Why Your Website is also a Business Plan

Why Your New Website is also a Business Plan

You might not even realise it when you’re doing it, but the process of getting a good website up and running has the potential to act like a sort of unconscious business plan When you recognise this, it will really help you to build a great website as well as helping to map out a strategic path within the business, and identify areas in need of focus and attention.

It’s fair to say that everyone (even those who aren’t the biggest internet users) would recognise the benefit of having a well structured and good looking website to represent their business. A website which outperforms competitors and ranks well with search engines.

If you take the time to make a really good website either by yourself or along with a developer, then in the process, lots of questions are raised. These questions can force you to rethink many aspects of your business and what the strategy is.

 

Let’s look at some of the key things a website should do:

  • Present the main message of the business or blog.
  • Represent the brand image effectively, using logos, imagery, colours and fonts that set the scene.
  • Have a look and feel which is appropriate to the brand.
  • Use the right voice; from professional and business like, to friendly and family driven, to maybe even tongue in cheek.
  • Have a clear layout structure (sitemap) that shows only the most important aspects in the navigation headers and titles.
  • Be easy for users to navigate.
  • Drive traffic to the key information points quickly.
  • Include engaging and relevant content.
  • Include calls to action that will be helpful for sales or growth.
  • Link to your social media.
  • Links to other relevant sites and be linked to from industry leaders.
  • Be easy to find in search engines and rank well in the correct category.
  • Allow you to analyse your audience.
  • Be better than competition.

 

How does this relate to your business strategy?

All of the above pieces in the puzzle can really make you think and revise how you view your business. When we sit down and really try and plan a website, thinking what it is that we want to present to the world, then we start thinking about the core message of the business.

 

Appearance

Branding needs to be reviewed –how does it look? Does it represent your business with the right image? Does it need to be tweaked or even completely revised?

A corporate website is likely going to want very clear crisp sections using defined colours and imagery to reflect the brand, whilst a cottage industry may want a more handcrafted oldie world look and feel.  Is your brand formal or more “dancy” (as I like to call the more informal “innocent smoothie” type brands).  Is this already represented the way you want right across your business? For example in how you engage with customers and in your products or services.

 

Do you have good quality images to represent your services or product; if you don’t maybe you’re lacking them throughout your business. Great imagery in the right dimensions tends to really elevate a website. Maybe it’s worthwhile engaging a photographer, or investing in a good camera yourself so that you can easily fill all the gaps. Would it benefit other aspects of your business to have better imagery available for marketing material, presentations, products, social media, client use etc?

 

Structure

How is your business actually structured and what are the most important headings or sections? Can you categorise what you want to present in a way that makes sense in the context of a website? Or do you really need to simplify? If the answer is no, this could potentially be a signal that the business itself needs to be simplified.

When we look at menu headings, five or six is ideal, eight is considered an absolute maximum by many. Upward of this number  can become a bit confusing. And don’t forget  you have to think about layout and design of your menu area and font size and readability across devices to boot.

Looking at the structure and menu and page layout forces us to thing about the main things that we need to say. There’s usually only a few seconds to grab a user’s attention, it’s crucial that the right information is in the right place. All of this really focuses in on the core message of the business.

A lot of the time – if you’ve been well advised – you plot the structure out in a tree, and then you start trying to simplify. You might start off wanting to have several different subsections under your about header, but will the average visitor really click on them? Or do they just want to know about the business in a couple of succinct lines? The latter is the case more often than not.

When you put  a fair amount of thought in to your website structure I’ve found  it forces you in to quite a thorough analysis of your business structure, your voice and most of all  (if it’s being done right of course), the most important question –  WHO is your target customer? Properly structured analytics services set up on your website can continue to help you answer this question too and will continue this iterative process.

 

Content

Have you already got content from other material in your business that can be adapted to your website, or do you need to start from scratch, often you think you have a lovely ‘about’ story from that leaflet of five years ago, but when you look closely, you know it needs re-writing. Do you then need to go back to the drawing board with all of your other marketing material?

What’s your social media presence like? Is now the time to up the game in that aspect also? You’ll certainly want to make sure that there’s continuity of your brand across the different media you use. Equally if you’re not going to be in a position to post regular updates, now might be the time to get rid of unused accounts and make the decision not to link to them on your new site.

 

Selling

If you have physical products you start thinking about what the best way to sell them is, and who your customers for them are, and how you can help people find them. You might find out lots of information about stockists that you want to list along the way, or you might find that  if you have a distributor for products that it’s hard to find out the information. Maybe you need to sit down with your distributors, maybe you need to have more contact with your actual end customers, what could you put in place to make this happen?

If you want to have an e-commerce site, you often might need to simplify your product offering and you’ll also need a system and staff in place to manage it, resources and role reviews ensue.

 

Research

Lots of companies use market research or even internal ‘group think’ sessions as a way to plan their sites, or they simply ask opinions of family and friends, or industry contacts. Whichever path you choose, you’ll likely get feedback not just about the website, but about the business itself, which if used wisely can help you make important strategic choices.

Reviewing the competition is a key part of developing a website so that it will outperform others in the category. You’ll be looking at relevance, usability and ranking in search results. This process is always useful and can often give you a very clear insight in to products or services you should or shouldn’t be offering and how to present them effectively.

 

Back to the Business Plan and Strategy

If all of this sounds very familiar, it’s because most of this stuff is what you have to lay out laboriously when you do a business plan. Ok, so there’s no P&L or Cash flow forecasts but there is structure, message, target audience, marketing plans, SWOT and much more.

Realising what an almost cathartic experience creating a website for your business can be at the outset, will allow you to reap even more benefits for your business than simply creating a snazzy new bells and whistles online presence. The process can help you identify strengths and weaknesses and give you ideas for new directions and focus as well as how you might like to, or need to, improve the way you sell.

With the ability of your website project to crystallise your business for you, why not consciously use the project from the outset as a defined learning process  which can guide you towards a clearer roadmap for your business.

 

Some Useful Links

Yoast (Search Engine Optimisation Specialists) on Site Structure

Kissmetrics Site Structure article

Tips on Building a Killer Website on Inc.com

Intertrade Ireland The Business Cube Tool for creating a business plan

 

Elisabeth Ryan

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