Don't Put the Cart Before the Horse: Outlining Your Business Plan Before Designing Your Website

By Kris LaGreca

Don't Put the Cart Before the Horse: Outlining Your Business Plan Before Designing Your WebsiteNew Possibilities Group

These days, it’s easy for some people to slap together a website faster than they can actually determine its purpose. When it comes to a business or brand website, that doesn’t really fly.

We’ve seen a lot of web projects through from planning to launch. The ideas that tend to go off the rails early on are the ones without a solid game plan guiding the team in terms of what purpose the website should serve, how it ties into the bigger sales and marketing picture, and what goals it needs to meet to be considered successful.

That’s where a business plan comes into play.

Many scoff at writing business plans because they are time-consuming. Who has time to crank out 15-20 pages of information when you just want to get your e-commerce business going?

You do. If you want your site to help your business succeed, that is.

According to SmallBizTrends.com, creating a business plan doubles your chances of success in general. Since your website is a key component of success, creating a business plan first is a critical piece of the puzzle. When you and your digital agency both have a solid grasp on what not only your business goals are but also how your website can help achieve those goals, it’s much easier to design and develop something that can function as a powerful business tool.

Let's examine the 3 main components of a business plan and how they link to your web design.

Your Vision

In short, your business plan is a roadmap of where you want to be in three to five years, and how you plan to get there.

The first section is a detailed outline of your vision or your business concept. Outline the structure of the company, its role in the industry, your products and services, and how you plan to make your business successful. This is where you develop or explain your business model and your major revenue streams. Your vision will shape the themes of your website. Revenue streams will drive main landing pages and influence content and themes in your design.

Your business plan will be an integral part of helping your agency understand your needs during the discovery process. Let's look at a couple of examples. A simple one might be the navigation of your main menu. One of your main landing pages may be "products." The products identified in your vision will determine the pages that fall under that heading.

Here's a deeper example. Imagine you are a software company and you've identified a major revenue stream to be software upgrades or cross-selling add-ons. With that in mind, you can design your website to identify customers that are likely to upgrade or add-on. Customized suggestions during the checkout process or recommendations when they select a certain product can help you meet that goal.

Your vision will help determine what is most important to your customers and to the growth of your business. Those goals must be incorporated into the design process. 

Project Discovery - New Possibilities Group

Your Marketplace

Describing your marketplace is the second key step to creating a useful business plan. This section identifies your target audience, where and how you can find them, and what motivates them to buy. You can also use this section to discuss the marketplace in general, including your competitors and how you can stand out as different.

Online marketing has evolved into a multifaceted beast over the last five years. Social networking and content marketing are critical to bringing in large numbers of potential customers on a cost-effective basis. Use this section to identify the best ways to reach your audience. Then, channel those strategies into your website design.

How, you ask? Here are three ways.

  • Focus on providing a superior overall experience. What communication methods are most appealing to your audience? Should you include video, pop-ups, testimonials, surveys, or other features? What colors or imagery appeal to the audience you've identified? What promotions motivate them to buy? Answering these questions in your business plan will ensure that you design a website that encourages the user behavior that leads to your success. 
     
  • Analyze your competitors. Look at the websites of your competitors. Objectively critique their design and marketing strategies. What can you do to elevate your users' experience? 
     
  • Integrate social networking and content marketing. Your website is a tool for building your online reputation. Social networking and content marketing are the roads that lead customers to you. If you are not effectively using them, you're not building an online reputation. Use the marketplace section to determine how to integrate these key marketing strategies into your website. Will you host a blog? Will visitors be prompted to sign-up for your newsletter? Will customers be able to leave reviews of your products? Your business plan will guide these features of your website. 

Your Financials

The last critical component of your business plan is the financial section. Here you will outline income projections, cash flow, financial ratios, break-even analyses and other key data that you will probably obtain from an accountant or your accounting software.

This is still integrally linked to your website design. Your revenue model should include a projection of the number of visitors needed to meet your goals. What conversion rate needs to be maintained for each product or service offered?

Be reasonable and analyze various scenarios. Identifying your goals will help you identify the website metrics you need to monitor to ensure you stay on track. Sharing these goals with your agency during the discovery process will help them understand your goals and suggest strategies, and avoid shopping cart abandonment and high bounce rates

Pitfalls to Avoid

Writing a good business plan is challenging. Entrepreneur magazine put it bluntly by saying "the vast majority of plans are hardly worth the paper they're printed on." The truth is, small business owners are busy. Business plans are often rushed. However, not doing it right has a trickle-down effect. As shown above, it impacts your company's most valuable marketing asset: your website.

Develop an effective business plan by avoiding these pitfalls:

  • Don't use too much jargon. You're not the only one reading your business plan. Potential investors and partners like your digital agency will rely on your writing for insight into your business. Write clearly and avoid using industry-specific terminology.
     
  • Be realistic. Projections are the name of the game when it comes to business planning. However, be realistic about more than just financial projections. Use concrete research about customer purchasing behavior. Always tie your assumptions to fact. Don't assume your customers want to see a video pop-up each time they visit your site. Research it. If you have an existing site, talk to your designer about testing out different strategies, colors, fonts and other design techniques. Use this research within your business plan.
     
  • Be detailed, but not too detailed. Your business plan needs to be detailed in order to provide information to a broad range of readers. However, getting bogged down in too many details will cause you to lose focus. If you feel a specific section needs greater explanation, include an appendix. 

The discovery process is the most important part of launching a website, and your business plan is critical to that process. While most consider a business plan as an internal tool or a way to explain your business to investors, the effects of a well-written business plan go deeper and can influence the overall success of not just your website project, but the business itself.

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