Small Business Planning and Strategy: Stable Diet | Free Essay

Small Business Planning and Strategy: Stable Diet

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Stable Diet’s Marketing Strategy and Target Market

Stable Diet is a small business enterprise based in Ireland. Essentially a baking business with products like cakes, breakfast cereals, and flapjacks (www.stablediet.com), Stable Diet tries and caters to the traditional whole food sub-category of natural foods.

The emphasis of the company is on producing tasty yet healthy and premium products that can retain their exclusivity and be traditional and also be of high quality. The products are essentially based on natural ingredients and are targeted towards a particular community of consumers.

Thus the target market is a class of quality and health-conscious consumers who want value for money and do want to buy such premium products, which are yet traditional and natural, wholesome food. All products try to achieve the homemade taste and use an old-style, traditional recipe (Harrington and O’ Riordan 2005).

And, the segment catered to is also a part of the wellness industry, although the products include cakes and flapjacks which are generally perceived as snack-foods rather than healthy foods.

The nature of the products and the target market determines the marketing strategies adopted by a company. But the market strategy is also influenced by the attitudes and values of the entrepreneur-owners and managers who run a business.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, such a strategy is influenced by cost considerations. The cost factor assumes vital importance, particularly in the case of small business concerns like Stable Diet, which have a lean manufacturing unit and which have little resources for large-scale marketing or intensive marketing promotions.

Also, the niche market that the company targets necessitates the adoption of innovative marketing tactics for making the best use of available resources like money and manpower.

The products are also premium category although capital is scarce in the company, and the owner and managers do neither wish to go in for mass production and outside borrowing, which are generally resorted to by so many companies offering identical products like Cadburys, Nestle, etc.

However, unlike the products of the latter companies, Stable Diet’s products are not processed foods, and the company strives to maintain the quality and nutrition value of the products, whatever the costs. Under these circumstances, the company owner and management have adopted a laidback approach as distinct from the fast-paced, market economics-related, and competitive strategies adopted by most leading players in the market.

Brand building has not been reported to by means of any costly aggressive marketing strategy. In fact, Stable Diet has always tried to have their products sold through small outlets, and it is only in recent years that competitive market conditions have forced the owner to seek other more exclusive or large-scale outlets like Harvey Nicholls, Musgraves, and Super Quinn.

The concern has to date not advertised its products but relied on word-of-mouth publicity through its many satisfied customers. The company has also attempted to stay loyal to its target market and has successfully tried and maintained its transparency and nearness to its customer community.

The strategy has also been influenced by the management and owner of Stable Diet to serve the products as fresh as possible. This means that the company tries to market its products in local outlets in a manner so that the total production stock sells out within a week from any of the outlets.

This is also in tune with the arrangement for marketing made with Super Quinn, Musgraves, etc., which, being supermarkets, do not want to keep stocks long on their shelves and usually keep only stock as much as their sales would demand. On their part, however, the supermarkets do help out by aggressively advertising the Stable Diet products within their outlets.

Another aspect is the packaging of the products. Stable Diet ensures a simple packaging on all products. The emphasis is on highlighting the natural ingredients in the products. The method obviously is an attempt to keep the customers loyal to the company and help maintain their trust in the firm.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the company’s marketing strategy is its emphasis on maintaining its closeness to its customers. Essentially the company tries to cater to a small market by an exclusive approach rather than a mass-based one.

In this respect, the company tries to maintain its control over its marketing avenues for ensuring the best deal for its customers. This factor that keeps the interests and wants of the consumer paramount often means ceasing production of products, which are perceived too costly vis-à-vis the quality.

The distribution channel is of vital significance for marketing any product. It is all the more important in the case of perishable edible goods like cakes and cereal foods. The company usually markets its products through local and small outlets over which it can exercise adequate control and from which it can collect valuable feedback through using its lean workforce for keeping the business value-driven and affordable.

Even today, the company works for the most part through small, medium sellers, retailers, coffee shops, and wholesalers. In this way, the company tries to maintain its close contact with its customers and effects improvements in the products, if required, on the basis of feedback collected from selected customers at these outlets or even from the owners of the outlets themselves.

