The lessons I’ve learnt…

July 29, 2009 at 5:26 pm Leave a comment

Creating DonateNZ has been a long, fun and sometimes massively tough road. Without the benefit of a university education or any formal training into website planning or development, it’s been largely one I’ve had to teach myself.

I don’t profess to be an expert by any means, I’m still learning every day. However, I’ve compiled the key points I’ve learnt since starting my site, in the hope I may save something else valuable time and effort!

  • Don’t chase white rabbits
    This is a quote from one of my idols, Sam Morgan, which I love. Once in business in the web world, it’s very easy to diversify and introduce products and services to your audience. But at what cost? Does the value you will achieve from these endevours outway the cost to introduce them? Think very long and hard before chasing the rabbits. My rule of thumb is, that if it’s essentially another whole business worth of time and effort, unless the reward is high, then another business should be doing them.
  • Cater for the majority, not the minority

    When creating and managing a website, there will be people out there who will speak up loudly about the features and things they want. While they might make the most noise, consider your silent majority who do not respond. Test, scope, survey, contact – do everything you can to ensure you have the right solution before spending valuable time and money to create something only a small minority might utilise.

  • Start small and let solutions and products evolve

    Keep it simple, stupid. When creating a site, don’t overcomplicate things. Know what your job is and do it well. If you set your roots well in the process of what you do, you can grow on it and you (hopefully many) customers will guide what they want next.

  • Wherever possible, follow conventional methods

    While there is always a place in this world for innovation, wherever possible, follow conventional methods to ensure the quickest uptake by your population. Without a doubt, it will always take time for users to find, understand, make a decision to be involved in/purchase your product or service and then (hopefully) use your service. The easier you can make it for these people by using a format they understand, the quicker you will acquire customers.

  • When usability testing, find strangers

    (All confidentiality issues aside) It’s easy to flick off a test to your buddy who always has time for you. I say, don’t do it. If this person has an understanding of who you are and what you do, their perception is never going to reflect that of a truly new observer. The sooner you can get those kind of people in there, do it. Their advice is invaluable. Nowadays you don’t even need to coerce random strangers or databases from the street to do these tests, social network via Twitter is one quick and easy way.

  • First impressions are key

    A homepage is typically the first page people will hit. You’ve got about 30 seconds before they switch off and exit your site. Make sure you establish exactly what it is you do, what you can do for them (WIIFM factor) and how they can be involved. Once you’ve got these things nailed, they’ll be willing to invest more time finding further information. I always try to keep in mind
    that the most effective website in the world is Google and that’s just a search box. Less is more.

  • Do you really need all that information?

    Registering on the site is a key feature many websites trip up on. If it’s too hard, all the work to that point to acquire that customer goes down the drain. Consider what essential information you need in order to go about your core business process and make those fields compulsory and highlighted clearly as such. Leave as much of the rest out as you can. Being interrogated without cause just pisses consumers off and will make them leave without doing so. Again, less is more.

  • Fields which will consistently trip people up – beware!
    Through my experience with building websites, I find the following fields will consistently trip people up. Wherever possible redefine these or provide as much info as possible as to what you’re asking:

    Title – despite the fact that on DonateNZ we run a listing based system where people make listings for things they want to give away, in much the same way as TradeMe, the “Title” field continually results in entries such as “Mr or Mrs” or “Insert persons name here”

    Captcha (security) – If this is required, fight, fight with your web designer to get the simplest form possible. Big letters, 3-4 numbers, anything else and you’re opening yourself up to losing a sale/registration when they’re about to cross the finishing line

    Email address vs website address – Again, despite being one of those things you’d think people know, it’s not the case. 1 in 5 registrations on DonateNZ result in website address fields being populated with an email address. Some people just do not know the difference yet.

  • People (in general) are apathetic
    While it is my own personal mission in life to let other websites know where there system falls down, most other people do not have the time. You can pretty much trust that if one person takes the time to tell you about a problem, then ten have noticed, gotton frustrated and left because of it. Act swiftly and promptly to rectify any problems before you any further losses.

    and lastly:

  • People (in general) are stupid
    We love our customers to bits. However, after years of observing, I’ve come to the conclusion, that sometimes there is only so much you can do. It’s much like our drive through at the family business at Roses Are Red. We’ll put a line of road cones to block one side and inevitably once a week, someone will drive right over them. While I shall keep pondering an alternative to the road cone, sometimes there is only so much you can do! *shrug* Can’t win em all!

I welcome any comments, suggestions or general rants about life in general, as per usual 🙂

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