How To Reduce Your Online Risk

Plan, Plan, Plan - I can’t say that enough.

Plan, Plan, Plan.  Most people will not get in their car, point it to the sun, and drive until they are out of money.  They will plan their route, where they will sleep, and figure out what they want to accomplish at the end of the trip.

Then why is it that so many people rush to set up a website and/or online store with no plan as to how they will design, build, maintain, and market it?

I often meet with people who have a website, but don’t know what to do with it. These people

In most cases, professional designers will not be able to help them.

So what can you do to reduce your risk and loses?  Plan, Plan, Plan.  Did you get it yet?  Plan, Plan, Plan.

First - figure out if what you want to sell online will sell.  Is your idea to sell books online?  You have some big competition that have very large marketing budgets and name recognition.  Does that mean that a locally owned bookstore can’t succeed online?  No, but it does mean that you need to figure out an approach to succeed.  What makes your store/site better?  What makes your company different?  Build on these.  The web makes it easier for the "small guys" to complete with the "big guys"... however, the "small guys" have to be smart about it. Find a niche, find a loophole, find a market that is not being served.

Second - set your budget for your website project BEFORE YOU START.  This must include: domain name, website design and maintenance, website hosting, and website marketing.  Whether this is through traditional marketing or online, you must include the marketing of your site in your budget.  Whether your budget is large or small, the majority should be spent on marketing.  Even if at the beginning you must sacrifice "bells and whistles" for marketing, do it.  What good are the bells and whistles if no one sees them?  

Third - spend some time figuring out what you want to accomplish with your website.  Are you looking for it to attract new customers who will call or visit your store?  Are you looking to sell products online?  Are you going to use it as a sales tool when making sales calls?  For all of the above? Once you have your objective, add to your site to help meet that objective, If something isn’t important to your objective, leave it out... no matter how "cool" or flashy it is.

Fourth - figure out your long range plans.  If you have a limited budget, you may want to think about starting with a site that showcases your products and gets people to your store first. Then, as your budget allows, add an online store.  Your website can be expanded anytime.  Break your project down into phases is that helps.

Fifth - find a professional designer to create, host and market your website.  If possible, find one company that can handle everything for you.  If your budget is limited you may need to try and design the site yourself at first, but as soon as you possibly can, hire a professional designer.  Your time is much better spent selling your products/services, then learning how to use and configure HTML, CSS, ASP, mailservers, etc.  Interview several designers and ask for quotes and references.  Of course cost is a factor, but more importantly you want to find a company that you feel comfortable with, can trust and grow with.  Your niece may be able to create a website, but when you are ready to add an online store, can she do it?  Probably not.

Six - know that it is ok not to proceed with a website.  You may find that it is not the right marketing option for your business or that you just do not have the funds.  It is much better to wait until you can afford a professionally designed site, and market it properly, than to have a site that will embarrass your business.

Please, spend some time researching  - read books, articles, take classes and meet with website professionals.   But the most important thing you can do is Plan, Plan, Plan.

June 1, 2007

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