I was recently asked by a young entrepreneur on my opinion of the ROI of a powerful website. "Too chaotic to declare any ROI expectations with confidence." I announced to her in an ironically overconfident way. (Her business helps teach parents and young children with food allergies).
Too many of us confound ourselves by, what I like to describe as, "Focusing on the Arrow, forgetting the Target." It sounds somewhat Zen when I ask: "Have we devoted ourselves to our Target?"
So, young entrepreneur, you're asking if a powerful, seamless, entertaining and informative website is the correct Arrow for the job, yet you have no understanding of your Target.
As humans, we must thank our ancestors for jumping at the opportunity to find or create a tool at the drop of a Fig Leaf - it's the reason we exist as the superpredators we are today. But in those ancient times often the decision was simple - "Hmm sharp stick, or heavy rock?". In modern society our challenges are quite complex - "Mailer ad campaign or highway billboard?".
Today our Targets are often prospective customers. But if we haven't spent significant (and, yeah - I'll go ahead and say it, More) time sizing them up, studying their behaviors and tastes, we may well be fashioning a Knife (err, Arrow) for a Gunfight.
I'm personally an essentialist. I learned the hard way years ago that no man should ever become too dependent on his possessions. For this reason I do everything as 'light' as possible. The guy who actually uses the screwdriver in his swiss army knife? Yeah, that's me.
And, this attitude travels with me to work, so as for me: I'm experimenting with my Blog and Social Network(s) as my defacto landing space for interested internet searchers (read: I've forgone a classic website and simply forward my address to my blog/facebook page, obviously hosted by someone else). This is because my favorite prospects are generated by word-of-mouth shared by my (satisfied) clients - so I've usually met them semi-socially before we ever engage in a professional relationship. Get it? I want them to be forward-looking entrepreneurs who might feel forgoing the traditional brick-and-mortar website for a more informal slant is just the kind of get-the-job-done thinking they need in their lives.
After some discussion with my entrepreneur friend, we decided that a lavish website would offer her many options unavailable via other internet media such as social networks and blog (think lots of data that could be pared down into fun, interactive web-based tutorials). Once we'd defined her Target, envisioning the tools to reach that goal became far simpler.
My favorite author on "Outcome Visioning" is David Allen. His Natural Planning Method chapter in Getting Things Done is some of the finest advice available on productivity. It's one of several gold nuggets of success he offers in this Masterpiece. Much of GTD is available on Google Books - though I do suggest you buy or borrow a full copy. It changed my life.