Creating my own business - a new website
Having studied both Marketing and Management as an undergraduate student at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) 2006-2010, I recognised an opportunity to further my business skills by researching, innovating, planning and implementing an actual business – one that I would own but, could also be the focus of my postgraduate assignment.
Of course, this meant doing more work, in terms preparing for the actual assignment; but that didn't bother me, because I knew I would learn more from having to:
- Conduct general research (e.g. solve a problem, or serve a need);
- Innovate /develop a business idea (e.g. situation and opportunity analysis);
- Create a business plan (e.g. conduct industry and market analysis,assess feasibility, risk assessment, strategy, business model, resources,finances, sales, marketing and operational requirements);
- Devise a marketing plan (e.g. situation analysis, market, competitor and customer research SMART objectives, strategies, marketing mix and budget);
- Create and align a website marketing plan (e.g business and product /service description, sales and marketing, goals, objectives and budget);
- Devise the Request For Proposal (RFP) for a new website (e.g. scope of works, outcomes and performance standards, contractual terms and conditions and guidelines for preparation) and align to business and website marketing goals and objectives.
Business insights and what I learned
In total it took me approximately three months to fully complete the required stages of this project, inclusive of the time taken to talk to actual business providers about their needs, get feedback from other mentors and business owners about my business idea, research user-centred design principles applicable to my website audience and liaise with legal advisors and website companies about specific requirements, necessary for writing a successful RFP.
Of course developing and implementing the actual business concept took much longer, and understandably so. Businesses do not spring up overnight. They take time to plan. Resources and funds have to be acquired and taxation and legal requirements have to be understood, implemented and followed correctly. The marketing of a business requires creativity, knowledge of your customer and careful planning in terms of integrating off-line and on-line efforts, in order to meet the business mission, goals and objectives.
Understanding what is required to establish, design and operate a website, requires knowledge of hosting, content management systems, platform and information architecture, website design principles, usability web accessibility, search engine optimisation, persuasive copy writing email marketing, social media marketing, online public relations, ecommerce, advertising and many other web based functions.
Then there are all the systems, processes and procedures necessary to operate the different functions that make a business complete, for example, management, customer service, sales, accounting and so forth.
It is impossible to implement everything at once and in many cases it is not strategically viable. Often, implementation is an incremental process, requiring periodical checks along the way, to ensure that everything is going to plan and coordinated accordingly. And if things are not going to plan then stopping to revise, so you can emerge with a new plan of attack designed to overcome any obstacles or delays. The key thing is to keep executing, keep revisiting your business plan and have faith in the fact, that an entrepreneurial business venture will never truly, be finished.
Key Project Learnings
- Conceptualising a business is easy, planning it requires effort; but implementing it demands an absolute commitment to being realistic, innovative, driven, open-minded and un-swaying in the belief that your research and business acumen will pay off.
- A short falling of many newbie solo/entrepreneurs is failing to write a realistic and feasible business and marketing plan for their business. Without a formal written plan, there is no concrete plan of action to refer to, in order to see how things are going and what progress is being made. A business plan is the foundation for visualising and actualising a business idea and is a necessary document in the planning stage of a business. It is also the proof that you did your research and are serious about your business idea, if at any point you need to apply for a business loan or funding from an angel investor.
- Online (e.g. directories, affiliates, email) and offline (e.g. local print, TV, radio, events) marketing efforts must be integrated to reflect and serve a business’s goals and objectives. Your website is not a separate entity to your physical business. Branding and key marketing messages should be consistent across all your business touch points.
- The less knowledge a client has of user centred website design the more potential there is for miss-communication between what the client proposes in the RFP brief and what the website vendor provides for the final solution. Also, not all vendors are created equal. Sometimes the client has a solid understanding of what they want for a website, right down to pertinent information about the typical user and how they will use the site; but the website vendor has failed to deliver accordingly. This can often be the result of a poorly written RFP that generalises or confuses the requirements set out in the Scope of Works.
- Writing a RFP requires a lot of research (e.g. how to best write an RFP), preparation (e.g. scope of works, outcomes and performance standards, required vendor information, legal terms of contract), attention to detail (e.g., key dates, timelines, and deadlines), coordination (e.g. proposal process, appraisal and award process) and knowledge of website marketing and user centred design principles (e.g. assists communication between client and vendor). Depending on the size and complexity of requirements of the website in question, a typical RFP could take six or more months to action.
- A well written RFP should be clear, concise and structured in a logical format that vendors can easily understand and follow. Appointing someone with strong research and technical writing skills is important to writing a solid document.
- Even if you have no intention of hiring a vendor to create a website for your business or project, developing a RFP for your proposed website will provide powerful insights into how your website must align to your overarching business goals and objectives.
You can either develop your own RFP or use a generic template. Personally, I think you have to adapt a generic template to suit your needs, but it does serve as a good starting point.
How can my newly acquired skills help others?
Organisations require highly skilled digital business, IT, usability and web marketing experts who can manage online assets and advise accordingly for the redesign of a website should the need arise. Often the nature of a business changes but the branding and marketing messages have not. Sometimes, customer needs change, such that, the demand for a more complex front-end (and back-end process (e.g. a membership portal) is necessary in order to provide a more relevant, personalised and interactive user experience. Often a website’s design requires updating to match the current image or brand personality of the company. Or quite simply, maybe a different content management system has superior capabilities and would be a better fit for the purpose of a website.
Many experts are specialists in one area and may have limited knowledge in other complimentary disciplines, for example, most online marketers understand social media marketing (well, let's hope so) but many may not be as good at search engine optimisation. Often web developers don’t fully understanding broader marketing requirements. Or sometimes you get a person, who is a genius technology buff, but they don’t now the first thing about business. Therefore, it is critical to have a solid knowledge of business, marketing and web principles coupled with an ability to communicate and translate technical terms and jargon into layman’s talk. Being a able to provide insights that others can't is a must have skill for anyone seeking to work in the digital arena.
And so I ask you a question. Have you had experience with a website RFP process? What problems did you encounter?