Sunday, April 13, 2008

So You Want Your Own Business Website (SYWYOW): The first custom process

So now you have a business website and you control the content. It provides enough functionality that 70% of your needs are covered. However, you have a custom process that needs to be available on your website. This can be a common function that your Site Builder provider did not provide with your packaged website or it can be something specific to your business.  How do you make this available to your customer base from your website?

A few assumptions:

  1. You purchased your domain name, such as
  2. You can describe in detail your custom process. Common web functionality such as a shopping cart does not need to be designed. Good examples of a custom processes are: pricing models, data exchange (possibly in files such as blueprints or accounting spreadsheets). 
  3. You have the time and money to maintain the available of this process to your customers on your website. Once the process is made available, you can fulfill the end result if there is one.

So what do you do now?

Local Rules. Bellingham is a small town (50K-70K population) and the techie group here is small. Word of bad work or work left undone gets around. Find a local web site that you like the looks and feel of, then approach the owner and quiz them.

Define a design budget for this process. Is it worth $10,000 or $100,000 to your business? Don't let a Web Design firm set the budget. If they want $100,000 for the process when you want to spend $10,000, one of several things could be happening:

  1. your expectations are not realistic
  2. their design is bloated
  3. your are not communicating clearly

Let's take Amazon as an example for a design: making book purchases available on the web. A small design would be to choose a book, and communicate the interest to purchase the book. The budget design allows for a list of books with the ability to select and send contact info. Your business could call the customer back for the actual purchase and fulfillment. That puts a lot of work on you as the business owner but it is within your budget. Then there is amazon who has every possible feature associated with book purchasing including one-click. Their site cost alot more than $100,00.

Define a maintenance budget for this process. Just like your existing web site, this new feature will have to live somewhere which will not be free. My current thought on joining an existing site from one of the Site Builder's to a new process is to use your domain name. For example, your existing web site was probably but your new process will live on a new location such as There is some technical stuff to make this work but it does work. You can still have and manage your main web site inexpensively and then add a custom process. Any web design firm should be able to help you make this work.

Define a time frame for this process. The web design firm should be able to give you dates for you review of the work as it progresses. Each meeting should be an opportunity to refine the design and fix anything that isn't working for you. However, most design firms will have a standard process to stop "feature creep" which means you want more than you originally communicated and you think this new feature should be covered in the original bid for the work.

Courting and the Marriage. You will probably be working with your web design firm on a regular basis for a while, make sure you like them. That means they understand what you want and you understand what they can do. You communicate well together and progress toward your goals is made in a way that you enjoy. The flip side of the coin is that you pay your bill to them on time which means as soon as you get it.  

The WOW factor. Every web design firm will have features, techniques, technologies, or business partners that they think you can't live without. They love them and want you to love them too. They want to WOW you with them and then you'll want them too. You will feel over your head in an area you are unfamiliar with and you will want to say yes just to get to your goal. Keep focused on the goal of your business process on the web and make the WOW thing something that you'll consider after your initial process it up. Of course, they'll say it can't wait, it won't work without it. Get a second opinion from a professional. 

Test.Test.Test. Your process is ready to go and you just want it available to your customers. Stop and test your process. Ask you family, friends, employees to test it for you. Do not let your customers see this process unless you are sure it is ready. Don't expect the web design company to test it to your satisfaction because you know your business, they know how to build web sites. This is the last check for any communicate errors.

Evaluate the benefit of the process. After the process is live on your website and your customers are using it, find out a few things: 

  1. How do your customers like it?
  2. How would they improve it?
  3. How much more/different/better business is it bringing you or time/expense is it saving you?
  4. Would you have do it again? This process? This design firm? This way?


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