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Planning your web business
By Glen Chapman

I am not sure were I first heard it but I have seen it many times since "Failing to plan is planning to fail!"  This is one of those sayings that holds in any part of our life. So lets have a look at a plan for a web presence.

I will use an example of a business that already has a successful business that is working offline (with no web site). The recent failure of many Internet businesses internationally has changed the sentiment about the ability of the internet to deliver real benefits to business. From investigations of some of these businesses and listening to the commentary of the media, the main thing that all these businesses had in common was that they thought that the internet was "different" and that doing business there had a new set of rules. Well business now realise that this is not true and that the same general rules apply to online businesses as they do to offline ones.

To make your offline business successful, you would have built up a strong foundation based on good products or services, prompt delivery and a financially sound business model. The same goes for any business unit you set up on the internet. I think that the easiest way to do business using the internet is to use it as a cost saving device. By setting up things like payment pages, enquiry forms and good product/service information you should be able to reduce costs by enabling your customers to pay their accounts without even talking to you. You can take feedback and have people leave you messages to respond to at any time of the day and you can have a "brochure" that is developed once and costs nothing each time you send someone to the site.

In developing a business plan for your online business you should start with a basic audit of your existing business.

You should also have a look at your existing business plan and see how the new web development can fit into your business. How much does it change your current marketing programs? Can it take the place of a currently lower successful option? Do you have the resources to add this to the current marketing program? If the development is successful can your current business model handle the increase in business? Can we supply the products within the expectations of the customers?

If you don’t currently have a business plan then don't panic. A business plan should be a document that outlines what your business is, where it is going and how it is going to get there. That’s the basics. Many business plans these days are extremely long winded and once written never get looked at again. But current thinking is that the document should be short and succinct.

Plannning Your site
There are currently so many deals and offers from a range of service providers to build a web page or ecommerce site. If you have done your plan and seen how your web page and internet business is going to fit into your current business setup, then you have the information and knowledge to make informed decisions about what you really need on a web site.

The first stage is to identify the benefits that you can gain from having a web presence. My personal belief is that there are benefits for all businesses to be using the internet but this may not mean having a web site. If you are going to have a web site then you must identify the return that is going to be gained from the site. Now sometimes this may be difficult to put your finger on the exact figure but you have two views to come from.

One is the benefit from selling actual products. Do you have a product that is easily sold without personal intervention with a salesperson? You may initially say no, but try and think about it in the following terms: If I could get rid of the barrier that requires a salesperson what other things would stop someone buying? And; Can we redesign the product so that it is able to be sold without intervention? Why do we want to do this?

If you have the ability to sell your product (or service) to a customer with no personal sales contact then there are huge savings in areas such as overheads in having a sales force. We don't want to replace the existing sales force, but add to it. Add a new stream of income to your business. If you already have a successful business that is making a good profit, we want to add to this profit. With the development of a good web site with the correct products and sales process then this can add to the income with very low cost of sales and therefore higher profits.

As I said this may need a redesign of your current product to allow it to be more attractive to customers on the internet. It may be an additional product that is related to your area of expertise that will value add to your current clients or bring in new customers to your existing product lines. For example by putting together a training tutorial on the advanced use of a software program, budgeting templates for accounting clients, recipes on bread making for a shop supplying bread makers or tips on training dogs for a vet.

The second benefit is to value add to current customers. If you are competing in a market place with a number of competitors then you have the ability to use the internet to provide low cost additional services to customers and so differentiate and value add to your product for a competitive edge. This is the way the banks have gone with their web sites in providing a number of free and low cost services such as share trading, loan calculators, personal budgeting and in the case of ANZ giving you free web sites. Once these have been setup and automated then the cost of provision reduces with each additional customer that is served, rather then the traditional service environment that cost more for each additional service.

(© 1995 – 2007 Glen Chapman)