If you have a idea for a website and an off-the-shelf system just won’t cut it, you might be in need of bespoke web development. As specialists in this field, we talk to a great many people who have ideas for online businesses, and in this article, I’d like to outline some points to help you get the most from your development experience, and your business.
Treat your online business like an offline business
“Information technology and business are becoming inextricably interwoven. I don’t think anybody can talk meaningfully about one without the talking about the other.” – Bill Gates
Before you even think about beginning development, it’s essential to research the market thoroughly, and one of the best ways to formalise this process is to write a business plan.
A business plan will encourage you to think about your business objectives and strategies, the markets in which it will operate, and its financial projections. In doing this, you’ll spot potential pitfalls earlier, and be better able to plan the future of the business. (And perhaps even decide whether you will proceed with the business or not!)
Once you’ve completed your business plan, it’s a good idea to gather feedback from neutral parties (in other words, not family members!) Banks, investors, and business partners are all good sources of feedback at this stage.
Most importantly, think about your unique selling point. What problem will your website solve? What can you do that your competitors can’t? These are age-old questions, and they are just as important when doing business online.
In addition, it’s a good idea to prepare everything you need to launch well in advance. Imagery, content, and stock all need to be readied prior to launch, as do any payment gateways. Make sure you’re ready to kick-off your website with a bang, just as you would launch a bricks-and-mortar business with a bang.
KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid!
“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine De Saint-Exupery
The most successful websites have simplicity at their heart. Think about two obvious examples, Google and Twitter.
Although these sites offer some very complex functionality, their core actions could be described in a couple of sentences. This has an effect on the interface – key actions are thrust to the forefront of the user’s attention, giving the impression that the site is easy to use.
By keeping your application simple, you will also reduce development time, and therefore keep development costs low. So when you’ve thought about all the functionality you would like for your site, go through that wishlist again and cut out anything that doesn’t directly and obviously benefit the user. Be brutal – it can always be added at a later date if your users need it.
Also, reconsider any internal features that could be dropped to reduce costs while the business is starting up. For example, you might want your web site to integrate with an accounting package, but if you are only anticipating a couple of orders each week, could this data be migrated manually? If this feature could be rolled out at a later date, that’s money in your pocket right now that you can invest in marketing your website.
Whatever you do, be aware of the ‘kitchen sink’ mentality and avoid it!
Launch early, launch often
“I like to launch early and often. That has become my mantra” – Marissa Mayer (Google)
Some of the biggest and most successful companies espouse launching early and often. This means that websites and applications are launched as early as possible, even if some features are not in place. The main benefit of this is that you gain invaluable feedback at an early stage, allowing you to tweak your product based on what your user actually wants – not what you think they want.
Again, this mindset helps to reduce costs since you don’t spend time developing features that your users don’t…well…use!
Think about your post-launch strategy
“Business has only two functions – marketing and innovation.” – Milan Kundera
A common mistake is to consider your website ‘finished’ once it has launched. From online marketing to developing new features, you should always be thinking about how you can provide a better service for your users. Look at what your competitors are doing on a regular basis – think about what works for them and what doesn’t work for them.
Remember that these activities cost money, so don’t spend every penny of your budget before your site has launched.