When I began my business 18 months or so ago, I went through the steps that all the guides to starting your own business recommend, such as get an accountant, register the company, develop a website etc. It was this last task with which, I have to admit, I ended up struggling. After all, I thought, why does a reasonably well-known bloke like me need a website? I now concede that I was wrong. In 2002, your website can say an awful lot about your business and it is often the first place that people look to find out about it. Just as you wouldn’t send out meaningless direct mail in the post, why think that you can get by with a website that is merely there as a hygiene factor?
Websites are more than hygiene factors – they are a glimpse into your corporate (or personal) psyche.
A year and a half on and I am redesigning my website (or the one page of text that purported to be a website) and I am working with a web designer to create something more meaningful and considerably more user friendly. I’m using a web designer because of his experience, ideas and creativity, and because the value he will bring will more than repay his modest fee (exactly what I tell my own customers!).
I was persuaded that I needed a website as a result of the small number of people who used my woefully inadequate site. Since the redesign started, I’ve acquired introductions and subsequent business and last week I received a job application from a marketing student who liked the sound of what I did – how did she guess from the site that I loafed around all day with beer in hand?
There are three comments I’d make about small business websites in the light of my experience as user and browser. Firstly, the site should try to reflect the personality of the business – it should be possible to give a flavour of what you do and how you do it. Secondly, you should aim to portray all that you want to portray in five minutes. Very few people can spend much more time perusing a website. Finally, I’d advise you not to submerge the business proposition in state-of-the-art technology. Some web designers can get carried away. A site with incredible effects can suggest that the business is hi-tech but the showiness of the site can also detract from what the business is all about. In short, navigability matters, gimmicks don’t. I’ll try to remember that while I’m redesigning my site!
Peter Le Beau is the managing director of Le Beau Visage, a financial services marketing consultancy. He is also a consultant for Swiss Re Life & Health.