Stop! Business First, Then Website

Business Plan THEN Website Plan

I had the pleasure of conducting a website review on Friday for a company in British Columbia, Canada. Like most people that come to us, they were doing battle with their current web developer, and were really unhappy with the results from the website.

In order to put some notes together for our scheduled call, I spent some time beforehand testing the functionality of the website and signing-up as a user. During a website review call, I ask the owner to tell me about their business, even though I have read the pages of the website. As this business owner described her services, I had a moment of panic and thought I had reviewed the wrong website. I actually thought the site was an e-commerce site selling product, not a site for a marketing services consultant.

After listening to her business description, I told her I never guessed from her website what her business is about and described the clues that led me in the wrong direction. At that point, the business owner told me the story of her website development. She felt her website developers didn’t understand her business concept. As a result, during the website building process they changed the mission of her business. They built the website they thought she should have and not what she needed. Now, to get the website where it needed to be, they asked her for thousands more dollars (Canadian). They claimed these mistakes were the fault of the owner, not the developer.

Who is at fault in this situation?

As a company who works on websites, I see no benefit spending time and resources to build a complicated website that the customer is unhappy with and doesn’t want. No one wins in that situation. At the same time, I have listened to many business owners tell how they were taken advantage of by IT professionals because of their lack of technical knowledge.

But before we vilify the web developer, how is it that an IT vendor is allowed enough power to change the direction of a business because of how they programmed the website?

It helps to have a business first.

Too many new business owners jump into website development before finishing their business development. We actually stopped working with new businesses for a time because too many of them came to us with just a business “idea” and no business plan, let alone a website plan. Now, if someone comes to me in this situation, I send them away with homework. I ask them to create a plan before we discuss their website project. We can make websites do wonderful things for a business, but not if you cannot communicate what your business is in the first place. As a website professional, I know the recipe for disaster is that when prompted for more direction, a business owner tells me to “do what you think”. I know what I “think” about my own business. I can’t read your mind and figure out what I should be thinking about yours.

Besides, why would you want your web developer to define what is said about your business?

Your website will be an important part of your business, once you figure out what business you are in. Don’t waste your money by signing a web development contract before you complete your business plan. I guarantee the outcome of your website project will be 200% better, and you will still be speaking to your web developer when it is done.