The marketing effort of the company is also subtle rather than overt or aggressive. Thus it uses such passive and low-cost methods like maintaining a website for detailing the products and displaying the company business name and website address on the company van.

The company is also handicapped by low finances, so that it has to rely on the one van for such advertising and selling of its products at the various outlets. In a sense, the company maintains a personalized touch and tries to satisfy its select group of customers.

The company also adopts its marketing policies through careful considerations, although it does make quick decisions. Also, it does not have a marketing manager but relies on this activity on the services of an external consultant. What the company lacks in external expertise or available resources, it attempts to fulfill by means of tactics for increasing personalized touch to its customers.

Thus, Stable Diet also provides a holistic therapy center on their production site. This includes the provision of reflexology, yoga, and meditation sessions to customers and also the arrangement of tearooms and accommodation to clients for taking part in the health-enhancing facilities.

Ambiance seems to be the focus here. Many exclusive businesses that cater to high-end consumers do similarly resort to such tactics, and this is so even in the case of large companies and in different industries and signifies a class-based rather than a mass-based approach.

Ways to Improve Stable Diet Brand Awareness

In as much as any business enterprise needs to maintain its marketing infrastructure and ensure the quality of its products, it also needs to build and improve brand salience in an increasingly competitive market. The need to maintain and improve brand awareness of both the company and its products is also all the more significant in the case of a small business like Stable Diet, which caters to a small, exclusive and niche target market.

The Stable Diet brand needs to be consistently kept in public view, and company efforts in this respect successfully complemented with the assurance of the quality of products as promised through marketing promotions.

Carland et al. (1984) aver that “most small businesses follow survival strategies” and “such strategy depends mostly on a loyal consumer base” (Reider 2008). However, “firms offering high-quality products and services need to achieve brand awareness to (in turn) help reduce advertising costs and enhance customer loyalty” (Armstrong and Drnevich 2009).

This is an apparently contrasting feature of businesses that, effective brand-building efforts require the adoption of capital intensive advertising campaigns while the brand building also helps reduce costs of such advertising campaigns through enhancement of customer bases and resulting sales growth and better return on outgoes.

But that brand building is important is very obvious. Thus, Hoyer and Brown (1990) also observe “brand awareness is a dominant choice heuristic in the consumer choice process.”

The question is how to build upon or improve brand awareness of small businesses like Stable Diet, which are handicapped by lean staff, low capital, and the company emphasis on maintaining quality of products in an increasingly mass-based, competitive market. The company obviously cannot afford costly advertising campaigns, at least in the present situation, and if it does not wish to avail of external credit.

It also needs to use its resources to the maximum extent possible so that it derives maximum return on its use. The number of staff and managers is kept lean. Most company staff manages multiple duties and functions. Firm growth is thus dependent upon job involvement, customer focus, and functional specialization of the few staff and managers employed.

The owner is herself entrepreneur and manager of the company. Much of her time is taken up in production and administrative functions. Also, the company relies on word of mouth to promote its brand value rather than by adopting any overt or aggressive marketing tactics. The main consideration here is of product branding, although corporate branding is no doubt equally important even for a small business like Stable Diet.

As per the American Marketing Association brand is a “name, term sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of the competitors.”

Considering brand salience as the consolidation of consumer values attached to each product, the company needs to enhance brand or customer loyalty for its products in order to create and enhance the value of the corporate entity as a whole.

While advertising has its advantages, the company more particularly needs to deliver on what it promises on each and every product if at all the exclusive and health-conscious customers are to be effectively nurtured for business growth of the company.

The first thing in brand building or enhancement is to clearly define what the brand stands for or should stand for in the views of its customers. Sony Electronics Inc., USA Director of Creative Services Gemini Babla (www.sony.com/business) observes succinctly that the solution to the problem of defining a brand requires the collection of customer perspectives on product or business, what they think that the company does, what they like about the company or its products, how does the company or its products compare with competitors, and what improvements are felt necessary.

