I came across someone asking for help for his website. He has lofty goals, but I think he has bitten off a bit more than he can chew. I will come back to this in a bit…

Whenever I talk to someone who wants to start a small business, I ask a few basic questions:

1) What makes your business unique?

Too often the answer is either, “People will come to me because I am great” or “I am the only one selling this exact product”. No business is without competition, and there are good people everywhere (admittedly, there are “bad” people out there too). There may be no one selling widget “A”, but widget “B” does 99% of the same stuff, and it costs half as much.

A related  answer is, “I will do it better than any competition.” This is a tough one, because you are fighting a real uphill battle. First you need to define “better” then you need to determine if enough other people will agree that this is in fact batter. Finally you need to hope that your competition, with their established customers and “business momentum”[1] will not learn or implement your new better way.

2) What are you really selling?

This is the old sizzle and steak sales adage[2]. Know what problem you are solving for your customers. And possibly more important, are there enough people with this problem to become potential customers.

It is surprising how many business owners don’t really know what they are selling…

This brings me back to the website I started with. This person wanted:

[gn_quote style=”1″]to provide photographers with a set of unique, functional abilities within a custom portfolio, custom online store, and unified social networking systems.[/gn_quote] (Note: typos corrected)

Now I don’t want to be too hard on this person, but….

To add to the problems, the person (and no I will not add a link so I don’t embarrass the web developer more than I have to) is trying to create a site to appeal to visual people, yet he still seems to be struggling with the basic layout of his site, as evidenced by this screen shot:


Sorry, but before you can start marketing you need to get a product. If your purpose is to learn HTML and CSS, that is great, but if you want to attract people, maybe it would be worth taking a shortcut with Drupal, WordPress, or some other content management system.

EDIT: I originally found this site while at school, where the network is quite locked down. Viewing the site on a more open network looks a lot better, but it is still not really appealing to it’s target market. And of course, since the site doesn’t degrade well, if anyone were to look at it from work, or on an under powered tablet, the impression would be pretty bad…

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Yes I just made up the term “business momentum” I define it as the comfort customers have in staying with an established company, or conversely, the reluctance customers have in changing companies.
  2. Sales people will say that people don’t buy things, they buy solutions to their problems. If someone is hungry (the problem) they don’t want a slab of dead cow (the steak) they want the aroma, the flavour, and the feeling of satisfaction after eating a meal (the sizzle). Of course this analogy breaks down if you are talking to a vegetarian….;)
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