Your Business Website: Avoid Cost-overruns, Late Deliveries With Advance Planning, Clear Direction

This evergreen post was originally published in 2012. We continually update it to keep it fresh and applicable. Your business website can be completed on-time and on budget, but only if you are clear about the website’s goals. You and your planning team must be able to tell the website developers what you want the customer’s experience to be and what outcomes you expect the website to deliver.

Poor business website planning, confusing coordination make waste

  In 2012 the FBI unveiled their new computer file system, Sentinel — far past its due date and with significant cost overruns.  We can postulate on the reasons for such terrible cost-overruns and missed deadlines—poor planning, plain and simple. Many people focus on the final result and expect a website to magically appear, when in reality, the finished product, a fully-functioning website, is the result of many hours of observation, conversation, strategy and finally, design and coding. Many business websites are designed by committee, rather than a team that is close to the customer/user. The very best business websites come from absolute clarity about customer needs and business goals.

Business website strategy first

There is a great amount of strategy behind a good website. Very few products or services are sold upon first look or first visit. Those that are, are generally consumables. Know how long it takes a customers to make a purchasing decision.  During your product’s life-cycle, your customer seeks information about the care of their product or they seek advice to evaluate options and purchase a replacement when the product they possess wears out or passes it’s useful life. Understand this path to purchase and you can map out the kinds of content needed on your website. Plan your conversions now. For example, a brand new customer may want to watch a video on how the product works. A customer who purchased a product two years ago might like information about how to maintain the product or how to get the most value out of it. Someone whose needs have expanded might be looking for the next generation of their current product or they might be making a dramatic shift leading them in a new direction. Expansions or changes lead to new requirements. When you comprehend the life of your product and the needs of your consumer, you can develop content and materials to bring them to your site. Your company becomes the authority about the issue they are trying to solve.

If you ask them, they will tell you

You must to speak with your customers to understand their purchasing path in order to have the most useful website. And you must have insight from the sales team who hears every day what customers say is most valuable to them. And don’t forget to speak with the customer service team. They have highly useful advice for your business website planning team. Their customer insight will make your website better.

Budget appropriately

As web designers and developers, we frequently hear from customers who have no idea what they can spend on their website’s development, yet have a wish list that is miles long. It is better to proactively budget what your firm can afford, and prioritize your must haves; nice to haves; and next phase items so your web designer / developer can help you achieve your goals and provide the most for your money. Realize that a business website that generate leads, moves customers toward purchases and helps customers find information is a very important investment. Built correctly, your business website is a valuable asset. Planned and built poorly, it’s a money pit that does nothing to help your business grow. After the planning team has charted out what the website requirements are, then it’s time to meet with a website designer. Provide the findings and requirements to the website designer. This is where the collaborative work of building your business website begins.

Business website planning tips:

  1. Know who your business website customers are.
  2. Understand what “triggers” send them to the Web for information, products and insights.
  3. Know the “fit” your products and services have with customer needs and triggers.
  4. Know the life-cycle of your product and the decision path customers take to reach the decision to purchase. For example, if you sell a product that normally wears out after three years, you must create website content that feeds customers’ need for care information for the product and information that helps them make a buying decision.
  5. Know your “sales funnel” and the discrete steps your website users will normally take to convert to a sale.
  6. Plot each step you want your customers to take as they advance towards a purchase. For example, a.) visit site b.) view video c.) request information d.) review product specs e.) purchase product
  7. Know common customer frustrations and most frequent reasons customers call your service staff. Develop services in the website that address these needs. For example, if your product requires assembly, and customers frequently request additional assistance on how items fit together, you can create videos showing exactly how items are assembled, lessening customer frustration and decreasing call volume.
  8. Have a budget and priorities in place.
  9. Enter the web design and development process as a collaboration between you and your web developer.
  10. Invest in your business website, your online business asset. Very few “get a website tonight” products will help you achieve exactly the look, feel, function and results your company needs.
If you want to get started planning your business website, you may find our business website planning survey helpful. You may download it here. And if you need help planning your website, we would be glad to work with your company and team. Contact us. Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

Crisis Preparation: A checklist of advance planning steps

How can an organization prepare in advance for a crisis?

