Web Informant #226, 22 November 2000:
Why you should have your business plan on your website.


Mike Franks (franks@ssc.ucla.edu) is an old friend of mine who works for Social Sciences Computing at UCLA. Here are his comments about something that might improve consumer trust of web content:

Now that it's getting more common to see privacy notices on business websites, here's the next step. Post your business plan, or at least enough of it to make us believe in you and what you're offering. I guess I'm aiming this at any of the many websites that offer a free service or product of some kind. I'm no lawyer, and I think I'm only averagely cynical, but many times I've come across websites with services that sounded too good to be true, and I got exactly the opposite message than the one I'm sure they wanted to give.

My parents always taught me, if it looks too good to be true, I should stay away. And I'm sure in this cynical age, many others feel the same way.

One example: I was helping a friend look for web conferencing software this evening, and we found http://www.ivisit.com/ which looks great (and I don't see any for-fee upgrade version), but I'd like to be able to read a quick statement and know where they're coming from.

And if you're going to write something, give examples and avoid any jargon. Take the case of http://www.homestead.com/ -- a site that offers free websites. They say something, but the jargon doesn't mean anything to me. "We can afford to offer this excellent service for free because we generate revenue from Element partnerships, sponsorships and services and co-brand partnerships." Hunh?

The problem I face without this information is that I'd start to get cold feet, thinking, "Where's the money?" I don't want to have to try to dig deeper into someone's website and have to try out the service or figure out what the catch is. I don't object to other people using their websites to make money, and I realize free services cost somebody money. But without knowing, I feel like I'm missing part of the equation. Instead of being open and interested, the mood changes and I start wondering...

  1. Are they going to sell my name and personal info?
  2. Will they start charging a fee just when I start to like the service and depend on it?
  3. Is the free download they're offering really a crippled version that needs to be immediately upgraded to be useful?
  4. Is it just advertisements that are paying their way?
Now, like I said, I'm only averagely cynical. I'm sure there are many more questions that others could come up with. But the point is, presumably you're website is offering this service to get me (and people like me) to keep coming to your site, buy one of your products, or get interested in some way. You undermine that goal if we start wondering what you're getting out of this and you don't tell us. You don't want to trust our imaginations. What we imagine you're doing might be far worse than the truth. And from then on, you're associated in our minds with our worst images. This is definitely not good public relations.

So, avoid all this confusion. Just post a simple statement of what your business plan is, at least in regard with any free services you offer. Here are some samples:

  1. Ad banners, it's all ad banners, so please click on some to support our advertisers.
  2. We're not sure there's really a market for this product but if enough of you like it we may put some money into it and really improve it.
  3. This doesn't really cost us much so, as long as you don't overload our server or hack into it and bring it to the attention of our higher-ups, we can keep offering it.
  4. Yes, the free download is a crippled version, but it works pretty well, and we think you'll really like it and will willingly pay for the upgrade once you see how useful it is.

I'm sure you can do a better job at explaining your business plan. And, I'm sure you won't want to give away all your secrets. But treat us like reasonably intelligent people and give us enough facts to make a decision. Remember, this is the new economy.

Self-promotions dep't

Thanks, Mike. A few notes about some recent articles of my own, for your Thanksgiving reading pleasure:

A review of Groove Networks' collaborative software is out for VAR Business. I liked being in the groove, and hope more people begin to use it.

An analysis of management service providers for cNet's Enterprise web site. Entitled, Someone to Watch Over Me, it looks at the various different vendors who will monitor your web and Internet servers.

And today's front-page article in the NY Times mentions the perils of HTML email, something I pointed out to you readers in my essay last March.

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David Strom
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