I Need a Web Presence. Now What?

RoadIn today’s economy, more and more people will look to the web to learn about you and your work. If you’re a solo-entrepreneur, you own a small business, or you run a small nonprofit then you probably know that you need to get your business on the Web.

What do you need to know first? What will you say? How will you help customers get to know you? How can you use the Web to listen and respond to their needs?

Over the next few weeks we will be doing a series of posts on creating your web presence to address these questions and more.

What do you need to know first? If you want to create a professional web presence, start by knowing what you want to accomplish and planning how to do it. In 12 years of developing websites, I’ve found that most individuals, businesses, and organizations overlook goal-setting and planning when it comes to their websites. The Web is over 15 years old—it and its users have changed substantially. A “build it and they will come” mentality may have played well in a baseball movie, but is not and never has been much of a web strategy.

Take a look at Apple’s website from 1997 and from 2003 (archived in the waybackmachine) compared to Apple’s website today. As the Web and its users have matured, Apple’s website has changed with the times. Even though you probably don’t have Apple-level budget and staffing you will benefit from thinking about what you want to accomplish and planning for it just the same.

Here are three questions to think about before you hire a web designer, buy a web package, establish a blog, or start taking advantage of social networking on the Web.

1. What do you want to accomplish with your web presence? First, take the time to figure this out. For example, are you trying to grow your business, start a new career, or establish expertise in a particular area? Your web presence should support your business goals and strategy so dust off that business plan (even if it is scribbled on a napkin) for guidance.

2. Who are your target audiences on the Web and what’s the best way to reach them? Your web presence must appeal to the people you’re trying to reach. A business web presence is about you, but not for you. You may have several different target groups. Who are they, in terms of: income level, geographic location, education, needs, wants, purchasing habits, or other characteristics? What’s the best way to reach them—a website, a blog, LinkedIn, or twitter? In addition to a website, you can always create a blog or participate in social networking like twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

3. What market do you compete in and who is your competition on the Web? Although you might be unique in how you provide your services or products, it is unlikely that what you provide is unique. If your business didn’t exist, who else could your clients turn to for similar services? What makes up your competition’s web presence—website, blog and/or social networking? Think about doing something similar (if there is high expectation in your market) or about taking the opportunity to branch out and do things differently if it makes sense for your situation.

Business is business, online or off. Don’t forget to pack your common sense when you embark on your Great Web Adventure.