Business first; website later...

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A few months ago, I sat chatting with a friend who outlined his idea for a new business. Nothing earth shattering - but something he would enjoy doing and something we both agreed could turn out to be a lucrative venture. He was to import consumables into a market of professionals that up 'til now, he had been a member of. He had a wide range of potential consumer contacts and he could easily source product, setting up the supply chain would be a hassle, but nothing he couldn't take care of, so why was he talking to me?

It turned out that he wanted a website that would be able to retail to his consumer group, allowing him to pick up orders and fulfil them easily. He wanted to get going as quickly as possible but didn't have the skills or knowledge to set up a website. I can hear you groaning: "Yes, we know. He can do it with freely available, open source websites" - and that is what I initially told him. But there's something more fundamental here, that we came to discuss.

Yes, websites are important - crucial in many cases - but fundamentally, they are a tool of business, not the business itself. The issue is not how he could go about quickly creating a website to get his business going, but why he needs one, what effort he should be allocating to creating it, and whether or not his time should be spent doing something else for the moment.

Often, the allure of the potentially limitless, always-on, always consuming Internet is so great it clouds our business judgement. For someone like my friend, the most important thing he could do at the stage he was in was not to build a website for the convenience of his customers, but to actually begin servicing clients and building up a... business. I'll say it again, for dramatic effect:

Business first; website later...

Some of you may be shifting uncomfortably in your seats right at the moment because after all the Internet account for billions and billions of dollars in online sales, and it's unthinkable not to have a website nowdays. True! But I didn't say you can't have a website at all. I'm saying, put your energy into creating a demand and then start worrying about creating a more efficient platform for meeting that demand. In the meantime, there's nothing stopping you putting up what's known as a placeholder page.

A placeholder page is a simple page, perhaps with a company logo and some quick, important information such as your business contact details, what you do and so on. Having your own domain name also allows you to have a company email address, which you can add to business cards and so on. Talking of business cards, think of a placeholder page as an online business card.

A placeholder page is quick and easy to do and won't distract you from the most important thing - building a business! Once you have enough clients to warrant it, or, it looks like the business is going to take off as more and more people start re-ordering, then you can look to invest time and energy into creating an online sales platform.

You'll also have a much better idea of what is required from the new website because you now have practical experience in fulfilling orders and keeping customers happy. This will help you create a site that is a better tool of business - now that you have one!