NNBA Featured Expert
You Need A Website and Don’t Know Where to Start
By Stowe Spivey, CEO, Action Navigation.com
You want a web site for your business but don’t know where to start
You’ve worked long hours to nurture an idea from light bulb stage to ready-to-go stage. Most everything is in place and you realize you need a website. What is involved in building a web site? Should you create it yourself or outsource it? Should you build a web app or a web site and what’s the difference?
If you’re like most small businesses, the above description feels familiar. Understanding what you offer is second nature but websites is a somewhat foreign concept and you wonder if you should attempt to learn how to build a website. It’s not in your scope of knowledge but you’re smart, you could do this right?
The answer is likely, yes. But it might be to the wrong question. A better question might be, do you want to park the momentum of building the business in order to learn multiple technologies to create a website. Take into account the return on investment and the opportunity cost of detouring your business effort while you learn and build a website.
Think about how many clients or purchases it would take to build a nice website. There is a cost to building a website – you determine whether determines whether it is a cash cost or a lost opportunity cost, meaning will you might lose momentum and potential business if you stop what you are doing in order to learn how to build a website. This is a very common question you will likely have to ask yourself in the beginning stages of your business.
Let’s first take a look at some of the terminology we use in building web sites.
Web server: A server on the internet that “serves” files that are typically called web pages.
Front-end: This is a term used to describe actions that happen in your browser.
Back-end: This is a term used to describe actions that take place on the web server.
Web page: A file that contains code that controls how things are displayed – in essence, what you see on a web page is controlled by the code in the web page.
Web site: A file, or group of files, on a web server which is viewed through your browser.
HTML: The code language used to create a web page. A browser interprets HTML to display what you see on a web page.
CSS: Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is used to control how things are displayed on a web page. It’s analogous to the styles used in an office document. Basic examples include header, bold, italic, and color. Using CSS, we can control most everything on a web page.
The graphic below visually describes how we view pages on the internet.
In the diagram above:
1) The local computer (the browser on your computer)
2) Goes to a web site (example.com)
3) The web server sends back the web page page (static.html) from the web site
That is how the internet and web sites work in its most simple form.
Steps to think through:
1) Do I need a website or web-based software?
* A website delivers information to people who come to your website.
* If your business idea is to sell products or services online, you will need E-commerce capabilities built in to your website.
* If your business idea IS software on a website or an “app”, you’ll want a firm who has successfully delivered that type of work before. Web-based software requires the ability to build a web site AND a deep understanding of building software on the web – this is a much deeper technology skill set then building a web site.
2) Decide if you want to wade in to the technology waters to build your own web site or select a vendor to take that on. Remember, it’s an investment that will yield dividends throughout its life cycle. That is true whether you do it or someone else does.
3) If you decide to use an outside firm, walk through costs and timelines with the firm. Get recommendations and endorsements from people or organizations you trust. Always get it in writing with milestone delivery timelines.
The majority of graphic artists use Adobe® Photoshop® as their creative tool. However, not all people who use Photoshop® are graphic artists. The same axiom applies to web site designers. Not everyone who codes or programs can build the web site that you want.
Consider asking these questions to a potential vendor. The answers need not directly steer you toward or away from the vendor, but rather give you an idea of how their process works.
- Have you worked with a business like mine before?
- Have you created the type of web site or software for a business like mine?
- What are typical costs and the timeline for a web site or software like mine?
We’ve heard the saying, “we don’t know what we don’t know.” Absolutely true, how could you? Talk to other business people to see what technology growing pains they have faced and how they have met those challenges. You want to learn, or work with a firm who has learned, growing pains you might face down the road and has overcome them.
Many technology companies have the experience of working with many companies in different stages of growth. This perspective allows them to be able to know what you may not about where you might be in a year, two years, five years.
Growth and Scale
Growth is how your website adapts and grows in offerings to your prospects and clients. Scale is how well your website adapts to changing web traffic “load”, meaning the amount of users interacting with your website.
We’ve all heard of the startup that, all the sudden, got traction and suddenly a lot of people went to their site only to find their site was not able to handle the traffic and was unavailable. An avoidable tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.
Scale can range from a hosting plan on GoDaddy to dedicated servers in the cloud. You may be surprised how affordable the cloud can be. While GoDaddy might be the answer, hosting in the cloud offers more control and is definitely faster to serve your web pages. This speed is an important consideration for Google rankings. And you do want Google to rank your site well so that people can find you easily.
One of my joys is to use the years of experience to ask probing questions and see the light bulbs go off as the client says, “Oh, I haven’t thought of that.” That is where experience plays a large part of future-proofing your web site and adds the most value. Example include:
- What would you like to know about how customers interact with you through your web site? If so, you need to collect data because data tells the story.
- Are you missing out on sales because your shopping cart did not work for three days and you were not aware of the problem? Future-proof the build-out and continually monitor the site.
Twenty years ago I started as, and remain, a business person who learned technology to sell products. Through my journey in the technology space, I’ve used, programmed, and architected many different technologies and most related in some form to the simple web diagram above. Understanding the business perspective, the technology piece, and how and where they overlap is at my sweet spot.
Because of this, I am uniquely able to see three aspects of the puzzle you might be facing:
- The technology – What are all the moving pieces you might need in order to present your business to the web in the best possible light?
- The Business aspect – Where does a web site fit in a business strategy?
- Growth and scale – How can a web site be set up from the beginning to easily grow as my business offers new services, products, and content? How can I set up a web site that scales up effortlessly as it becomes popular and has many users?
If you would like to talk about your web site ideas or talk about how to grow your idea on the web, please contact me at 704-578-9781. You may also reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.