I recently met an entrepreneur who told me her startup needed a website. When I asked why, she said, "Because every company has a website, so why should mine be any different?" When I pressed further and asked what end the website would serve, she paused, looking a little puzzled, and said, "Well, I don't know--you tell me."
Create a manageable site with CMS
A CMS (content management system) can significantly simplify the process of editing your website. With CMS, you create and edit web pages online (inside your browser window), just as if you were editing a document in a word processor or a desktop publishing program. Here are a few CMS packages to try:
• Movable Type
Build CMS into your website from the very beginning or discuss your CMS options with your website developer. Adding it later can be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
This same entrepreneur never would have imagined launching her startup without a business plan. Yet she had no problem with the idea of starting a website with no purpose in mind. She's not alone. This Field of Dreams mentality of "If you build it, they will come" is pervasive among startups. Unfortunately, it doesn't work.
A website with purpose has significantly more impact than one without it, so the first step is to define its purpose. Is the site intended to inform and educate, sell products or services, raise your company's profile, build community or something else? Think of purpose this way: Assuming your website is successful, what will it have accomplished?
To ensure your website furthers its purpose, develop a plan in the form of an RFP (request for proposal). The RFP describes each area of your future site, how it works and what end it serves. Ideally, your RFP should address at least the following:
- Website purpose
- Target audiences
- Design considerations
- User or account login requirements
- Audio/visual elements
- e-commerce, if necessary
- Search engine optimization requirements
- Hosting and maintenance
- Not-to-exceed cost
- Development schedule with deadlines and launch date
- Management structure
With RFP in hand, you're now well-prepared to start building your website internally--if you have the expertise and resources--or solicit bids from website developers. Either way, your RFP will enable you to manage the project more effectively and ensure the site conforms to your vision.
Mikal E. Belicove is a market positioning, social media and PR consultant specializing in website usability and corporate blogging. Visit his blog at belicove.com.