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Web Business Issues
 
 
 
 

Web Business Issues

Let's take a look at the factors affecting internet business and how enterprises can control them. Planning, revenue creation, technology, implementation strategies, traffic, sales, legal matters, problems due to success, failure risks - these are some of the items to consider.

How is internet business different from normal?

Most differences are seen in planning, technology, marketing, costs, partnership strategies, market areas and staff - each of these areas has specialist requirements that differ in some way from offline business. Of course, some things will be very similar.

One of the critical areas is staffing, because web business is a specialist area. Just as marketing staff are not efficiently employed in production, so offline specialists may not transfer well to online business. In addition there are of course many additional specialist fields, and there is no substitute for expertise in some of these areas.

Planning

A new web enterprise requires its own roadmap and resources. For example budget, accounting, legal status, technology, marketing and staff need to integrate in a slightly different way since the web team will be central to success.

How will the web team liaise with Accounts, Marketing and Legal?

What are the budgets: start-up and annual - what are the targets - when is break-even designed to occur?

Staff

The web team are at the centre of operations. They need to be carefully chosen and to have goals set and a timescale put in place. Staff can be in-house, or the project may be outsourced. If the latter then oversight and targets need defining carefully.

The single greatest fail point seen here is the quality issue: exactly how many corners will be cut in order to achieve budget and timescale goals? This question determines the answer to all others. The person in charge of Quality has the hardest job because it is generally a juggling act. Their power and responsibilities need very clear definitions. If they fail, the project can fail. Whoever is tasked with quality management needs enough clout to push their agenda above that of almost anyone else, because if they do not have enough rank, the project will come out short. Many projects omit this aspect, but results are never optimal as quality fails are easily seen.

For example we can look at this EU site, which provides information for EU citizens and national authorities on the implementation of policies:
http://ec.europa.eu/food/international/organisations/sps/keyissues_en.htm

It looks pleasant and businesslike, but if you look at the source code you will find many errors. The code is visually pleasant and well laid-out and in fact ten years ago this would have been excellent code. However if you now validate it at: http://validator.w3.org - you will see that it pays no regard to web standards as it fails the most basic tests, with 24 errors. It does not have even the basic compliance attributes. Examining the code more closely we find that it employs code that has been obsolete for at least eight years (tables), since this type of code became redundant around 2002. 

So we see that despite the vast funds available, and the massive staff resources, observed quality is very poor. If we looked closer, at other issues such as accessibility, there is no reason to suppose they would be handled better. There are of course company websites belonging to well-known names that have far worse results than this. 

An enterprise needs to understand that quality is on view to all, and somebody needs to be looking after it.

A website with such obvious poor quality standards may indicate to others that your viewpoint is that quality is never a factor; rules can be broken as necessary; progress is to be ignored; no one on the staff is concerned with any aspects of quality; and problems will be swept under the carpet. This may or may not reflect the EU position but it seems to be saying this. The website is your shop window - the window on your business that the world can look through. If it is dirty, cracked, scruffy, and has not had any attention for years - what does this say about your general business attitudes? 

Revenue sources

What is the primary goal of the project? If Year 1 is seen as an introductory period, exactly what needs to be achieved in Year 2?

Is there one primary revenue source or can other income streams be leveraged? Does the use of stream B compromise income from stream A?

Partnerships

All web business is a question of partnerships, in a way that can never be equalled by offline business. There has never been a business medium where this factor was so important, or where ignoring it meant so much lost business. Your partners are the key to success online in a way that is simply not relevant offline. Partners are anywhere and everywhere; some partners have a huge influence on your entire business.

Technology

Mainly because this is a virtual market, technology is more important than in any other arena. The main thing about technology is that it changes every year, so that what worked well three years ago may not be the best solution today. The web is defined by change as much as anything else, and that factor needs to be core to planning initiatives.

Marketing

Sales online is a technology-based discipline. The tools are technical, the numbers are derived technically, and the campaigns are implemented via tech resources. If you lag in the tech department then sales will lag.

How will you balance PPC vs SEO costs? How will that balance vary over time? 

What web analytics tools will you use? Your website statistics are one of the most important tools for success that you have, and it is well worth spending money there.

Costs

Costs are directly related to scale (as is normal) and novelty - which is not. In other words if you are a big trader, then your overall costs will be higher, as can be expected. If you want to do something entirely new and different then it also impacts costs; otherwise costs are mainly related to scale, though normally a lower percentage than in brick & mortar.

In general - and ignoring costs related to new ways of doing business - costs are lower than those for the same volume of business offline. This means a start-up is less costly, faster to roll out, and easier to progress.

Market areas

Online, the world is your market. You actually need to choose to sell locally, rather than in the offline world where you would need to choose to sell globally. It is up to you whether you wish to service overseas markets, but the costs to do so are minuscule compared to those in the offline world.

Staff

We return to staff as the last point because in online business, the staff are even more critical than in the offline world. The best comparison might be between a main street retail operation and an aero engine factory: in retail, many staff positions are not critical and it is not until senior management level is reached that real talent is required. If you are building jet engines, though, everybody in your factory better know what they are doing.

Online, things move so fast, and a static business outlook is so detrimental, and technology is so important to success, that you need to take the jet engine manufacturer's view on staff capability: everyone from designers through engineers to spanner wielders are critical to the enterprise's success. There is no place for seat-fillers in online business.

 
Web Business Managers