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. Just like most people that come to us, they were doing battle with their current web developer and were really unhappy with the results they were getting from the website.

Prior to our phone call, I spent some time with the website, testing some of the functionality and signing-up as a user, in order to put some notes together for our scheduled call. During a website review call, I will ask the business owner to tell me about their business, even though I have read the pages of the website. As this business owner started describing 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 started out by telling her that I would have never guessed from her website what her business is all about and started to describe the clues that lead me in the wrong direction. At that point, the Business Owner began to tell me the story of her website development. She felt that her website developers didn’t understand her business concept and during the process of building the website, the developers changed the mission of her business by building the website they thought she should have and not what she needed. Now, in order to get the website to where it needed to be, they were asking her for thousands more dollars (Canadian!), claiming 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 will tell you right now, I see no benefit is 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 they have finished 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 in this situation, I send them away with homework to create a plan before we even begin to discuss their website project. We can make websites do wonderful things for a business, but not if you cannot communicate to me what your business is in the first place. As a website professional I know the recipe for disaster is, 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 have completed your business plan. I will 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.