Well, it’s been a few days since I’ve been able to blog. You can blame the warm weather and the hectic end to my MBA term. But I was reminded of my absence when sitting in at a focus group for Small Business BC a few days ago. A number of local small business owners that were connected to Small Business BC were asked to give feedback on all sorts of things including the Small Business BC website. I was particularly drawn into this discussion because, obviously, I design websites but also because of the wide variety of feedback and ideas that were in the room. This is the excitement of brainstorming sessions and the reason why I participate in them.

But I was forced to point out that any small business needs to know it’s objectives before it can start talking about features and design. This is why, when the dust settles after one of these sessions, many website owners are conflicted when trying to decide which ideas they should implement and in which order. So here is a little discussion on strategy that may be able to help you out.

Firstly, there are two fundamental questions that “strategy” tries to answer:

  1. What business are we in?
  2. How do we compete?

All the other strategic questions are subsets of one of these two questions. So, what does this have to do with the small business websites? A lot, actually. I believe the greatest value that a web-designer can offer a client is not aesthetics, not robust features and not a guaranteed 99.99% uptime, but strategic thinking about how a website should support a small business. A website cannot be everything to everyone (especially not with the budgets that small business people have to play with). So, you need to be very clear about what your website is trying to accomplish.

Operations planners use a four-tiered process for clarifying objectives and creating performance metrics (Goals, Critical Success Factors, KPI’s, Targets). I’m going to simplify this and say that small business owners need to know clearly the overall goal(s) that their website is trying to achieve. And then they need to create the metrics that let them measure how close they are to those goals. Without this, you are either unfocused or you do not know the results of your effort. Here are some examples to get you thinking:

Goals Metrics
To generate leads Number of phone calls, Number of emails, Number of walk-in customers, etc. Note, that a good web designer will never propose statistics like “hits” or “views” to a small business owner. These mean nothing, cost nothing and generate no revenue (unless you have advertising revenue which, for most small businesses, I highly discourage). Each of these metrics needs to be given a target (usually monthly) that you are trying to hit – ie. 10 emails per month.
To book appointments It is always great when a small business can take bookings right in the website itself. Then you get a real idea of how much of your website traffic is actually converting into sales opportunities. Again, set a target of say 5 appointments per month and start to measure those conversion rates.
To make sales If you have an ecommerce site, then you can really get down and dirty with Google analytics and see how much your traffic is really worth to your business. Think about it this way – 1000 views converts into 100 shoppers converts into 10 sales. If each sale is $100, then you have $1000 in revenue. Each of your views is thus worth $1 for your business. Again, you want to set targets for these metrics.

Setting targets is not always easy to do. I prescribe to the old mantra of S.M.A.R.T. which says that targets must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. This works for every goal and target in your business so try it out next time you delegate something to one of your employees. And if you’re in the market for a web designer, always ask them what their experience is with websites in relation to small business strategy. If they don’t give you a satisfactory answer then, in the long run, you’re website isn’t going to do what you need it to do for your small business.