[olug] Business website advice

Eric Penne epenne at olug.org
Tue Apr 6 14:31:53 UTC 2010

A friend of mine just asked me this:

> What do you think of this outfit? We're finally looking to establish our
> own company website.
> It appears that the future of our business will necessitate this.
> We currently do a lot of Telephone sales. But the future is looking
> toward online ordering.

I gave him the following advice. Do you have anymore to add? Am I way off base?

Its always hard to tell how a company will perform based on their
website. I haven't heard anything bad about them though. I've seen it
both ways.
Beautiful website backed by jerks.
Horrible website backed by the nicest people.
The successful ones have a good website backed by nice people. If they
can do the good website and you can back it with nice people and great
service to your customer, it will all work out.

Ask for references from other companies they work with. If they won't
give you references you should be wary.

Treat this like a job interview. They will work for you and represent
you with your online presence so you need to trust them like you would
a normal employee.

What if you don't like them after they've put all this together? You
need to be able to get your data and transfer it to a different
service. If they use "proprietary" backend services that don't allow
you to migrate to a different company then your data will be stuck
there and you will have to recreate it with a new company.

To shift to what will make this successful:
Clearly define what you want. - Software and webservers are so fluid
and diverse that a generic blob of requirements can get expensive and
still not meet your needs. Spend a lot of time breaking down exactly
what you want up front so they can get an idea. Pass this back and
forth with the company a few times to round the rough edges.

Start small and modular - you have email. Now get a basic webpage. Add
an ordering system when you are 80% confident in the webpage. Add
another module when the last one is 80-90% done.

Don't expect perfection the first time - It will take a couple rounds
of changes to get what you want. Things in your head won't look the
same on a webpage. Translation from you to them and their team will be
difficult. You may like what they do better than your own idea.

Don't assume they will get it done on time - programmers and engineers
can be an elusive group. If you don't check on them they can forget or
get sidetracked by other projects. Quick 30 minute weekly updates and
the expectations for the next week should be performed. Layout
milestones on your small system that they have to meet. Revise if
things go ahead of schedule.

Use your customers for feedback - don't drop a bomb all at once. use a
few of your preferred customers for feedback. use some of your new
customers also since they may not have a system etched in their head
yet. If the system doesn't work make sure your sales force is right
there to help them and do it the "old fashioned" way until they are

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask.

Good luck,

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