On a whim, I recently responded to a LinkedIn question, "Can [your business] make it in your industry without a website?". I answered with a partially qualified "Yes, you can survive without a web site".
This response may seem a bit odd as you might think that as a web designer my modus operandi should be to encourage all and sundry to get themselves on the web quick-smart. However I've had the not uncommon experience of working on many (,many) projects that have turned out to be premature and badly planned so that when it is possible to do so I tend to urge caution. This is exceedingly important with smaller clients and fledgling ventures, as they don't usually get a second chance.
So this has led me to start thinking about why people sometimes dive in and build a web site before they are ready. What is the allure of web design that makes small business owners and entrepreneurs sink a lot of their hard-earned (money and time) into what can unfortunately sometimes turn out to be a flight of fancy?
Here's a few reasons why I think small business/entrepeneurs love to dive in and get their web site created:
- It's fun and exciting to create a web site, it is a creative process and there is a real sense of achievement in producing something that you have conceived. Same goes for building anything, there is a sense of satisfaction when it is done.
- It's a relatively tangible thing that you can throw your energies into, rather than working out the hard questions that you would prefer to avoid in your business plan - those small and troublesome things like where your customers are going to come from, or whether all your tax and legals are sorted out. Unlike these difficult questions a web site can be answered - it may not be the right answer but there is still a feeling of progress in coming up with something.
- It's hard to conceptualise everything on paper. It is a lot easier for people to decide what they want in their website as each part comes to fruition. This is the cause of most last minute changes that all Web Designers are familiar with and where we ask ourselves 'why didn't they say that they needed a forum earlier?". The answer is that the client often doesn't know until they see the virtually complete site.
So, yes you can survive without a web site and in fact for most fledgling businesses it should come after you have begun operations because once you understand and bed down your business processes you will then be able to create a web site that helps you in your day to day communications. Furthermore you will (hopefully) have interacted with real customers and so you will have a much better idea of what information and services they would want from your website.
However, it would be a really bad idea to not at least keep tabs on the internet and involve yourself and your business in the online world at a time and in a way that suits your business strategy. There are countless directories, marketplaces and business oriented social media web sites all of which provide a good interim step of testing out your web identity. I think that only when you have experienced a small bit of web interaction to do with your industry/business, preferably with people who are your likely web audience, only then should you start thinking about your own web site.
Published 15 February, 2010