Once you and your organization have recognize the opportunities that come with having a coordinated web presence, the next step is to begin building one for your organization. Several questions will need to be answered as you go along this journey, but the first and most important is probably Where Do I Begin? My answer to this: Organization and Planning.
It’s difficult (or just unwise) to begin any significant project without an idea of what things will look like once completed or you’ve reached a specific milestone. The website and web presence of your small business or non-profit organization certainly qualifies. So here are five steps to take to prepare you for this journey.
1. Follow large organizations with a mission that is similar to yours
Unless your organization is 100% unique, chances are good that a few large organizations are doing what you would like to do right now. Learn from them. Large organizations have the financial and human resources to make them successful. They have taken chances and have experienced the successes and missteps that come with running a business or a non-profit. Furthermore, they have more than likely mastered the marketing, branding and communication strategies of connection with large audiences. While you may not be running an operation of the same scale, there is a wealth of information you can observe from their practices. Begin following these organizations if you are not currently and learn.
2. Subscribe to the websites, social media and blogs of influential media within your industry
Industry media publications, articles, social media, blogs, etc focus on delivering news and keeping their audiences informed on what’s trending and what’s important. This is a great place to learn, to be inspired and to gather ideas on what you should feature within your own web strategy and how to deliver it. Industry-specific media also provides excellent examples of how to communicate effectively as well as what to communicate. Do keep in mind, however, some media sources focus on audiences primarily made up of producers (i.e. business owners, professionals, service providers, etc) while others focus on audiences primarily made up of consumers (i.e. customers, enthusiasts, cancer survivors, etc). You will want to find both, but know the audience they are targeting. After all, the news and content that is interesting to you (e.g. as a Producer) may not be right for your customers and those using your organization’s services (e.g. as Consumers).
3. Define your goals and objectives
This is the most important beginning step you will undertake. What do you want to accomplish with your website and web presence? Do you want to create an online presence? Do you want to differentiate your business? Do you want to capture leads? What ever your goals are, one of your very first steps should be to define them for your website. It is important to spend some time identifying the reasons you are building a website in the first place. This will help guide you through the process of actually developing the site, identifying the resources and features you need and help you stay on course.
4. Get the necessary training
Assuming you don’t already have the expertise of building and running a successful web presence, you will need to begin learning. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should begin taking software development classes. What this means is that if you are going to manage, maintain and utilize the tools of the web you will need to become familiar with them. Having a working knowledge of HTML, the basic building blocks of the web, is a great place to start. But in addition to that, it will be useful to learn about other web-related technology such as digital photography, video, social media and mobile technology. As your web presence matures over time, you will begin to use more and more technology in managing your website. The growing number of tools has added to the sophistication of the web and continues to improve the user experience. You will being to experience this with the majority of the websites you frequent and will want to begin bringing your own site up to contemporary standards. Begin with the basics and continue expand from there.
5. Work your plan
Once you’ve spent time creating your plan, you must begin to put it in motion. Otherwise, why did you both in the first place? A plan without execution is a waste of time.
One very important thing to understand is a website is never really “done”. After all, time does not stand still and neither does technology. You may get to a point where you’ve accomplished the items on your list or have developed a web presence that you are incredibly proud to share, but technology continues to change and evolve everyday. What you build today can look stale tomorrow. Or next week. Or next month. Regardless, it will get old so you must be prepared to evolve, too. For instance Apple, one of (if not the) world’s most respected companies is revered for it’s sense of design and user sensibilities. Imagine what it’s website must have looked like 5 years ago. Or even 2 years ago. It very well may have looked better than most companies’ websites today but it pales in comparison to what Apple’s site looks like today. That is because they evolve and don’t stand still. Apple’s website 2 years from now will likely blow away their current site. We must maintain the same mind state with the care of our own site. Continue to tweak and make changes overtime. See what other sites are doing and where things are headed and don’t be afraid to experiment. They don’t have to be wholesale changes made daily, monthly or yearly but they should be tweaks that feel right.