When I got my business up and running, I had to work on my business plan (which I knew little about how to do) and my website (which I knew lots about how to do), I was struck with the many similarities they share, and how the former can be used to inform the latter. If you're starting a small business and know more about business planning than websites, this advice might help you get your website started.
Start with a plan
I'm going to assume you've written your business plan and, as part of that, you've articulated the following:
- your mission and goals
- unique characteristics of your product or service
- your target audience, marketing strategy and competitive analysis
- Information about the owner(s) and background(s), business location & hours of operation
If you haven't got that together, stop reading, get it done, and come back. Your web strategy depends on it. And if you haven't done it yet, make sure you're writing it like someone other than you is going to read it.
Convert your Business Plan to a Web Plan
Just like you should start your business with a plan, you should start your website with one, too. This is way more important than picking out colours and fonts at this stage.
Your web plan needs to outline the following:
- What you need your website to do to ensure your business success (Site Objectives)
- Who your primary target audience is--in great detail (Audience Analysis)
- What members of this audience expect or need from your website (Audience Needs)
- What you want to tell your audience (Content)
Let's look at how to convert the business plan parts to web plan parts.
1. Mission & Goals → Site Objectives
Let's say your business is selling specialty aquariums. Your goal is to sell 50 in your first year. What do you need your site to do to help you achieve this goal? For example, you may need it to
- Explain the product features and benefits
- Actually sell aquariums (i.e., enable e-commerce)
- Inform people about care of tropical fish
2. Your Target Audience → Audience Analysis
This one's straightforward. Both your business plan and your web plan need to explain your target audience in detail. A few things you may need to add to your web plan in this section include the following:
- How comfortable your audience is with technology
- What kind of browser and device they're using
- How they describe your product or service -- i.e., what would they type into Google?
3. Your Target Audience, Your Marketing Strategy & Competitive Analysis → Audience Needs
Use the above 3 sections of your business plan, plus some hard and fast rules below, to help you articulate your audience expectations for your web plan.
First, here are the rules:
a) Your audience is always expecting your website to work, on whatever they're using to look at it.
This means your whole site needs to be compatible on all browsers, including mobile. No Flash, low bandwidth, & fast-loading. (Even if you don't know what all that means, demand it from your developer.)
b) Everyone wants to spend as little time as possible on a website.
This means your content needs to be concise, objective, and scannable.
c) Your audience isn't thinking about your success, they're thinking about theirs.
Do everything you can to make them successful, by thinking about what their goals are, and ensuring your content helps them achieve it.
d) Conventions are good. Use them.
If you're thinking "But I'm special! I need to set myself apart," Your website structure, navigation, and functionality are never the place to do this. Imagine if your website were a book. If you messed with the positioning of the spine, the placement of the table of contents, and which side was front, back, top, or bottom, you'd just be making your book hard to use, and no one would get to your content. Your content sets you apart, not the medium.
Additionally, your competitive analysis can inform what your audience is expecting in the way of content from similar businesses, so take a look at what both your competitors and your contemporaries are doing for your target audience online.
If your marketing strategy includes social media, you'll need to ensure your website encourages participation, sharing, and connecting.
4. Product/Service Characteristics, Operating Info, etc. → Content
You've already described your business, product or service, your hours, location, and your skills and background (if you're the service) for your business plan. For this stage, you may need to re-write it from your audience's point of view. Make sure you use words that they'd use in a search. Going back to our specialty aquarium seller, using the trade name of the product as a page title or heading is not a good idea, because his audience has probably never heard of it. However, "Low-maintenance tropical aquarium" might.
After this step, you'll have everything you need to tell your audience written in such a way that they'll find and understand it. The final step is to organize your content into a hierarchy. Here's a quick example:
- Why choose [product name]
- About us
- Location & hours
- Contact info
- Our team
Modify it based on your site objectives, audience needs, and content.
Remember to include your logo and images (or ideas for images) as part of your content.
Congratulations! That's your web plan in a nutshell:
- Site objectives
- Audience analysis
- Audience needs (information and technical)
- Content and architecture
Taking this detailed of a plan to a website developer will save you time and money. And NikComm can recommend some developers if you'd like. Or, if you'd like help with the conversion, we can do that too. Give us a call.