me on this, I speak from my own humbling experiences) rethinking, reconfiguring and retracing your steps until you can (to use a technical term) mush that piece of junk you’ve built into something that actually adds value to your business. The mushing is very painful, and largely avoidable.

Think of it this way. Just as you would never hire a contractor to build a house for you by simply saying, “Build me a really cool house that will help me live a better life,” you should never hire a web developer by simply saying, “Build me a really cool site that will add value to my business.” You need to be more specific.

Bottom Line: Put the thinking time in at the beginning, and write down your conclusions. Keep it simple, keep it concise, and focus on what it is you want your web site to do for you. If you already have a site, do the exercise anyway. Then compare your spiritual guide with what you’ve got, and get to work fixing the gaps that should now be quite apparent.

Join us next time when we will focus on the apparent contradiction between what I’ve just told you, and my equally passionate belief in the need for constant iteration and tinkering on the web and in your efforts to integrate the Internet into your existing business.

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