Seth Godin’s post earlier today about the dangers behind aspirations to ‘overnight success’ on the web really struck a chord. In the bad old days, it used to be about going to a VC, asking for a pile of money and promising to make everyone rich in under 12 months. Now it seems to be about people saying ‘get me on the first page of a Google search, tell me how much money I need to invest in a pay per click campaign and I will take care of things from then on.’
Seth says: ‘The irony of the web is that the tactics work really quickly. You friend someone on Facebook and two minutes later, they friend you back. Bang. But the strategy still takes forever. The strategy is the hard part, not the tactics’.
1. You always need a plan. It doesn’t need to be expensive, ornate or devised by exernals. You can even find a free template online and get started with that. But you do need to focus on how your web project is going to a) increase your sales b) reduce your costs or c) make your current or new customers happy. Preferably all of those.
2. It’s about real-life business models, not the web! In all cases, that means delivering meaningful value to your visitors, customers, users. If ‘web strategy’ sounds ‘esoteric’ – think differentiation, ROI, cashflow, competitor analysis, survival – dealing with plain old-fashioned business concerns. Guess what? They never go away, even after you’ve become a hit on Facebook.
3. If you’re doing web, you cannot ignore content. Content is expensive to produce, and requires discipline, creativity and energy. If you cannot produce content yourself, you need to be hiring or outsourcing it to someone who understands your business model enough to do that for you.
4. You just cannot get into anything new and expect it to work in the short term. Most people who want a sustainable businesses know that it is unlikely to make a profit before year 4.
5. Strategy is not something that you do once, at the start of a new project or business. Or every three years, when someone remembers to dust off the strategic plan. You are going to have to be making small changes all along the way. In The 8th Habit, Stephen R. Covey talks about the ‘trim-tab’ approach. The trim-tab is the small rudder that turns the big rudder that turns the entire ship. Good business leaders know that you are constantly having to make small changes to navigate your business to better waters. You always need to know where you want to go. But you need to be aware that you are going to be in a constant phase of deconstruction and reconstruction.
6. The temptation to give up is always there. Seth’s little nugget The Dip is an uncomfortable reminder, on my book shelf, of what it takes to make a business sustainable. Especially online. There are always brick walls to be faced. Your web strategy has to be good enough to make you see round the walls.
7. If you hire externals to devise your web strategy, see if they are prepared to wade in with you and get things to happen. Ask about the timeframe they envisage for the return on your investment. Your investment in their fees, and the new web solutions being contemplated. The best external strategists I know do not stop with the plan, or the launch of the web solution. They will roll up their sleeves and work alongside you and your people until there is enough momentum built within the organisation. And until you are making the small, corrective changes intuitively, for your long term success.