While advertising is desirable in building brand awareness and also sustaining brand salience and sustaining the same in both the long and short terms, Stable Diet does not have the necessary finances to undertake a sustained advertising campaign.

The single van and the website that the company maintains also do not serve as sufficient vehicles of advertising success. Hence the company needs to look for alternative means of sustaining and enhancing the brand awareness of its products and the company.

Fawkner (www.thewritemarket.com) provides some vital tips, which can be adopted by the company to produce remarkable results. She says that brand building essentially implies creating product differentiation so that the company products stand out from the competition. For this, she says, efficient and effective marketing needs to be resorted to.

This may also comprise hosting a website, writing a mission statement of the company, describing what is to be branded, identifying the target market, highlighting the key elements of the mission statement, listing suitable tag lines for reinforcing the mission statement, creating a company logo, and using the logo, company name and tag line consistently by delivering on what the mission statement promises the customers.

In this regard, while the company maintains a website, has a sketchy mission statement, tries to define its product brand and also successfully delivers on its mission, it does not appear to have a logo, nor uses a tag line that can stand out either on its website or on its product packaging. The company needs to actively consider this option as this would not entail much additional cost and is both effective and viable.

The tag lines could be, for example, “utterly delicious but healthy,” “we deliver what we promise,” “your health at any cost,” etc. The trick is perhaps in better utilizing the website already hosted by the company. The company needs to actively use modern marketing avenues and methods like viral marketing, SEO, Google, Yahoo, etc. so that the brand catches the public eye and stays there.

This would not entail any substantial cost than that required for a more effective website design. Also, the company needs to fully and more effectively use its available marketing channels to produce optimum results.

Retaining Existing Consumer Base and Options for Business Expansion

The company’s selling point is the provision of quality and healthy natural foods to its community of health-conscious consumers who want tasty and wholesome natural food products. Hence it is essential that future marketing strategies or new ventures do not affect this exclusive customer base.

At the same time, the company does need to look for new avenues to reinforce revenue channels and also assure company growth if at all it is even to survive in the increasingly competitive market dominated by mass processed foods producing large players.

Since its costs and human resources are limited, it needs to adopt strategies that are both efficient and effective. Such efficiency and effectiveness necessarily implies the increased sales of the products, enlarged customer bases, and also keeping the costs constant or competitive.

Hence, what the new ventures that the company can adopt are an issue that needs active consideration, under the circumstances. The company already has tried to deviate from its stated affinity for small and local retail units by entering into marketing arrangements with leading super and departmental stores. In fact, this very alliance can be expanded further by means of co-branding.

For example, card companies provide discounts to their customers who use their cards more and more. There are card companies that are into alliances with petrol companies. Why not tap similar avenues so that the brand image of the Stable Diet is reinforced at minimal cost to the company?

The company is into making cakes. While such foods are available throughout the year and can be sold at all times, the company could also explore producing special cakes and items during Christmas or New Year. For this, they need not expand their existing factory nor add to their workforce.

Only a tailor-made advertising campaign may be required, which can very well be carried out through special seasonal packaging on the products, some promotions on website or van, and printed material for display at the departmental stores.

The trick here is in anticipating what the customer wants of a company or its products, which information is already available to the company through its feedback mechanism. And, in all such cases of new ventures, the company is only retaining and expanding on its existing customer base.

Examining the Stable Diet Business Model

The owner and management of Stable Diet have kept the company business model as simple as possible. In wanting to sell quality products to the health-conscious customer, the company realizes that its exclusive clientele wants simple yet tasty products made from natural ingredients. They also perceive that such clientele welcomes transparency, simplicity, and determination to keep the promises made by the company.

Its low finances, homegrown approach, and penchant for quality and cost-efficiency to the customer circumscribe the company. It cannot avail of capital-intensive advertising campaigns, and has to depend on the multiple functions of their existing lean workforce, as also rely on the talents of available human resources to deliver on company promises.

A small business with an immediate outlook rather than driven by a long-term strategy, the owner is in charge of the production and relies on an informal and innovative approach to preparing new recipes. The optimal utilization of available resources is evident.

