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New Year's Resolutions for Small Businesses

chant-rob
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There are a lot of different things that could go into a column for New Year's resolutions for small business web sites.

A list of them sprang into my head as soon as I started thinking about what to write. You know, the usual suspects. Make sure you've got analytics on your site. Set up Twitter. Start a blog. That kind of stuff.

These are all important, but ultimately easy things to do. Things you've even probably already done.

But, the problem is that New Year's resolutions are meant to be challenging. They're meant to push us into doing things we've been resisting. Things that would help us a lot if we could just get around to them. Things that only take five minutes or that you could hire someone else to do don't qualify.

So let's take this in a slightly different direction. Let's throw down a gauntlet for you and your site for the coming year.

Do You Even Need a Website?

If you've just scanned this column before reading it, you've probably assumed that's a rhetorical question to which the answer is "yes."

It's not. It's something you really need to think about.

Here's the thing. Many small businesses don't need a web site. Many small business websites don't deliver a real return. Yet we're told over and over again that in this day and age, every business needs to have a site.

The problem here isn't websites, it's diving into this investment without really questioning it. You wouldn't buy equipment or rent a new office for your business without careful consideration.

Many (probably most) businesses do need a site, especially if you sell through it directly. It's just about making that decision for the right reason, not just investing because everyone else is doing so.

So this is the first part of the New Year's Resolution I'm proposing:

Think genuinely and carefully about whether your business needs a website, or if you need to keep your existing site (hint: if you're embarrassed to hand out business cards because they have your site on them, or you haven't updated it in years, you probably don't!)

And if You do Really Need a Site?

So you've thought long and hard and decided that yes, your business absolutely couldn't continue to function without a website. Well, OK, we don't need to go quite that far. You've decided that:

Your business benefits from having a website in a tangible, measurable way that than pays for the time, effort, and expense that goes into it, or that there is the potential there for it to do so. You operate in a niche where there is evidence that a quality website can drive sales or new business.

Now comes the really interesting, challenging part:

Go full out for your web site. Treat it like a key member of your team. Treat it like you would a $100,000 machine you just bought, working night and day to give a return on your investment. Treat it as if that life or death of your business depends on it (if you really need your site, it does).

I'm sure you've seen plenty of small business websites that are obviously half-thought out, poorly maintained, and obviously don't work for their owners. You may even be guilty of owning one yourself (I know I am). This is about not having that site.

Meeting the Challenge

I can't tell you everything, obviously. If you need a site, it'll be unique to your business. One size definitely doesn't fit all. But I can throw some ideas out there:

  • Learn: I don't mean learn SEO, HTML, JavaScript and all the rest. That's far too much work, and you've got better things to do. What I mean is learn enough to ask the right questions and understand if the answer makes sense. Learn the different models that can drive business on or through the web. Get to grips with the basics. Don't let yourself be bamboozled with jargon.

  • Delegate, but stay responsible: Or, to put it another way, take an interest. Stay engaged. One trap a lot of businesspeople (large and small) fall into is that they're busy, they've got a million things to worry about, and the website is something that can just get done by someone else. A web designer at first, then an SEO. Copy ends up getting written by the developer. The SEO tweaks some tags once and takes a check every month. We've all seen it happen.

    So how do you avoid this fate? Just be interested in and aware of the project. Move it toward the top of your pile, if not the top. Speak with your suppliers on their level, and regularly, but don't tell them what to do (they're the experts, after all). Let them teach you.

  • Measure: Another bane of the web is company sites that look great but do zero for their owners. It's an insidious problem. You hired a great (and expensive) designer who created something slick for you, so it's hard to see that something could be wrong or could be improved.

    But this misses the fact that what really makes a site work -- what makes people buy, e-mail, or pick up the phone -- are all the small, subtle factors: the headlines, the copy, shapes, colors, navigation, search, forms, etc (and sure, slick design and pretty pictures also can help).

    Continual conversion rate optimization is too big a topic for this article, but the first thing to get into is measuring your site's performance, closely and accurately. Work out how many sales or inquiries you get per month, what the profit is, and how much it cost. See which pages get the most views or what type of traffic converts best.

    Most importantly, learn how to extract meaningful information from all the data available. Even if you're going to delegate this job in the future, knowing the different metrics, what they mean, and which are important to you is vital.

  • Set targets: Of course, measurement are only worth so much without targets to work toward. I'm not talking about, "I want X sales from my site by Y" kind of targets. I'm talking about working out exactly how many sales or how much new business you need from your site per month to give you what you consider to be an acceptable return on investment and working backwards from there to determine the traffic levels and conversion rates you need to hit. Hard numbers based on evidence, in other words.

  • Evolve: Small business websites are too often treated as static entities, but to get the most out of your site, you have to treat it as something that is growing and evolving all the time. Don't be scared of making changes to it or adding content. In fact, the more you pay attention to your site and the more you change it, the more you'll want to change it.

    Like getting into fitness training, you'll find that something that feels like a chore at first becomes an essential part of your working day. Although everything you do will have an effect, being in the habit of measuring performance and making regular assessment and changes to the site has a very good chance of improving performance over time.

Summing Up

If you're going to have a website, make it an absolutely core component of your business, and if you're not willing to do that, drop having a website altogether. Don't follow the herd out of instinct. Really consider carefully what your business needs.


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