In all of life we know that advance preparation makes reality far easier. No one would ever contemplate singing the National Anthem in front of thousands without practicing it. Over and over. And getting coaching. Crisis survival and your business or organization’s future depend upon your work in advance of a disaster.

Our steps for crisis preparation.

  1. Audit for most probable crisis situations and vulnerabilities: from accidental business interruptions to product recalls to tragedy or HR issues in the workplace.
  2. Create a crisis communications plan: Make certain that your plan takes into consideration and lays out strategies and tactics covering the following critical items.
    1. Who will manage the crisis?
    2. How will the team respond?
    3. What will they communicate?
    4. When will they communicate it?
    5. Why will they communicate?
    6. Who will be the communicator?
    7. When will subject matter experts be used?
    8. When will outside auditors be used?
  3. Draft basic responses (and keep on the ‘shelf’) for each of the crisis situations. In every business or industry there are some highly likely situations. Make sure your plan considers and contemplates responses to those most common.
    1. Daycare example: Staff member abusing a child
    2. Restaurant: Food poisoning
    3. Data breach
  4. Establish a crisis communications team. There is no time in a crisis to figure out who is part of the team. Choose your team and make sure everyone is up to date with contact information for each member. Clarify where you’ll meet: online, in-person, at an ops center.
    1. Identify members and make sure they are aware they are part of the team
    2. Compile team contact information and make certain that all team members have this on hand and readily available
      1. Keep this updated (at least every 3 months)
    3. Establish a manner of communication; in person / face to face or remote (conference call and shared online document creation)
    4. Establish a location of gathering and ensuring all communications tools are present (from wifi to laptops, tablets, or if remote team members, creating permission based network accessible documents, ensuring conference calling / networking capacities are up to date and available)
    5. Outline roles for each member
    6. Make sure crisis communications team has bios/backgrounders on all company leaders and specifics
  5. Identify Subject Matter Experts who will assist the crisis communications team
  6. Drill. Firemen, police and EMTs drill. So should your firm. If you don’t practice, how will you know if your team is ready to manage a situation? How will you know if your carefully planned procedures will work? Don’t take this part for granted. Test it with a drill.
  7. Proactively provide information via the firm’s website about issues likely to be of concern in a crisis. Evidence makes the difference in the courtroom and in the courtroom of public opinion. If you have compliance requirements, demonstrate before a crisis situation that your firm had done all in it’s power to be in compliance and remain there. Having this information publically visible on your website helps develop trust and transparency. As examples:
    1. Daycare: Publish credentials and compliance information
    2. Restaurant: Publish inspection reports and staff who have completed Servsafe courses for example.
  8. Establish social media accounts on appropriate social media channels and monitor across all social media for firm, CEOs, and brand mentions
    1. Create Twitter / media lists and follow local / beat media likely to report on your industry
  9. Get to know (in person if appropriate) media most likely to report on a crisis in your industry. The media are doing their jobs. Not trying to trap you. If they know you and your firm in advance, they will not be strangers to you. Though don’t confuse getting to know them with trying to sway them. There is a huge difference. Understand that they have readers and viewers who want facts. And if they can’t get the facts, they will publish what people are talking about. And we all know that when people don’t have information they talk trash. Don’t let the media publish rumors and trash. Get them the facts when they ask.
  10. Have Google Alerts (real time) for your brand/leaders. Don’t let a crisis sneak up on you. Believe me, the media are monitoring media for stories and grumbles. If they are listening, you better be.

Does this feel like too much to do in advance of a crisis? If it does, call us. 843.628.6434. We can guide you through every step and allow you to sleep better knowing you’ve done your due diligence to prepare for a crisis situation.

