A High-level Online Business Rollout Strategy

Get your priorities straight and rollout onto the web when you're ready and only to further enhance your already functioning core business strategies.

1. Create something of value

Your business. The best designed and optimized website is worthless if there's nothing worth getting out of it.

2. Setup your core customer support system

(a phone number or an email address that responds to your customers). Before going online, make sure your offline customer interactions work first.

3. Deploy a simple website

The goal should be to support your existing business processes, not to introduce new functionality. Reduce phone calls by answering questions up front, provide instruction and direction for your product, and explain (simply) who you are and what you do to the uninitiated.

4. Sprinkle some marketing on top

Tell your potential customers what you're offering, how you're offering it, and why they should care in shiny detail. Then point them to where they need to go to get it. At this stage, "getting it" might be as simple as a phone number. A new visitor should be able to walk away understanding what your deal is and be able to make an informed decision whether or not they want to engage you. This is the first step to new acquisitions.

5. Upgrade your customer support

(e.g., add e-commerce, a "call centre" or "just a bunch of phones", online chat, email newsletter, or direct mail options). Give your customers some love and retain their business because it's a lot harder to convert someone new. The idea at this stage is that you're supplying your customers with tools to make their interaction with you as easy as possible.

6. Refine your message

You might have done well on your own, or with the help of a developer, until now but this is where you bring in the big guns like a real copywriter to tweak your prose and a designer to polish your users' experience so there is no doubt in your customers' minds that they made the right decision and it just feels good to buy and use your product.

7. Search engine optimization

Truth be told, a well crafted website should already be mostly optimized for search engines. But until now you should have been focused on humans. Once the humans get it, go back and make sure the search engines get it too. This might mean taking a second look at your page titles to make sure they're relevant, [updating your URLs so they're human-readable][6], creating custom meta-descriptions for SERPs, tying up some loose redirects, or making sure your sitemap.xml file is up to date. But you should already have a lot of written content relevant to your product already being used to convince humans, which search engines will already be feeding from.

8. Revise your usability

Based on your customers' feedback, fix things that are broken and add things that they desperately want or need. Make sure your existing experience is top notch and as painless to use as possible. When someone lands on your website they should be able to easily figure out what's going on and how to give you money in exchange for the value you're offering. If this isn't working properly, fix it now!

9. Engage social media

Only when all the above are online should "social media" be considered, and only to enhance what you've already got working for you. Social media will serve as alternative and cheap marketing channels to help grow your already profitable, efficient business. But I think, even better, these are great ways to keep in touch with your existing user-base to keep them abreast of your current state of affairs. My opinion is that the best use of social media is to enhance your customer support, not necessarily to generate sales. For example, if your server crashes, you can keep your customers updated through your Twitter feed. If you're launching a new promotion, let your customers know about it on your Facebook wall. If a customer has a problem, talk to them in the channel they feel most comfortable in.

Don't engage these networks if you aren't dedicated because a dormant Twitter feed or empty Facebook page will have the opposite effect you're going for: people will think nothing worth their attention is happening and now associate your brand negatively (for this same reason I don't think like and tweet counts help either). And don't drive people off your site with high-contrast buttons and likes and shares (but definitely make your customers aware that you have a presence on these networks as an alternative channel for them to engage you with). The key words to keep in mind are "balance" and "enhancement". Ask yourself: are you promoting Facebook's business or are you offering your customers options for engaging you?

10. Dabble in advanced marketing

Television, movie, radio, youtube, etc. These are generally more expensive, high-profile channels, but if you have a budget for it, these could add a big impact to your brand's awareness.

11. Keep iterating

Your job is never done. Keep your ear to the ground. Listen to your customers, help them by reducing friction, and be aware of the market around you and adapt to the changing environment. But don't add features for features sake. Stay focused. Do what you do best, and do it better than anyone else. Don't try to be everything to everyone. Balance, enhance, simplify, serve.