If the subject hasn’t come up already, you can bet it will, as sure as Amazon.com sells books on the internet! Someone in your organization (you, perhaps) will say, “We need a web site.”
If you are the person in charge, or even if you’re not, your first response to that proposal should be, “Why?”
The Internet is littered with web sites that are dead ends, doing little or nothing for the businesses who launched them with high hopes, consuming resources, producing no revenue—or worse, putting forth a negative image for their sponsors. So before you jump into building a web site, ask yourself some hard questions.
- What is the site supposed to do? Will you sell products or services, advertise, identify prospects, service existing customers, promote, inform or what?
- What aspects of your business lend themselves to e-commerce? Will your customers, prospects, suppliers or other potential visitors actually find the web site a convenient way to do business with you instead of the ways they do it now? If you plan to sell on the site, how will you price your goods or services, and will this interfere with existing sales channels? How do you plan to collect payment? What kinds of customer service will you need?
- The key to a successful web site is fresh, interesting, useful content. Are you able and willing to keep your content up-to-date? It’s a big task.
- Who in the organization will be responsible for maintaining the site? Can you spare that individual from his/her current duties, and who will fill in when he/she is on vacation, out sick, or (heaven forbid) quits?
- How much will the site cost to design and maintain (graphics, writing content, promotion, editing, hosting, functionality, reliability)? Are you prepared to spend what is needed to do the job right?
- How will you know whether your site is successful; that is, what will you measure—sales, service calls, inquiries—and what are your expectations? Do you expect the site to pay for itself, or do you plan to continue to plow money into it because it seems like a good idea?
- Be sure to consider what kinds of alternatives to a web site you might use. Many businesses sell effectively on auction sites. Others contact customers, prospects and suppliers with a regular email newsletter. You could post a business card ad on your local chamber of commerce site, or place one or more pages on a mall site (check out centoremall.com for some examples). Consider a classified ad on a site such as Yahoo! or americanet.com. All of these are far less costly than building a web site.
- Develop some thoughtful answers to these questions, prepare a realistic web budget and decide on the best approach to reach your goals. You can even experiment with some of the less expensive choices. (The most expensive choice isn’t always the most effective.) THEN decide whether a web site makes sense for your business, or if there is a better way for you to use the web profitably.
Dick Graber teaches E-Commerce and other marketing courses for COCC and their Business Development Center. He can be reached at 312-3910.