Complex marketing channels are avoided, and mostly small and locally selected outlets are given the right to sell the products. The company tries to retain control over the entire process from production to sales, so that it can deliver to its customers quality, healthy, and natural food product as per its stated mission statement. It is only recently that it has entered into an alliance for marketing its products through leading superstore chains.

While the production and administration functions are handled in-house, there is a marketing consultant who advises the company on a periodic basis. The company relies more on on word of mouth to market its products rather than adopt an aggressive advertising strategy.

The personnel is well motivated and loyal to the company so that they also serve as valuable information gatherers for the company. As yet, no outside market pressure has been allowed to affect the customer-friendly policy of the company. While the products are high-end products, the costs are generally kept such that the existing consumers can accept the pricing structure. This helps retain an exclusive customer base.

Thus in most aspects, the business model of the company is that of an ordinary single-owner model driven by traditional values, customer satisfaction achievement, and quality-oriented approach. Resources are limited, advertising minimal, non-traditional channels of marketing largely unexplored, and the business model adopted is generally the antithesis of models followed by mass –producing, large multinational companies in the market.

Identifying Core Strengths and Starting New Ventures

The key strengths of a company need to be reinforced to achieve the results from strategic business initiatives. Even while starting new ventures, a company needs to understand its core competencies and plan accordingly so that its resources and strengths can be optimally utilized as much as possible. Hence, the company first has to identify its major strengths first.

A stable Diet has various key strengths. First and foremost, its products are tailor-made from natural ingredients and are both tasty and healthy. Although costly, they are valued for money. The company has always targeted a niche community of healthy and quality-conscious food lovers. Secondly, the company is committed to simplicity, transparency, and delivery of promises to the customers.

It perceives the customers as exclusive and as people who want value. It also realizes that it needs to hold on to its customer base. Third, it has kept its costs as low as possible and also retains its control over most of its operations.

This ensures that the results of operations and product quality are as desired. Fourth, all its workers and management are well motivated and perform multiple functions. Thus, even a worker like a van driver effectively performs the job of collecting feedback from customers and outlet owners, although he is basically a driver only.

Fifth, the company recognizes the need for producing foods that can be carried by the time-short, modern customer who also wants to preserve good health. It, therefore, also boasts of suitable foods in this category. Sixth, the company always ensures that its products are fresh when sold. This means that the company plans and produces products that can be sold out within a week and do not remain as unsold stocks for long.

While planning new ventures or even an extension to its existing production unit, the company management necessarily has to consider and preserve its key competencies so that it adds value as also retains and expands on its customer base through such ventures.

Obviously, the company can well consider expanding its production if it adds to its range of products to cover seasonal and festive variations. This would include cakes and pasties specially made for Christmas and New Year. Or, it can reinforce its marketing efforts by trying to cater to new outlets for stocking the products. This would entail recruiting some sales boys or girls.

To rein in costs, the company could go in for college-going boys and girls having their own bicycles, using which they could go and deliver products or undertake promotional campaigns. They could use the cycles to carry and advertise the products in specially designed eye-catching boxes.

The company could also consider starting franchises. Or it can explore online sales through its website, which is already functional. Online options for marketing could include database marketing using emails and newsletters, which are low-cost methods.

Differences between Entrepreneur and Owner Manager

The Stable Diet case study demonstrates the effectiveness of an entrepreneur-owner in a small business producing food items for sale in a small local market. However, the case can lead to an important issue. How different is an entrepreneur from the owner of a business?

Yates mentions that a small business owner generally tries to earn enough profits to help sustain the business, takes minimum risks, usually is not innovative in approach, may need to be motivated further, and also regards staff as paid employees rather than as fellow workers in an enterprise.

On the other hand, entrepreneurs say Yates are highly motivated and ambitious, tend to be innovative and dynamic in attitude, take more risks, wish to expand business in quick time, and are also creative, more focused, and strategic. The business owner is essentially the owner of capital and is less willing to risk losing his money through new and innovative measures.

