Small business owners often feel they need a website in order to be taken seriously. This sentiment is not misplaced, as numerous sources now say that more than 70% of buyers perform online research before ever speaking with a salesperson or company representative.
But there are so many options available for planning a small business website strategy that confusion reigns. Most of the attention focuses on finding a designer and a Content Management System (CMS) such as WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, etc.
Design and choice of CMS are secondary issues. If that’s the path you’ve gone down, your small business website strategy is likely to fail. What should you have done first instead?
The most important consideration for any small business website strategy is, what do you need it to do for you?
In the rest of this blog post I will focus on the very first step you need to take in answering that question. It is a step I discovered recently, thanks to a meeting with a prospect.
Last week I met with the owner of a new company to discuss the content he would need for his not-yet-built small business website.
Many small business owners have their website built, or at least designed, before they consider what should go in it. In those cases, instead of designing and building a website that supports a content strategy, the content has to be squeezed into a design structure that might be totally wrong for the content strategy.
Phil (not his real name) was ahead of the curve. I was psyched.
For 90 minutes we talked about his business concept and how content could be used to attract, engage, and persuade his ideal customers. I left to ruminate on our discussion and prepare a proposal for Phil with three service/price options for him to consider.
Phil told me to be sure to include what type of return he could expect.
I sent Phil my proposal, but I couldn’t get out of my head his concern about the expected return. A financial return would be impossible to predict, because his venture would be a new kind of service and the ultimate return would come down to how good he would be at selling it.
I could express the return in terms of how much time he would likely save, but I wasn’t sure that was really enough.
As the content provider, my responsibility would be to build an audience and generate qualified leads. But since the business idea was brand new, there was no context to help predict how many leads that would be. For my three options I could only predict that the number of leads generated would be:
- More than some
- As many as possible
Not. Good. Enough.
Finding answers online (of course)
I was feeling frustrated, and began to realize that the business case for any small business website strategy needed to be informed by the stage of growth the business was in, even though I wasn’t sure what those stages might be. I Googled the term, “small business stages,” and found what I needed.
In a Harvard Business Review article The Five Stages of Small Business Growth, Neil C. Churchill and Virginia L. Lewis broke the stages down this way:
Here is my very simplified take on these stages.
Existence – You are just getting started. Most small businesses are started by individuals or partners who have some expertise in a field and want to work for themselves, though they may (usually) have little or no experience at operating a business, sales, or marketing.
Survival – The organization is still simple, but you’ve proved that there is a market for your product or service and you can sell enough to get buy.
Success – Now you have a few managers to whom you can delegate authority, and there’s a good chance that you, personally, are no longer doing much (if any) of the work that inspired you to start the business to begin with. You are working on the business instead of in the business. You are making money, and your business is recognized as a success, but you have reached a crossroads. Do you want to continue operating the business the same way, sell the company and cash out, or double down in an effort to grow the business dramatically?
Take-off – You’ve decided to go for dramatic growth. Your biggest challenges now are in financing that growth while retaining all the advantages of being a small business.
Maturity – You’ve done it. You’ve achieved your growth goals. Now your biggest challenge is, how do you consolidate your financial gains and build a professional management team that will keep the company moving forward?
If you own or run a small business, it probably didn’t take you long to determine which stage your company is in. To help you use these stages to figure out what your small business website should be doing for you, I’ve simplified them even more.
Hustle and Grow: the two stages of a small business website
I call the two stages of a small business website Hustle and Grow, not just because I’m a big fan of the movie Hustle and Flow, but because as a small business owner you are either hustling to make your business succeed or growing your business as fast as you can to take it to the next level.
When a small business is in the Hustle stage, whether or not the business survives and has a chance to succeed is almost entirely dependent on the owner’s ability to sell. From a branding perspective, the owner and the brand share the same values and are basically interchangeable.
The owner is the business.
At the Hustle stage, the website needs to be a marketing platform that turbo-charges the owner’s hustle. At the very least it should:
- Attract visitors
- Portray the business accurately and persuasively
- Serve as a content hub for social media and other distributions channels
- Build an audience of subscribers and advocates
It also might:
- Generate top of the funnel leads
- Nurture leads using basic marketing automation
- Track visitor traffic, behavior, and events
A hustle-stge website needs to be created without losing site of the fact that there is neither a tremendous amount of resources (money and time) nor a large or sophisticated support team backing up the owner.
In relation to the Five Stages of Small Business Growth, the Hustle stage encompasses the Existence and Survival stages, and usually extends into the Success stage.
In the Grow stage, which begins somewhere in the Success stage and continues through Take-off and Maturity, the success of the business depends on numerous factors that go beyond the owner, including:
- Hiring practices that attract the best talent
- Access to capital and sound accounting practices
- Effective and efficient operations management
- On-target marketing
- Sales teams that meet or exceed their goals
- Collaboration between sales and marketing
- Customer service operation guided by best practices
Customers now recognize the brand, rather than the owner, as the business. Non-stop hustle is replaced by a corporate culture intended to attract and inspire the best employees and managers.
In the Grow stage, a small business website needs to be a robust marketing machine that does everything a hustle-stage website does, plus:
- Generate leads at every stage of the sales funnel
- Incorporate marketing automation to optimize touch points
- Use personalization to enhance the user experience
- Score leads to track where prospects are in the buying cycle and make sure they are not handed off to sales until their behavior indicates they are sales qualified
- Create a closed loop between the website and CRM so marketing can measure exactly which marketing activities led to sales
- Track all activity comprehensively, providing data that clearly shows which marketing efforts are working and which are not
Of course, as with all such guides, these points will vary based on the unique nature of your business.
But what about Phil?
Phil and I reconvened after he’d had a chance to review my proposal. By then, I had researched small business stages and developed some thoughts on Hustle and Grow. What I said came as a surprise to him.
I told him he didn’t need a website.
Since his business idea was brand new and he didn’t have a lot of cash to support it, I told him he needed to focus his hustle on people he knew; that he should call everyone in his directory and sell his service to them.
I told him that once he had made (at least a good number of) those calls and started delivering the service, he could evaluate how tough a sell it is, how good he is at selling it, what kind of margin he could expect to enjoy, and what to do next.
That’s as far as our conversation went, but I will continue a little further here for you. If Phil enjoys some success with his phone calling, His next steps should be:
- Start a blog and build his audience
- Use social media to distribute his blog posts and attract that audience
- Enroll subscribers to better engage them further and make them more open to sales offers
- Turn the blog into a website once he has achieved some success in building an audience
And while Phil hustles forward with his dream, think about your small business website. Does it match the growth stage your business is in? Is it performing as it should?
If your answer is “No” to either of those questions, you need to reconsider your small business website strategy and the content you’ve been creating for it. If you need help, contact me.