Which features should a small business website include first?

Mastering lean principles is critical beyond this point in the conversation because, this is where we see most entrepreneurs shoot themselves in both feet before the race even starts.

Understanding lean principles helps keep you focused, while ensuring you get a good return on your efforts.

Soon, we will discuss growth-driven design and the application of a flywheel, because these two concepts together can completely reframe the inefficient way website design is often approached.

We still have some conceptual ground to cover first…

Depending on where you are in your business journey, you may need more features. We understand that, and we are going to discuss how to choose what to implement in a moment. Before we do, I want to reiterate how important it is for cash-strapped startups to start at the bare-minimum when it comes to website features.

We want to let the audience tell us what they want before we build it. We make something, listen for their feedback, iterate, and come back with a new feature, and we say:

“Now you can…”

Because it matters that we orient to the right question.

What can they do now because of your site?

You don’t need huge interlocking systems, you need simple solutions which get the job done.

What does the shiny new website let them do?

Notice how we stay oriented to the job our customer is trying to get done. That is the overlooked detail.

Of course, we’re talking about a high-level view right now, and there’s some nuance I’m skipping over for the sake of being brief.

Note: Wabbits love Systems Theory, which suggests that complexity and structure need to be earned over time. In the context of a website, If you add complexity and structure too soon, you risk burning through your resources (mental, temporal, and financial) inefficiently, causing them to be used up too quickly

It is easy to get excited (and carried away) once you understand a few of these concepts and begin to see what is really possible. If I had to say it in one sentence: 

You need to stay as simple as is honestly possible.

Which brings us to the more ground-level view, and 4 maxims to direct your efforts…

Maxim #1:

Let the Data Guide You

All our students begin with Discovery and Validation exercises because, even for veterans, the data generated by these exercises is absolutely critical to the ability to make informed decisions. 

Those decisions must be rooted in deep, observational research of a specific audience, not just hunches.

Features like blog posts and “latest news” sections can always be added to a site if users express a strong desire. 

There’s no need to add them in the early stages.

If a web developer is good, they can give you the ability to see how your visitors are interacting with your site. 

(We’re talking everything, down to recordings of how a user scrolled through a page and where their cursor was.)

Over time, these insights will inform changes.

But that might be too much for where you’re at in your journey. Right now, maybe it makes more sense to get something basic up so, when you go to your next networking event, you aren’t hiding in a corner with all the other folks who don’t have business cards.

Thankfully, there is a process we can follow to help us along the way, all we have to remember is…

Maxim #2:

A Great Website
Is a Balancing Act.

The balancing act is giving both parties (the customer and the business owner) what they want. 

  • The customer wants to solve their pain
  • The business owner wants to (at least) make a living. 

To balance these two goals well, we can imagine it as a dance happening in which we need to find a rhythm between these three elements:

  1. A building phase — where we create something specific, and valuable, for an audience.
  2. A measuring phase — where we take in the results, the raw data generated by our effort.
  3. A learning phase — where we process those results into something actionable, and then build another iteration, based on what we learned.

Throughout this process, we need to prioritize the exchange of the audience’s currency, and our goods or services. That’s what commerce is. 

If we are merchants or service providers, commerce is exactly what we are doing. 

It would be wise not to lose sight of that fact.

We look at the decisions facing you about your website, and we process them through a few distinct lenses:

  1. What does the customer want from the site?
  2. What does the entrepreneur want from it?
  3. Where is the overlap in these two perspectives?

Those three questions are like guiding stars. 

When we are asking what is essential, the points of intersection we discover lead us to our most valuable features. But, we have to lean on audience research. We cannot trust intuition blindly — and we don’t want to rest on the word of the few friends we asked either. 

We need feedback from the people we aim to engage with, in our target audience.

Maxim #3:

A Great Website
Iterates Toward Success

You’ll likely never start, day one, with your company grabbing the first listing on a search engine result page. We shouldn’t expect to hit the ground at full speed like that anyway — objects need time to accelerate. 

Instant speed is incredibly dangerous.

What if your aim is off, and you have no time to correct?

When the business owner begins to apply the concepts we are discussing, they will begin to experience a new kind of momentum — like an irresistible flow. 

That is a result of the flywheel effect at play in the three phases from the last section. Over time, after several iterations, the site becomes what is needed most.

The point isn’t to launch with something perfect. The point is to launch. Not carelessly. Just fast.

Balance that momentum with the impression you need to make. If you’re a local business, whose audience is 10 people (who aren’t related to you), and you just built your new website yesterday — you’ll get a lot of grace. 

Don’t sweat the visual design too much. Grab a website template and tweak it to your needs. 

As your audience grows you will want to raise the quality of your launches, but remember even massive companies have errors on their sites. It isn’t the end of the world.

If you find an error, fix it quickly and move on. But don’t let errors slow you down. Focus on getting something made. You can always revise. 

We fail forward.

Keep your business goals in mind every step of the way.

The entrepreneur who understands lean principles can quickly and consistently find compelling ways to improve and grow. 

A great website should serve as a means to that end.

Maxim #4:

All Features Come
From Audience Feedback

At Wabbit, everything we do is data-driven. We don’t like to waste valuable energy. So when we are looking for ways to improve, we ask our audience first. 

We don’t always do this by contacting them directly. 

Sometimes, we learn from looking at web traffic, open rates on marketing campaigns, other behavioral clues from watching interactions with our content, etc.

If I owned a big building and I wanted to know what areas people enjoyed the most, what should I do first?

I should probably look at where they spent the most time, if roaming freely during their visit. 

Maybe I begin to ask myself questions, like:

  • What do they enjoy so much about that area?
  • Why do they enjoy it over other areas?
  • Based on that, how can I improve the other areas?

Eventually, if I did this process enough, I would end up with a building people enjoy spending a lot of time in.

If, instead, I own a building and only make improvements as I, the Great Lord Decider, dream them up, it is way more likely that I’ll end up with something that doesn’t resonate with the people in the building.

If a business owner wants to remain efficient with their website, and they want to get the most bang for the budget, upgrades must come from actual user feedback.

Now, we have to consider who will build the website. You and your team, or a design professional. Let’s discuss…

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