Treat your website like an employee

By: Bryony Thomas

Date: 8 September 2009

For many Start-ups, the website is an early investment, and for many more an early headache. To avoid common mistakes, it can be good to adjust the way you think about your site. Rather than thinking of it as a project or a tool, think of it as your first employee – a valued member of the team to be nurtured and developed.

Key ways in which a website is like an employee:

  • It has a specific set of tasks to perform
  • It needs a development plan if it is to continue to perform at its best
  • It needs regular updates to stay current – like a training plan
  • It relies on input from various other team members to do its job
  • Not everyone will like it all of the time

A website has a permanent, full time, role in your business: It never ceases to amaze me how many small businesses think of a website as a self-contained project – with beginning, a middle and (even more worryingly) an end. You wouldn’t recruit someone into your business and think that, once they’d signed the contract, their job was complete or that they’d stay exactly the same as the day they walked through the door. Neither should you think the same of your website.

A person comes to your company with some skills and knowledge, but over time they will gain more specific knowledge about your company, and become more skilled as they learn on the job or undergo formal training and development. A website is just the same – however well conceived and delivered, it is only when real people start to interact with it that you’ll know what really works, and what doesn’t, on your site. Through reviewing analytics and undertaking user-testing and feedback, you will be able to constantly refine and improve your website’s performance. Which brings me to performance… you’re likely to set of minimum performance standards for your staff, have you done the same for your website? And, do you have the tools to measure against those standards.

And of course, things change. Think also of a scenario in which your employee’s area of the business is subject to some sort of change (legal, environmental, new product, etc.) – they’ll need to adapt and respond. Your website is no different. Just because it was beautiful when you launched it, it may not be in a new context. What’s more, this is technology we’re talking about. The tech big boys work to a circa 6 month product development cycle – the pace of change is fast and furious. If your website is to stay current, you’ll need to keep an eye out for the new trends, like Twitter, Tag Clouds, etc… and whatever is just around the corner.

But, it many ways it is even better than an employee:

  • It never sleeps
  • It doesn’t take holidays
  • It won’t sue you if you change its role or replace it with a new one

Useful people management techniques you can apply to your website:

  • Write it a job spec
  • Set a basic salary (hosting, support, regular updates)
  • Set a commission plan (invest a percentage of the revenue it delivers back into traffic generation and improvements)
  • Have a weekly one-to-one (update content, check stats)
  • Conduct a monthly review (stats, performance targets, etc)
  • Conduct a quarterly appraisal – consider a 360 appraisal where you get feedback from all users
  • Set a ‘training’ budget – essential updates, spring cleaning, new features

For many businesses, the website is probably quite an early investment – thinking of it as your first ‘employee’ is a healthy starting point – meaning you’ll feel happier with seeing it as an ongoing task rather than a one-off project. For other businesses, particularly ecommerce businesses, your website is more like a team of employees, rather than just the one – and just like a team of people you’ll need to think about the way that individuals interact, etc.

This is even more critical in a Startup. By the very nature of your business being new, you’ll need to test and learn. And what’s more, money is tight at the beginning of any business – if you simply invest and ignore, you’re wasting precious funds. By going into a relationship with your website, based on the certain knowledge that it is an ongoing task, your initial and ongoing investments are money well spent.

So, if you think your web project has come to an end because you’ve gone live… I advise you to think again. I advise you to think of your website as a valued member of your team and to treat it accordingly.

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