The entrepreneur tries to learn as he goes along and adopts his strategies according to the situation. He himself grows along with the company, so to say. “Entrepreneurship is a type of behaviour which concentrates on opportunities rather than resources” (Stevenson and Gumpert 1991) whereas “small businesses can be a vehicle for both Schumpeterian (Schumpeter 1934), entrepreneurs introducing new products and processes that change the industry and for people who simply run and own a business for a living” (Wennekers and Thurik 1999).

Essentially, small businesses actually “belong to an economic core” (Kirchhoff 1994). In a study of business owners and entrepreneurs in the hospitality industry, Wagener et al. (2008) observed the following differences in characteristics of small business owners and entrepreneurs:

  1. Entrepreneurs are more independent than small business owners
  2. Entrepreneurs exhibit more risk-taking propensity than small business owners
  3. Entrepreneurs show higher tolerance of ambiguity than do small business owners
  4. Entrepreneurs possess higher self-efficacy than small business owners do
  5. Entrepreneurs show higher innovative abilities than small business owners
  6. Entrepreneurs are more market-oriented than small business owners
  7. Entrepreneurs possess more leadership qualities than small business owners

Avoiding pitfalls for small businesses due to managerial defects

Stanworth and Curran (1976), and Beaver (2002) have highlighted various attributes of small businesses like “innovation, high flexibility, closeness to the customers, and the independence from external control as also the marked impact of the business owner on the business.” Storey (1994) and Beaver (2002) also observe that the management process in a small business is largely personalized and depends on the entrepreneurs’ dominant logics (Prahalad and Bettis 1986).

Obviously, the role of the entrepreneur or owner in a small business like Stable Diet assumes vital significance for sustaining or growing the business. Hence, the limitations of the owner entrepreneurs or managers do impact the growth of a small business enterprise adversely. Such limitations may include managerial bottlenecks, lack of specialized knowledge, and lack of professionalism.

This, in turn, may create internal coordination problems that may affect the normal functioning of the enterprise. Also, keeping in mind the informal approach to management generally pursued by small business owners and management, which does not think ahead or plan for the future, as in the case of Stable Diet, the firm becomes all the more vulnerable in the case of a crisis in the future.

While there is an acute need to put in place a suitable system to enable the firm to tackle future crises effectively, usually small firms are deficient in this respect. The owner of such businesses is also hardly prepared to meet such crisis situations.

Ensuring the continuity of operations in any business enterprise is a challenge rendered more acute by changes in the business environments. Products need to be modified or altered in keeping with customer preferences, products of other close competitors, need for re-branding, changing market situation, etc. Processes also need to be improved upon to ensure that the firm succeeds in controlling costs and tackling competition.

Thus, a business owner or manager, in addition to being an entrepreneur, also needs to be a strong leader, possess requisite knowledge and skills, and also be able to adapt to changing situations. He must be successful in change management. As a leader, he must carry along the entire workforce as a cohesive team working towards a common goal.

He needs to be a good motivator. Since the resources of a small business are limited, changing external employment conditions, including pay scales, may adversely impact the working of the company, since the workers would demand pay commensurate with external pay structures.

Since control over all processes and customer orientation are the major factors that contribute to the success of the enterprise, the owner and managers need to play an effective role in this area of business operations.

The modern concept of risk management, which is an essential part of the managerial strategy in large-scale enterprises, is also not less important in the case of small business enterprises. An effective risk management system effectively permits owners and managers to handle any and every crisis. Risk management envisages protection in case of an unforeseen crisis.

It protects the firm assets and capital. But a successful risk management system is technology-driven. Since such a technology-driven system is capital intensive, most small businesses cannot afford to install such a system. However, planning, particularly cost planning, assumes significance in this respect. Increasing costs can well result in the demise of the company.

Such systems can effectively protect the assets of the company in case of a future crisis, even if the owner or manager himself is ill-prepared for such a crisis or does not possess abilities to tackle the same.

Risk management essentially needs recognition of the possible risks to an organization and adoption of knowledge management techniques, facilitating the early detection of warning signals, which can be analyzed so that the management can make proper decisions.

