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Beth had a new website built for her thriving legal practice last year. While the site is beautiful, website traffic and leads have completely dried up. She doesn’t understand what could possibly have gone wrong and whether her site will eventually recover.
Beth isn’t alone. Thirty-four percent of small business owners are dissatisfied with their website performance. You see evidence of it every day – websites that:
- are hard to find and navigate;
- are undifferentiated – do not stand out in any way from the competition;
- target the wrong audience or no specific audience;
- read poorly, do not get your point across, or fail to incent action that benefits the business;
- render slowly and/or poorly on different devices and browsers; and
- are insecure, unstable, and/or time-consuming and expensive to maintain.
Small business owners who lack project management and technical skills are especially at risk of these types of website failures. Often, they do not realize there is a problem until months after the site has launched.
What You Can Do
If you are planning a website development project there are a few things you can do to mitigate the risk of disappointment or failure.
Set Clear Goals
Start by setting clear goals and expectations for the website development effort. Clear goals get everyone on the same page, clarify priorities, minimize misunderstandings, and prevent time wastage on useless distractions. They give you a way to objectively measure success or failure.
Goals must clearly spell out what it is you want to achieve when. They need to be “smart” goals – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound – meaning there should be no ambiguity about whether the goal has been achieved in the agreed-upon timeframe for completion.
Examples of clear goals include:
- Earn 4-8 qualified leads per month. A qualified lead is a small business headquartered in the state of Pennsylvania with annual revenue of $1M+.
- Maintain a website up-time of 99.99%.
- Reduce turn-around time on system changes by 10 days and post-deployment errors by 100%.
Here are some additional examples of website goals to help you get started.
Understand the Work Proposal
Whether the work is being done inhouse or outsourced to a third-party provider, ask for a written proposal and read it carefully. Make sure you understand it and ask questions if you do not.
As a minimum, the proposal should spell out the proposed project definition, scope, roles, responsibilities, approach, and workplan. Read these to ensure everyone has the same understanding of what you are trying to achieve when.
- The project definition should clearly explain the problem you are trying to solve and the goals you are trying to achieve.
- The project scope should include what you asked for, no more, no less.
- Roles and responsibilities need to be detailed and sensible, meaning everyone should understand what they are responsible for, be capable of delivering, and know who they need to go to when problems arise.
- The approach and workplan must be structured and logical. They should include built-in checkpoints and milestones that allow you to determine whether progress is being made and give you the opportunity to resolve issues as they inevitably arise.
- The project time frame must be realistic. The people expected to do the work should have provided time and effort estimates for completion. The schedule must not conflict with other known business constraints or commitments like vacations, training, new product launches, or a busy season.
- Internal and external costs should be itemized and an approved budget set before you start.
If you are using external resources to do the work, price is always going to be an over-riding consideration. Don’t fall into the trap of just picking the lowest-cost proposal. Carefully examine company and team member credentials, experience, and reputation before making your final decision. Price won’t matter if the delivered product doesn’t do what you need it to do.
Assign an Internal Project and Website Owner
Before you approve the project start, carefully consider who is going to manage the project from an internal perspective. If you know there are going to be conflicting demands for your time, if you lack technical and/or project management skills, if there is a significant investment involved or the project is high visibility or mission-critical, these are all good reasons to consider hiring an objective third-party project manager.
I know the last thing you want to do is take on an additional expense, but developing and maintaining a website requires a good understanding of web design and development, web maintenance, search engine optimization, and project management methodologies, tools, and techniques. It is also helpful to know HTML, CSS, content management systems, hosting environments, and search engine optimization basics.
The internal project manager or project owner will provide day-to-day project leadership, coaching, and decision-making for your team while taking responsibility for ensuring the project stays on track and meets expectations. The project manager can manage risks and issues, negotiate conflicts and compromises, and ensure the overall quality of the end-product.
While this will add to the overall project expense, you will have someone specifically assigned to look after your best interests and deal with day-to-day details that could otherwise distract you from running your business. The cost of project management services can pay for itself by affording peace of mind and allowing you to focus on running your day-to-day business.
Plan For an Internal Transition
One thing that hardly ever gets talked about during a website development project is what happens post-launch. Just like your mobile phone needs monitoring, upgrades, and backups from time-to-time, so does your website. Who is going to be responsible for managing the site after the project team disassembles?
An internal transition plan lays out the tasks and activities needed to transition from the build and deploy stage to website maintenance. Here again, it helps to have an internal project manager or project owner assigned. He or she will provide continuity by having the necessary knowledge, experience, and expertise to manage future operations and enhancements.
If you do not have an internal project manager and/or website maintenance is going to be handled by a different team, a knowledge transfer will have to occur. Project specifications, code, plans, and issue tracking documentation will need to be shared with the team responsible for ongoing site maintenance, and procedures established for product maintenance, issue management, change control, and site governance established.
Ongoing website success depends on the success of the transition process. Make sure you plan for it.
Website development projects are always tricky and require careful planning, communication, and attention to detail. Acknowledging that up-front and planning for it pays for itself in the long-run by avoiding unnecessary project delays, over-expenditures, and the failure to meet expectations.