It has been one of my continual themes when talking with clients about their websites that their site needs to serve their business. When I work with a client, I look at their website as an extension of their business model. I take a look at their overall business and evaluate:
* How do they make their money?
* Who is their public or target audience?
* How can their public be promoted to?
* How can the web be used to help automate their business?
I'll listen to what they want to achieve with their website and then recommend options to help that website achieve the points above: making money, automate and promote to their target audience.
Anybody looking to put up a website for business purposes needs to look at this. Too many business sites are very poorly thought out and underutilized. A good website is a lot more than good design. A good design and some content means only that a website is acting as a glorified brochure. Its better than nothing and any business today which does not at least have that really needs to get on the ball. However, beyond design, you can look at how the site will achieve the points above.
Now, a business which is all web-based is very straight-forward in this department. A web-based business is going to want to collect payments from customers via the web, so we're going to want a secure payment system on that website. We also want that website to be well-designed so that it does not confuse people and attracts the customers' eyes to those things which make the business money. We're also going to want to discuss how the web can be used to promote. A business which is not web-based would want to consider what they can provide on the web to extend their business. Traditional brick-and-mortar businesses may have a storefront or may need to deal with clients in person, but what can they do on the web to extend their reach?
Promotion is paramount to success in business and on the web. A website can perform any of many promotional tasks such as:
* Collecting sales leads by asking visitors to fill out a form. Perhaps give them some free, valuable content in exchange for their information.
* Collecting email addresses for use on a mailing list
* Auto-responders sending targeted emails automatically based on customer's indicated interests on a form
* Providing metrics on customer interest using landing pages and keyword advertising
* Running polls and surveys to find out what your potential customers want
* Running free articles which educate your customers on the subject matter of your business and get them interested.
A website is a footprint on the internet which is viewable worldwide. Depending on the nature of your business, visitors located well away from you may not be that useful in terms of potential clientele. However, there is no reason why you cannot still gather information from them to use with your local clientele. After all, if they arrived to your website, they were interested enough to come. They are a public for you regardless of their location. Perhaps you can even find a way to change your business model to include these people which are not located locally to your business.
In terms of automation, keep something in mind. A web server is simply a computer. Computers are great at doing repetitive tasks that humans either hate or would find a huge waste of time. For this reason, it is always a good idea to look over those business functions which are repetitive and see if your website can serve to make your life easier. For example:
* Sending your email newsletters could easily be done using your web server. Click a button and email your entire mailing list. Easy.
* Auto-responders can take care of automatically emailing your customers relevant information at regular intervals.
* Automatically compile sales statistics and email them to you each morning (if you do web sales)
* Export sales transactions directly into your accounting software to avoid typing them all in manually.
There are a number of ways a web server can be used to serve a very real business function and actually do some of the work for you.
A lot of this comes under the heading of programming. Design is design, however making the site actually DO something means it has to be programmed. So, if you are skilled in this area, you can do it yourself. Or perhaps you can hire it out to somebody. Before any of that, though, look over your entire business and the website you have and see how it can be utilized to make your business easier to manage or actually drive in business. Unless your website is personal in nature, then it is through the lens of business that your site needs to be evaluated.