Ault and Miller (2002), on the basis of a study on the possible causes for the decline of small businesses in the USA, observe that the high rates of failure in small businesses are due to frauds, disasters, negligence, and management incapacity. However, they observe that the major cause of small business failure is managerial incompetence. Such managerial deficiencies manifest in many ways.

The authors mention twelve basic rules to help prevent business failures caused by such managerial deficiencies. These twelve rules are found to be appropriate measures in avoiding pitfalls for small businesses due to managerial defects and are hence reproduced here. The twelve basic rules due to Ault and Miller (20002) are:

A master plan is to be developed which can guide the business process

Obviously, planning is an essential process for a small business enterprise. It can be either strategic or tactical. Whereas strategic planning provides direction and purpose to company operation, tactical planning helps put in place the various processes relating to the primary plan. The plans also need to be reviewed and altered depending upon the emergent business environment.

Products must be created to fill an existing need for the same

This rule facilitates the proper utilization of scarce resources according to a clearly pre-defined purpose. The product is defined for the market, and there is clear product differentiation so that the company gains in competitive advantage from marketing the same. Innovation and enterprise are desirable inputs for tailor-made product designing, which can bring results and assure business growth.

The enterprise must have access to minimum capital to correspond to two times the loss projected period plus one.

This rule implies that the business should either be started with sufficient capital or must be able to avail of external finance readily if so required. Cash and liquidity management expertise are also assumed to be an essential attribute in a manager or owner-entrepreneur.

Be continually aware of the dynamic market conditions through sound research and also prepare market plans for each month of the start-up period plus one year

This rule only reinforces the maxim that one must be well prepared and be well aware of the market and business environment in which the business operates so that the management is ready for any eventuality, and also ready with a plan; it is not caught napping during any crisis or eventuality.

The market comprises legal, social, financial, technological, and competitive forces whose thorough knowledge is a necessary prerequisite if at all the management hopes to penetrate it. Also, some degree of flexibility and change management capability is also essential in a manager.

A P&L statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement needs to be prepared for each month of the start-up period plus one year

The preparation and analysis of financial statements are essential in as much as the business enterprise is driven by profit and growth motives, and improving its finances is the ultimate target. Problems in the functioning of the processes can be identified through periodic financial analysis.

Select an advisory board consisting of knowledgeable and experienced persons who can be consulted for approving all activities, reports, and plans.

This rule envisages that managers in a company require independent and expert advice from time to time on various issues relating to business.

Employees must be well qualified for their jobs, and only a minimum number of staff should be employed.

Obviously, since resources are limited, the quality of staff is to be ensured, and the workforce kept lean and performing so as to derive optimum results. Ault and Miller emphasize this rule as being vital for the business to survive.

They also state that employees must be innovative, be provided opportunities for career progression, and must also be given incentives or rewards to help retain talent. Although this may be costly, in the long run, these same employees are invaluable assets in as much as they can tide over any and every crisis in the future. Organizational planning also needs to be sound and aligned with the overall strategic goals of the company.

One should not panic in case of losses or unexpected profits and be ready with yearly plans in advance.

The most important objectives for the business enterprise are first to survive and then to improve profits. Survival requires strict controls over cash flows. Improving profits depends on manageable debt levels and continued surplus. Profits can be reinvested so that costs are minimized, product quality is not compromised, and long-term market shares are ensured.

A rolling forecast of sales, costs, profits or losses, etc. is to be made.

Forecasting is vital for the survival of the business. Forecasting must also be accurate and capable of producing measurable results for analysis and for effecting continuous improvement in operations.

Pay heed to employees’ ideas and knowledge inputs as also advise from external consultants or advisors. Managerial decisions must be fact-based, and managers must take full responsibility for their decisions.

Employees can be considered as very valuable assets of the company and need to be nurtured and trained. They must be motivated and be made to feel that they belong in the company and that their inputs and ideas count in the company. The rule also envisages healthy interactions of the management with the employees, understanding their problems, being transparent, and also rewarding employee performances.

