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How to Create a Profit Generating Business Website
By Jeff Senne   Printer Friendly Version

It seems like just about every business out there is putting up a Web site these days. If you haven't got one yet, or if you've already got one and aren't really satisfied with it, then you should take a look at the five basic steps that it takes to put a great Web site up.
Here they are:

  1. DEFINE YOUR BUSINESS OBJECTIVE
  2. DESIGN THE SITE
  3. DEVELOP THE SITE
  4. GO PUBLIC AND DEPLOY THE SITE
  5. DO IT OVER - CONTINUOUSLY UPDATE AND IMPROVE YOUR SITE

1. BEGIN WITH A SOLID BUSINESS OBJECTIVE

There's so much hype about the World Wide Web now, that many companies are setting up Web sites simply because they think they should. That's really ineffective. To be most effective you should have an idea of what you want to accomplish with your Web site, and what business purpose it should serve.

The only reason you want to put up a Web site for your business is because it helps you meet a strategic objective. It should either help you increase revenue, or decrease expenses, or make your other operations more effective or do some combination of those three things.

In the research Wally Bock and I conducted when we wrote our most recent book, "CyberPower: How To Profit From The Information Superhighway," we identified six basic ways that people reach those strategic objectives. We found six basic models that people are using on the Net to increase their profits.

Briefly, the six models are:

  • Direct Sales
  • Advertising
  • Subscriptions/Memberships
  • Net-Related Services
  • Cost Cutting
  • Enhancing Other Operations

They all cover practical ways that businesses are improving revenue or decreasing expenses and we found most effective businesses don't use just one, but use them in combination for maximum effect.

You should define your business objective in terms of what you want to accomplish, increasing revenue, decreasing expenses, or enhancing other operations and in terms of one of these six basic business models.

During this step you most likely conduct the following actions:

[A] Select and Form Your Core Internet Task Force Team to create a Master Internet/Web Implementation Action Plan Project:

  • Select people that are key opinion leaders and or your businesses visionaries
  • Select high level decision makers and leaders who have the power to make things happen in your business
  • Include a representative from each the primary functional areas of your business (for example some one who is part of your businesses primary functional areas - Marketing, Sales, Advertising & PR, Production & Quality Assurance, Product Development, Distribution & Customer Service and Administration & Finance)
  • Don't forget to include both your technical experts and your financial experts on this team

[B] Set up your organization's Strategic Focus (existing purpose or mission) and introduce your Internet Task Force Team to how you could use the Internet as a strategic and tactical tool to enhance the ability of your organization to achieve it's mission.

  • What business are you in now?
  • What do you want to use the Internet tools to achieve?
  • What are the benefits and potential ROI offered the business for using the Internet tools?

Possibly prepare a brief business proposal with a solid analysis of what kind of online activities your competition and peers are doing, some specific applications and solutions you can see using the Internet technology offers your business and a detailed report on the potential "Return On Investment" and benefits you can see developing and implementing a Master Internet Action Plan will offer your business to introduce the members of your Internet Task Force Team to the compelling reasons for participating in a project of this nature.

[C] Assign "Internet Awareness Building" Project Preparation Actions. Have everyone on the Internet Task Force Team:

  • Get connected to the Web (we recommend the Netscape browser for this) and spend time browsing the Web just to become familiar with the nature of the Internet Technology
  • Research and study similar and competitive business sites online
  • Read Internet magazines, trade journals and periodicals for what's happening and what's working in the online world
  • Subscribe, attend and lurk in industry related mailing lists, newsgroups and forums

[D] Use your Internet Task Force Team to brainstorm, develop and define your businesses Web/Internet Presence Vision, Goals and Objectives.

Now once you've done that, you're ready to move on to the next step.

2. DESIGN THE SITE

Once you've decided on your objective, it's time to do a basic site design. This isn't writing the code for the pages, it's determining what information and other factors are going to be there and how they're going to be linked. The power of the Web is its links. Done properly, a good Web site can help people move through information in a way that's natural, comfortable, and effective. For that to happen, you've got to spend some time defining how that information will work and what information will be linked.

This is where you should consider four things: the tools available; models of sites you like; how your customers, prospects, and friends will come to you; and what are your target marketplace needs. There's no particular order to address these in. In fact, we found that very often people touch each of these bases more than once as they go through the process of site design.

When you're thinking about tools, pick tools that work with the strength of the medium. Consider Web links, mailing lists, information sharing methods, forms, surveys, and other things that we've talked about in this book.

Spend some time looking at other sites to determine what kinds of things you like. That way you'll be able to direct a site designer to things that you think are excellent and help the designer get inside your head.

