Make a list of exactly what it takes to operate your business. If you are a small business with a few people wearing many different hats throughout the workday, list each distinct function that must be performed as if you had ten times the business requiring several departments. This will help determine what is there to begin with.
Your web site is basically just another tool of your trade. It may need to be as simple as a one-page electronic business card. It may need to be a full-blown repository of your entire business, with online catalogs and interactive ordering for your customers, secure restricted access for outside salespeople to retrieve appointments, automatic advertising distribution to a select list of prospects, interactive access for the office to update data records, and administrative tracking and scheduling.
Most needs fall somewhere in between these two examples. The point is to have a clear picture of what actually happens in order to make an effective plan of action.
More specifically, make two plans.
The first plan is a list of everything you want or would like to have for your web site. Most companies that do not have a web site have at least seen one. They look at their competitors to see what they are doing, and either try to imitate them or improve upon what they have seen. Make notes on your list of the web address of each page that demonstrates these features. If you have an idea but haven't seen it, add that to the list too. It may be doable. Take this time with your staff to be creative. And have some fun!
The second plan is a list of everything you know you need. Now we are getting down to where the rubber meets the road. This is the short list of must-haves, the things about your business you are sure you need to display to the public, and the functions you are convinced would help your business operate more efficiently. Be sure to include the names of all personnel who will need email addresses.
Now you are ready to merge these lists into THE PLAN. It is essential that you do this with a web developer. A good web developer will help you achieve a workable plan that can be accomplished within your budget. A less experienced developer will require you to supply a finished plan to begin with, or else want you to adopt their own plan based on your input, but really based on what their limited capabilities can actually accomplish.
A good web developer is already aware of the problems that exist with many of the sites you have studied. Most of them are wrong. Most business sites have failed to completely embrace the fundamentals of Access, Content, and Distribution. Even if they have addressed each of these basic issues, they have failed to integrate them all into one cohesive tool.
To avoid this mistake you must have a plan that not only can be implemented, but one that SHOULD be implemented. The internet is a powerful tool. Your web site will become a powerful tool for your business. From the plan for your site it should be obvious exactly how your business will benefit. The complete plan will include short-term goals, near-term objectives, and at least a general idea of how it will develop within the long-term.
Include benchmarks in your plan to measure progress in small steps. Your plan must specifically define what *done* is for each step of the way.
Your company staff may be compiling and providing content to your web developer. They need to know what, how much, and by when, to schedule their time.
Your web developer needs a specification to fulfill. Steps representing stages of completion within the broad specification keep the work on track and prevent all steps from becoming 10% complete, then 20% complete, but stopping at 90% complete. This happens much too often, and when it does each part of the site remains unfinished.
When a stage is complete pay promptly. Most good web developers are very busy and they have taken on your project because they like you or because they like your project. Most good web developers put in many more hours on your project than they will ever bill you for. Receiving prompt payment for each stage of completion will reinforce the notion that they made a good choice to work for you.
Throughout the entire process, adopt an attitude that welcomes feedback. And a system to easily accomplish feedback. You want to know what others are thinking.
During the planning process, welcome feedback from your company. These are the folks that will be directly involved with using the site as a tool to make their work functions more productive. And if any of their suggestions are not included in the final plan make sure they understand why.
A good web developer will include an easy-to-find and easy-to-use function to allow feedback from those who use your site. Public feedback is useful to the extent that it actually has meaning. You will want to establish an administrative procedure to respond to public feedback. It may be better to have a team review feedback rather than have one person determine its meaning to your business.
The only true value of some ideas is that they stimulate other ideas. The feedback you receive may be impractical or even undesirable to implement. It may, however, lead to other practical ideas that will be useful and benefit your business. Keep an open mind.
A good web developer will insist that a regular schedule for updating content or adding new content be included in the plan. You should too.
Public users of your site want to know when what they are reading was current. They skip over outdated information, unless retrieved from an archive. Search engine designers know this and their robota and web crawlers automatically ask server logs for the date the page content was loaded on the server. The answer can affect your rankings. Even if you do not change any of the text, each page display needs to be reloaded periodically to be identified as current.
You should also require an annual review of the site as a whole. The look and feel of the site is just as important to the perception of currency as content dating. Four years ago animations were in style, but users found them very distracting. Three years ago watermarks and other background images, along with the absence of animations, made a site look current. Last year it was drop-down navigation menus. This year the look is clean and crisp, with a minimum of graphics and a focus on message.
Using up-to-date technology your site can be designed from the outset so the style of the site can be easily changed when the time is right. You can be assured that many of your competitors will slack off, but the ones that maintain currency will obviously stand out from the rest.