Starting A New Business? Avoid These Website Mistakes
This article was originally written for ArrowQuick Solutions, a technology consultancy for small businesses.
Recently, I listened to Mixergy’s interview with Luke Burgis, founder of Fit Fuel, a website that sold health products. I thought it was a good interview — Burgis sounds like a pragmatic, smart guy. He mentions a few problems that are not uncommon, and we have seen other companies (both new and established) run into these too.
Leave Out The Kitchen Sink
It’s tempting to read how a company used a certain technology or business model and think “Why don’t we do that?” A few years ago it was YouTube and video websites; recently social media has seen a surge of coverage in the media. But just because some companies made a million bucks that way doesn’t mean that you can, or should.
Burgis mentions how this happened after the launch of Fit Fuel. They built video sharing and forums into their e-commerce site, but neither made them any money. You have to ask yourself two things: Is it in line with our core focus and How will it make money? It’s surprising how rarely these questions have satisfactory answers.
Waiting Is The Hardest Part
From the desire to be competitive from day one, to the excitement of starting a new business, many entrepreneurs want to launch with a full-featured website. Unfortunately, most small business owners don’t have the capital to build a state-of-the-art website. It can be a crushing disappointment to find out that huge corporations like Google can spend millions of dollars to tweak a webpage with fewer than 30 words.
The solution is to grow slow. Experienced business owners know that growing too fast will kill you. As Burgis says, “You must walk before you can run.”
Adding new features and making changes gradually also provides some advantages:
- Fewer complaints. Users won’t be put off by big, sudden changes.
- It’s cheaper. You can spread the cost of the features over time.
- Better marketing opportunities. You can spread the PR over time, and you have more time to focus on important marketing, such as SEO (search engine optimization).
- Faster to market. A smaller scope means you can more quickly begin selling products, building your customer base, and getting feedback.
Invest what you can for the initial site, then the subsequent marketing and selling will get you more money to add the features you want later.
Hire Talented Programmers
When you don’t have enough money for everything you want in your site, it’s tempting to hire freelance programmers to keep the costs down so you maximize the number of features. There are many rent-a-coder services out there that can connect you with programmers for less than $10/hour.
This might be a good time to revisit the Project Triangle.
Basically, this management principle says “You get what you pay for.” A lower cost is also going to lower your overall quality.
Fit Fuel found this out the hard way. For their website, they heavily customized a copy of osCommerce (open-source e-commerce software).
- Fit Fuel had to use a lot of programmers because, as freelancers, they often had another job that required their time.
- Their code was often sloppy. Burgis cited an example of debugging code being displayed on a public-facing page.
- Fit Fuel had to devote a lot of testing and QA to make sure the site performed the way it should.
For smaller projects, like adding a contact form to a site, or swapping out a banner montage, the quality of a cheap coder might not be much different from an experienced coder. But that’s a risk you have to evaluate.
It seems that Borgis also comes to the conclusion that the only two ways to create an e-commerce site is 1) use existing software like osCommerce and don’t customize it, or 2) build e-commerce software from scratch. Now, I haven’t used osCommerce myself, and I understand that Fuel Fit made some heavy modifications to their copy, but I would argue that this avenue doesn’t have to be trouble.
I think part of Fit Fuel’s problem was the way it was modified. Entry-level talent usually doesn’t have the skills or knowledge for how to effectively mange code. If you have cut-rate coders from multiple sources making changes haphazardly to software, it’s going to end up a mess. Also, sophisticated programmers would be able to upgrade the base software (osCommerce in this case) no matter how many changes were made. It’s called version control, and it’s a must for any complex software system.
Although sometimes you have to build from scratch, you can usually find existing open-source software with most of the features that you need.