Why you need a great web site

When a potential client can access the archives of the Smithsonian Institute, the Library of Congress, and the complete works of Leonardo Da Vinci using a mouse and a browser, they are unlikely to be satisfied if their review of a consultant's Web site turns up nothing but marketing babble. Potential clients expect consultants' sites to look and feel professional, with insightful content that helps them understand whether you and your firm can help them.

Patterns for buying consulting services are quickly changing, and there's no going back. A study by the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) found that 77 percent of decision makers now find service providers, including consultants, using the Web, even after they receive referrals.1

Clients use the information on the Web to make preliminary assessments of consultants' talents and to gauge how well they would fit with their organizations. Nearly 75 percent of buyers find consultants through their own research, not through contacts initiated by consultants.

Without a great Web site, you will not be considered a serious player, and the most desirable potential clients won't invite you to the game. As technological breakthroughs emerge, it will become even more important for consultants to establish an outstanding presence on the Web.

And that's not all. As the Web penetrates organizations further, consultants will need to use it for many routine business matters such as delivering proposals, processing billing and collections, and creating client-specific microsites for projects, to name just a few.

Guerrilla Intelligence: Seven Deadly Sins of WEB SlTE DESlGN

Most consultants' Web sites suffer from one or more of the following seven deadly afflictions:

1. Templates and artists. Web sites are often designed either by local programmers using inexpensive cookie-cutter templates or by graphic artists who create eye-pleasing, but sluggish sites. Both tend to drive visitors to your competitors. When you look for help with your site, balance the need for an effective, high-performing site with a design that conveys your professional image.

2. Gratuitous images. Some Web site owners paste stock images of unknown people on their home pages and other parts of their sites. You may see a group of individuals gathered around a conference table staring at a computer screen that another person is operating. This meaningless scene conveys no message. Every image on every page of your site should have a purpose.

3. Us/our syndrome. Many sites are filled with navigation buttons, or tabs, bearing titles such as "Our Services," "About Us," "Our Clients," "Our Qualifications," and "Our Clients." Clients want more about their issues and less about your triumphs. Vincent Flanders, author of Web Pages That Suck, says the biggest mistake consultants make is "to talk about how wonderful, smart and brilliant they are."a The fatal flaw for thousands of such sites is that they are consultant focused, not client focused.

4. Splash pages. Web sites that incorporate the latest flashy technology—explosive graphics, streaming video intros, and a Vincent Flanders' quote is from the interview, "This Month's Featured MasterMind: Vincent Flanders on Web Pages That Suck," Management Consulting News (September 3, 2002). Available from www.managementconsultingnews.com /newsletter_sept_02_final.htm.

Flanders reminds consultants that "people come to your site for one reason: to solve a problem. They don't care if you're wonderful and they probably don't care about much of anything other than "Can you solve my problem now? You've got to convince your visitors that you can solve their problems, so the information you provide should be about that, not about you."

(Continued)

shock ware—may initially be fun, but they quickly grow old. These annoying, graphic-intensive pages are slow to load, waste your visitors' time, and imply that you'll waste even more of their time once they get past the splash page. If you're trying to attract potential clients, cool it on the overly cool.

5. Errors. No matter how small, errors send visitors scurrying away with a bad impression of your practice. One visitor to a consulting firm's site commented, "I thought the firm was reputable but I spotted two spelling mistakes right on the home page. How professional is that?" Even the smallest typos can mean a lost opportunity.

6. Confusing navigation. If visitors can't easily navigate around your site or can't instantly figure out where they are, they'll quickly exit. Steve Krug, author of Don't Make Me Think, a book on Web site usability, says that you "should not do things that force people to think unnecessarily when they're using your site."b You want visitors to focus on reading the content, not on trying to navigate your site.

7. Poor writing: With the advent of the Web, anyone can be a publisher. But not everyone is a great writer. One consulting firm's site proclaims that its mission "is to connect you with information and resources to achieve your maximum potential." That is so vague that it's not worth saying. Creating prose for the Web is not exactly like writing a memo to your staff. Web site prose must be crisp and easy to read, and must motivate visitors to look at all pages on your site.

b Steve Krug's quote is from the interview, "Meet the MasterMinds: Common Sense Web Design with Steve Krug," Management Consulting News (September 3, 2002). Available from www.managementconsultingnews.com/ newsletter_sept_02_final .htm.

Krug goes on to say that the first law of Web site usability is "Don't make me think. I've used it for years with my clients, and it really means exactly what it says: Don't do things that force people to think unnecessarily when they're using your site. I find that most people are quite willing and able to think when it's necessary, but making them do it when there's nothing in it for them (other than compensating for your failure to sort things out properly) tends to be annoying—and worse, confusing."

The information-intensive consulting industry is perfect for Web marketing. Seize on its capabilities to make your site credible, valuable, and easy to use. Tap into the Web's low-cost power to draw leads to your practice and to build your presence in the market.

As the marketing hub of your practice, your Web site is equal parts consulting office, demonstration lab, library, and publicity machine. Its content, appearance, and ease of use show your competence and professionalism.

Your site paints a powerful portrait of your visual identity by reflecting your style, taste, and presentation. It serves as your showroom in cyberspace, a display case for exhibiting your wares. The site provides a platform from which to tell your story, describe your mission, list your clients, and distribute information. It also gives you visibility both within and outside your industry.

Firms can create a repository on their Web sites for their intellectual assets—articles, papers, proposals, studies, surveys, and reports— which prospective clients can examine. These materials help visitors understand how the consultants think and how they tackle problems.

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