Set up a maximum inventory level to be maintained and also ensure appropriate inventory level depending on demand for the products

This means that proper vendor selection, preventing stock-outs, and replacement selection can be both desired and achievable in the enterprise. While proper vendor selection can minimize costs and ensure product quality, proper replacement scheduling may not entail lower costs, although this could effectively nurture vendor relationships, in turn providing for long-term gains for the business.

Products and services must be of zero-defect quality

Quality control is very important for ensuring customer satisfaction so that the consumer base is retained or enhanced. In a business where customer loyalty plays an important role, the need to ensure the quality of product or service is of paramount importance. Often, quality may have to be ensured even at higher costs. But, generally, consumers would demand quality for money, and this implies that the concept of quality is a relative concept. Also, products with associated problems need to be phased out.

Key activities in website planning of small businesses-outline & evaluation

While small business enterprises are not able to either maintain their own website site owing to low technological awareness or cost considerations, many small businesses do maintain websites. Such websites are usually simple affairs. However, whatever the structural complexity, the development of company websites needs to planned and then implemented.

While planning for a small business website, the first thing to do is define the business objectives of the website, determine whom the website will target, understand the purposes for creating and maintaining the website and the preferences or choice of the target customers, find what kind of pages and information would be effective in marketing the products of the business, etc.

The website plan also needs to consider the structuring of information on the portal, downloads of software, if required, as also the degree of professionalism evident on the website that can effectively influence users. The ease of finding information on the website, how appropriate the website is to the user’s needs, the specific user requirements, and above all, the costs that may be incurred by creating and maintaining the website form other vital considerations.

A clear knowledge of the main user groups who would access the website, their reasons for doing so, their experience and expertise in using web tools, what they seek in a website, the options for downloading or reading information given on the website, the type and speed of web browsers that users will use, their choice of screens and colors, and other such user-related issues are also to be addressed so that the website can be purposefully designed and be efficient in delivering the message sought to be communicated thus by the company to the users.

Additionally, the website also needs to incorporate features that can enable a special application or use of the site by physically challenged or other such users.

The type of user interfaces provided on a website can boost up company efforts to sell a product through the website, or it can mar such prospects, depending on how the site is structured. A website design needs to consider the multiple user groups that may use the same.

Also, website design requires careful consideration of user convenience who will be using the site. For instance, the number of details provided on the site, the familiarity of the terminology used, etc. can well promote a particular website to the users better.

It has been commonly found that users do not fully read what all the website conveys. Rather they only scan the pages in order to locate the information they seek. Hence concise, highlighted content that wastes little time of the user and stands out needs to be incorporated in communicating the required information to the users. Other large sites need to be studied in this regard to gain some knowledge of quality web design.

Also, a consistent web page layout is to be used throughout. The overall strategy is to make the website experience for the user smooth, easy, visually appealing, and value for time and money.

Thus, there is need to use navigational bars that minimize scrolling, provide for minimum graphics, make the site usable and qualitative, and ensure low page load time by means of simple URLs, meaningful page titles, concise menus, link lists, site map, hyperlinks, size of files to be downloaded, minimum graphics.

A web site fails to meet organizational needs unless it caters to user needs, and provides “quality in use” (Bevan 1997). Also, incomplete websites are a sign of corporate incompetence (http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9712a.html). Actually, “users find a site effective, efficient and satisfying when the site uses a user-centered design” (Bevan and Azuma 1997).

Feher and Towell (1997) recommend that the “adaptation and use of Web technology by small businesses should be in four stages, viz., identification and initial investment, experimentation and proliferation, control of its proliferation, and widespread technology transfer.”

Riggins (1998) also mentions several features in a website that can “promote business by using effective communication of information by means of time compression, bridging the geographical divide, restructuring relationships, fine-tuning customer and company interactions, and offering potential new products online.”

However, customer satisfaction with the use of the website is by far the best guarantee that product sales can be enhanced by web promotions. The customer satisfaction, in turn, depends on “their perception of the product in relation to price, variety or the quality of shopping effort, customer service responsiveness, tangibility, reliability and assurance, and consumer risks like economic, social, personal or privacy” (Jarvenpaa and Todd 1997).

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