Design your site from the outside in. Ask yourself, "What do people look for when they come to us?" What kinds of questions do they often ask us first on the telephone? What are the most common questions that prospects ask our sales people?

As you answer each of these questions, consider what information is necessary to help your customer or client at that point and how you can help them move toward a decision to become involved with you.

Design your site from the inside out as well. Think about who you are and what you do, and what your products and services are. What features do they have? What benefits do they provide?

We've found mind mapping can be an especially powerful tool for both of the above analysis functions. With mind mapping you connect concepts and ideas on paper in the same way that you do in your head. Try picking up a book like Joyce Wycoff's book Mind Mapping or Tony Buzan's book Making the Most of your Mind for details on this tool.

We've also found one particular piece of software to be very helpful at this point because it handles mind mapping and can give you a visual demonstration of links. That software is called Inspiration. Inspiration is available for both Macs and PCs through standard software channels.

If you do your analysis rigorously on your site design, there will come a point when all of your analysis, tools, models, inside/out, and outside/in come together and you have a clear idea of what your site will be. At this point, you should have a picture of the kind of site you want to have with a diagram of the links.

3. DEVELOP THE SITE

Begin your site development by developing a mock site. A mock site is a Web site that you develop on your own computer, not on the Net. That let's you work out the information, links, proofreading, and other issues before you take it live.

When you've developed a good site on your own computer, put it on the Web for a Beta test. At this point you won't be public with your site, you're just putting it out there to see how things work in the real environment and buying some time to do some other things relative to your site announcement.

With your site out there on the Web, test it with a number of browsers. Be sure to include Netscape, browsers from the commercial gateways, and several versions of Mosaic. Check out your site at various times of the day and night. Pay special attention to how fast things load, how easy things are to use, and whether your links work effectively.

While you're testing the site, get ready for prime time. Modify your printed materials so that your URL appears on your brochures, business cards, in your advertisements, and any other materials. Get your people up to speed, especially your customer service and sales folks who may get questions about the Web site.

And, prepare your roll out plan. That includes registering your site with all of the appropriate search engines and making sure that you know how you're going to introduce your new tool to your clients, prospects, and friends.

In summary these actions you take in this step are:

  • Holding a company wide kickoff meeting
  • Recommend and select key personnel for specific implementation tasks
  • Establish the main communication methodologies for communication and updates regarding the progress of the Master Internet Action Plan
  • Pinpoint areas that need refinement
  • Check implementation effectiveness
  • Track results by conducting internal and external customer feedback survey's, increase in e-mail, number of customer registrations, mentions within newsgroups and/or mailing lists and reporting any other success stories and bottom line success achieved by the businesses use of the Internet.

4. GO PUBLIC

Once your site and materials are ready, it's time to go public. Don't make this move until your printed material is ready and people can find you on the Web's search utilities.

Issue a news release to your trade press about your new Web site and send copies of that release to your entire customer and prospect base.

Have your sales force use the new Web site as a reason to make a call. They can introduce the Web site by showing it to purchasing agents and others who might be interested in gathering information from it on their computer in their own office. Then, have them ask if they can add your Web site to the purchasing agent's hot list or bookmark file.

You should be preparing your deployment steps almost from the beginning of the time that you start designing your site. As soon as you have your URL, be sure to register your site with all of the popular search utilities. Look at your site design and consider registering all of the pages that are likely to be primary contact points for your customers, prospects, and friends. Don't just register the page with your basic corporate information, what many people call the "home page."

At this point your site should be well tested, well publicized, and working for you. But the job's not done yet.

5. UPDATE AND IMPROVE YOUR SITE

This is such a fast changing and developing area of business that you're going to want to stay on top of things.

Begin by checking out lots of sites as part of your daily routine. Have your other key executives do the same thing. When you find things you like, make notes and add them to your hot list files so you can show them to the person responsible for your Web site later.

Consider regular updates to your site and make sure that the most recent update date appears on the site itself.

Watch for times when you'll want to redesign the site. We've found with many of our clients that they'll want to redesign the site after it's been up for 3 or 4 months. By then you too will have a clear idea of who's using your site and why and when.

When you're ready to change it's time to go back to step one again. Look at your business objectives; decide how you're going to measure your achievement and work through the process again. This time it will go faster.

The process of putting up a great Web site is fairly simple. But there are lots of little steps and you do need to pay attention.

  1. Start with a solid business objective.
  2. Design the site based on how people will use it and how they will link information in their head. Use both outside-in and inside-out methods and develop a graphical site plan.
  3. Develop the site using the best design methods you have available.
  4. Make sure that your site is well publicized, especially among your primary audience.
  5. And, constantly redesign, update, and modify your site to make it more effective.

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