The end of the year is closing in fast and you will undoubtedly ready many "year in review" articles this month. Rather than writing a column referring to what we covered this past year, I want to get you thinking about next year, so you can start the year off right - with a strategic plan for your website that is integrated into other firm goals for 2007.
Reviewing Your Current Website
Hindsight is always 20/20, so - what didn't you accomplish with your website last year? Do those unaccomplished goals still hold value within the scope of your overall marketing strategy? If so, do you want to make sure these goals figure prominently in your plans for next year?
In following with what website plans were not implemented, did you perhaps add a new feature or features that failed to generate the response you anticipated or simply did not work? To what can you attribute this lack of success?
Looking at what you have done and how your website has contributed to your overall goals and marketing efforts will help you to focus your plans for improvements and enhancements for 2007. Review all aspects of your website, from design to content to traffic statistics to clients who engaged your services through the site. Having a complete picture of what happened over the course of the last twelve months will provide you with valuable data.
The next step in this evaluation process is to draw up a short list of ideas and changes that you want to make to your website in the next year and put it aside. Then take a look at the competitive landscape that surrounds you.
Knowing what you have worked on over the last twelve months is a good starting point, but information about what your competitors have accomplished is an essential component of your future planning process. Has your competition taken specific business away from you? Is another firm or practice providing a service that is within your field of expertise? Do other firms have value-added services that you offer but have not properly communicated or marketed, or that you can enhance to extend the range of your services to clients? Remember, you do not have to be the first to offer a online service or implement a technology application (such as a blog, wiki or an extranet). The objective is to determine how to implement one or more of these applications in a manner which keeps you competitive and expands your services.
Ideas that you will want to consider include the following?
• coordinated offline and online branding
• e-mail updates on topical subject matters
• client portals
• web-based client intake forms
After taking a quick look at your competitors within the context of the "marketplace" (location, industry, etc.), you can add more context and content to your wish list of ideas to implement over the next year.
Brainstorm Your Website Wish List
Once you have conducted an comprehensive and efficient evaluation of your work over the last year, and identified the same for your competitors, sit down with your staff and start brainstorming about ideas for your website. Ask them to contribute ideas that they find are useful on the web in general, not just what they believe are useful on other law firm websites. Remember to bring those initial ideas from reviewing your own website to the discussion. Putting all options and ideas on the table will give you an extensive list and allow you to chose the "best of breed" to implement. Don't restrict your thoughts to financial requirements or additional resources, as you might be surprised on what you can implement through a project plan that includes implementation over a one year period.
Once you have that list, eliminate the extremes that you feel are either out of your financial reach, won't provide a satisfactory ROI, and do not fit any other firm requirements. Take the remaining ideas and review the business, technical, and resource requirements required to implement them successfully within your established time frame.
Develop Requirements for New Features to Integrate
Now that you have a list of features you have determined are worth implementing, create a requirements list to go with each feature. This requirements list will include not only technology requirements, but business requirements, an outline of staff resources, and information related to whether a consultant or third party is required to expedite completion of the project. Documenting these requirements prior to beginning the project will assist in fulfilling the objectives as it is put into motion. This information also provides responsible committee members all the information they need to review and approve the project. At the end of the article, I have included a link to a basic form (in PDF) that you may follow to gather requirements for website enhancements.
What is Your ROI?
With any new enhancement or project you want to be able to measure if the change was successful or not. Determining a Return on Investment (ROI) to help put a dollar amount to your project is always a motivating factor for selecting a project that can be successful. You want all of the proposed technology related enhancements to be strategic, measurable, attainable, realistic, and tangible, or S.M.A.R.T. Choosing an enhancement for which you can't measure the impact on your business may not be not a smart investment. To assess the ROI for an enhancement, you should to weigh all costs to implement the work to the return that the enhancement will bring. For example, if you want to add a client intake form to your website, you need to calculate the programming costs, staff time for reviewing the form and testing, and finally implementation. Next, you need to determine how much staff time will be reduced or increased by the use of this form. Finally, how many new clients will it take to make this improvement a profitable enhancement. Of course the last part will vary because cases can cost and bring in different levels of revenue, so choose evaluation criteria that most closely match your firm business practices.Build Your Website into Other Marketing Efforts
If you haven't already done so, your website should be integrated into all of your marketing efforts. All your print collateral and business cards should have your web address on it. If you have a special area of law that you cover, you need to make sure you have some informational resource related to that topic on your website for current and prospective clients. Build a client intake form into your website to streamline your phone process.
Plan for at Least One New Enhancement
Every year you should plan for at least one website enhancement. To some this may seem like a big investment, while others may want to implement several enhancements at a time. How many you implement on an annual basis is up to you, and is dependant on how your website fits into your other marketing and business efforts and goals. The web is a powerful tool that breaks down barriers of entry into markets and can reduce costs, all at the same time. Many firms have realized this and have successfully leveraged the marketing value of their respective websites. As the number of web users steadily increases, for locating professional services as well as a range of consumer related activities, having a website that can work for you instead of against you is vital.
The web will continue to become part of our everyday lives. Proactively improving your website with enhancements that work in tandem with your overall firm goals and marketing strategy ensures greater success. Creating S.M.A.R.T. enhancements and mapping your timeline now will save you frustration and dollars at the end of the project. Good luck planning your strategy for 2007, and feel free to contact me about the enhancements you plan on making and if they are successful after implementation. [Note: Follow this Follow this Link to an example of a form for planning your website enhancement - PDF]