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The real work begins after site is built

Fifth in a series


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 31, 1998

I used to work at a company that was about as focused on sales as possible. As with a lot of high-tech companies, its rapid growth compared with the so-called Real World was staggering.

After a record month, I congratulated one of the salespeople on a job well-done. She curtly informed me that she could care less about the past month and was focusing only on the next month's numbers.

The comparison to a Web site is quite valid. Once it's built, that's just the beginning. It's easy to sit back, pat yourself on the back and congratulate yourself on a job well-done.

Go ahead, enjoy your accomplishment. But do it in Web years (which are about the same as dog years). There is always something to refine, information to update and corrections to be made. It's the nature of running a site.

Your Web site doesn't have to be updated on any schedule. It can be done as little or as often as you like. Depending on how your brain is wired, you might make careful plans, consult your colleagues and publish on a weekly or monthly basis like a magazine.

Maybe your industry and company are so fast moving you have enough momentum to publish your site daily. That's a tall order for most small or even medium-size businesses. You would certainly need to dedicate at least one person to watching over your site.

More than likely, your site is going to get updated when something relevant happens, when you add new products or services or when you're bored and decide to start tweaking the thing.

Don't build a cob-Web

The trap of the last option is never to budget time or resources to update things. Your hot site quickly turns into yesterday's leftovers

If you don't have a physical presence where you do business with your customers, your site is the presence -- and it is how your customers will perceive your company.

I order a lot of books from Amazon.com, but I have never been to one of its stores because it doesn't have any. Its site is well organized, and it made a good trade-off between good to look at and graphically rich.

When I first started shopping there, I had no problems giving it my credit card number. (Of course, I had confidence that the credit card company would come down on it like a ton of bricks should any monkey business happen.) The site was friendly and professional enough for me to consider giving it both my credit card and my business in the first place.

If your site is unappealing, your existing customers may brush the fact off. But your prospects will take your company at your site's value. This is America, baby, and first impressions mean so much.

Why did you build your site in the first place? Maybe your intentions were to build a site to prequalify sales and deliver that Holy Grail of trading, a customer who knows what the heck he wants before he picks up the phone or clicks the order button.

Maybe your goal was a site to provide electronic customer service so nobody would need to go near the phone in the first place.

Whatever your intentions, keeping that focus can be a challenge. It's not a bad thing to expand your site's scope, but make sure you're not compromising your original mission.

Double time

If you ask me to build a whizzo Web gizmo, you'll almost certainly want a time estimate. I'll take a stab at how long I think it will take, then I'll double it. Sometimes I'll add maybe 10 percent or 20 percent more time to that doubled figure, depending on whether I have built something similar previously

I try not to be obtuse, but technical people have a habit of forgetting that, as a human, you need to do things like eat, sleep and take in a movie once in a while to keep your sanity. We also need reminding that here on Planet Earth we work with 24-hour days rather than the more convenient 36-hour days elsewhere in the solar system.

If you think it will take only a couple of hours a week to update your site, budget for an afternoon. If you think it may take more than an afternoon, a whole day should be set aside. And that's just maintenance, not development of new material.

Until you really get a feel for when and what needs to be done, don't be too hard on yourself or the staff who are maintaining the site for you.

And they called it puppy love

If you bring a puppy home, remember to feed and make time to train the little devil. You can keep him locked up, but if he turns around and bites you one day, don't be surprised

During those formative months, you'll probably step in little mistakes from time to time, but keeping it on the paper takes some practice.

A Web site makes an interesting parallel. With the right effort, it can be your small business' best friend.

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