If you think starting a business online or bringing your brick-and-mortar business to the Internet can simply be done by inputting a few HTML codes and some clip art, think again. The Internet may be the wave of the future for business, but it involves a lot more than just putting up a flashy Web site. As in all business ventures, knowing how to manage your Web site is key.
In Managing The Web-Based Enterprise by Jesse Feiler, software director of Philmont Software Mill, the author introduces you to the world of Web-based enterprises and offers tips on how to make sure yours runs smoothly. Read on to find out more about what exactly a Web-based enterprise is and how you can effectively maintain and manage it.
Entrepreneur.com: What is a Web-based enterprise?
Jesse Feiler: There are two definitions. The one most people are comfortable with is something like Amazon.com, an enterprise that uses the Web as its lifeblood. The other definition of a Web-based enterprise is any organization with a Web site. [If yours fits the second description,] your Web site has to be supported the same way in which an enterprise is. It needs to be staffed, maintained and managed. The book addresses both sides. It's for companies that want to see how to go from where they are today, which is often a brick-and-mortar environment, to integrating the Web into their business. It's also for companies that have a little Web site and have a sense it needs something more.
|"Stop and think about what it is you want to do in a real business sense before you play with the technology."|
Entrepreneur.com: How should this Web-based enterprise be organized?
Feiler: One of the things I talk about in the book that I think is very important is mission, scope and place. People are pretty comfortable talking about the mission of a Web site-what it is you're trying to do-but they usually stop there. It's very important to go on in terms of scope, for example. Who are you dealing with? Are you addressing yourself to people in a regional area or are you addressing yourself to pet lovers and veterinarians? Who is your audience? Mission is what you do, scope is how much of it you do, and place is the trickiest part of them all. In the brick-and-mortar world, it's easy to distinguish a shoe store on Fifth Ave. in New York City from a shoe store that's in a warehouse area. Place defines how you do what you do-should customers expect to be on their own or should they expect to have a lot of customer service? This is an area where a lot of Web sites come up lacking because they haven't defined the scope of what they're doing, who they're doing it for, or how they're going about doing it.
Entrepreneur.com: What are the basic elements that should be included on a Web site?
Feiler: First you have to figure out what you're trying to do. There's a whole list of items that should be on each page including navigational tools. A lot of Web sites have a navigation bar to take you to other pages on the site. You should let visitors know who owns the site, the copyright, all those things. I spend a lot of time talking about the pros and cons of putting information such as last update on a page because that's a two-edged sword. If your last update was three months ago, in some cases, that's not going to be very good. But if you're an organization that doesn't change very often, three months is a pretty recent update. You have to consider the pros and cons of everything you put on the page.
Entrepreneur.com: When the site goes live, what do you need to remember as far as managing the site and maintenance?
Feiler: The most important thing you have to worry about is [something that occurs] before it actually goes live. Most people usually start by figuring out what it's going to cost to maintain their site. From page one of the book through the end, I say don't do it that way. Work backwards. Ask yourself what you can afford to do to maintain this site. Am I going to maintain the site on Saturday mornings, or am I going to have a staff of six people do it? Set out what you can afford to do by way of maintenance and then design the site around it.
You have to maintain the site because these things don't take care of themselves. You have to check your links, check for all the things that could go wrong with the site, especially sites that are modified over time. One of the things I tried to do in the book that I think is important is to let people know they're not the first to put up a Web site and experience a problem such as putting up a dead link. Get over it, fix it and figure out how to avoid it in the future. Avoiding it in the future doesn't mean checking the links every day. It probably means avoiding deep links, which are the ones that break. I want people to know there are steps you can take.
Entrepreneur.com: How much do you really need to know technically as far as putting up your site?
Feiler: What people really need to know and usually skip are mission, scope and place, and you're not going to get that from a consultant. I've seen this in almost every Web fiasco. The problem isn't with HTML; it's with the definition of the site and the fact that the mission, scope or place was not defined or was misunderstood by various people. It's the business side that's the problem. Stop and think about what it is you want to do in a real business sense before you play with the technology.