Crisis Planning Must Happen In Advance of a Crisis

Don’t play chicken with your business’s future

Crisis situations happen everyday in all types of businesses. From food manufacturers having to recall mislabeled products, to faulty products causing death and injury, to embezzlement, to billing fraud, your business has many threats lurking in wait. There is a lot of advice directed to business owners about what to do if you have a cataclysmic event or crisis at your business.

quotation marks The time for crisis planning is not during a crisis

If you wait until you’re in the midst of a crisis to plan a response, it will be too late. The time for crisis preparation is before you experience a crisis. Advance planning is essential to making sure your business not only makes it through the crisis, but is able to carry on in the future. Planning can help prevent chaos in social media as the story rages and company execs are wring their hands. Esteemed crisis communications consultant and author Jonathan Bernstein observes,
Responding to a crisis without a plan in place can be like trying to buckle your seatbelt after you see a semi cross the center divider and head straight at you. What usually results is a lot of chickens perambulating rapidly without their heads, until one who retained his/her head can manage to calm and organize them. What also results, invariably, is the organization incurring more damage that it would have if a plan had been in place and executed.

So, how do you plan in advance to respond to a crisis?

To prevent becoming a headless chicken, start by conducting a crisis audit for your firm and then creating a crisis management plan. According to Bernstein, a crisis prevention audit identifies threats, analyzes public perception of your business, and analyzes your internal staff’s perceptions. “Bernstein gives these examples of issues that have been detected as a result of recent vulnerability audits and/or have been the cause of avoidable crises:
  • perceptions of racial and sexual harassment and discrimination
  • employees accused of wrongdoing (sometimes accurately, sometimes not) on and off the job
  • union actions and/or hostile attempts to unionize
  • blatant violations of customer confidentiality around the workplace and in public areas
  • damaging rumors — online and off-line”
By identifying threats, you can remediate the cause, thus preventing the probable crisis and build responses to threats before they occur.

Create your crisis communication plan

To create your plan, designate one staff member to lead the audit and prepare a crisis response plan. Your crisis plan should:
  • List members of the crisis communications / management team and their contact information (including personal cell numbers and vacation home numbers.)
  • Identify where you’ll meet. Whether a board room, or external site such as your public relations agency’s office.
  • List the technology and information you will need to communicate with the media. Be sure the appropriate people and or your communications firm have updated media contact lists and permissions for all social media channels, as well as access to your corporate social media account management dashboards like HootSuite. Create and set aside unpublished pages on your website where the designated team member will post crisis communications and responses.
  • Specify the location of and access to or permissions required for critical files needed to compose your responses, such as accident reports, HR files, safety audits, annual reports, financial audits, etc. If you cannot back up these critical files to a “crisis response” network accessible file or drive, have the subject matter experts for each threat area make sure to have ready access to any and all files.
  • Identify the company spokesperson. It is imperative that the company spokesperson have completed media training before any crisis arises. It is also imperative that your communications plan clearly explain who may communicate with the media (online, offline, print, and broadcast), when, where and how. One of the worst things which could happen is having an unauthorized person communicate with the media.
  • Delineate all communications policies which must be included in staff and employee training. For example, if you have multiple outlets, or a single outlet, every employee must know what to do and whom to refer a member of the media to should media contact them. If you don’t have a communications policy in place, have your public relations team or consultant author one for you to implement.

Compose your initial crisis responses

Once you have delineated these elements, you can now compose initial responses to be used in each of the broad categories of vulnerability. These need not be elaborate statements, just an initial response which provides you immediate ability to respond to the crisis. With advance crisis planning, you will have a ready team with access to all the necessary information, a prepared spokesperson, and messages. Now, you must drill. Without drills, you will not know if all your planning will work. Every year in the summer, Charleston County and surrounding counties conduct an emergency drill. They refine their plan and keep all elements up-to-date.

Keep your plan updated

Your crisis audit and resulting communications plan will take a month or two to complete and test. From this point forward, you should revise it every quarter, adding and deleting staff who have left, or new information. Photo credit: By: NatalieMaynor

Does your firm need help conducting a crisis audit or creating a crisis communications plan? Contact us. We’ve successfully assisted businesses and organizations undergoing many types of crisis.