Automattic recently conducted extensive research on small business owners (SBOs), looking into their behaviors, preferences, and motivations around both building websites and business in general. The design team was tasked with reading through this research to find something that challenged our previous notions about SBOs.
My initial read proved fairly uncontroversial as most of my assumptions about what SBOs wanted held true. I know that most SBOs are strapped for time and money, and more than anything want to focus on the craft of their business, rather than the business of their business. But the more I read, the more I realized there was a difference between understanding what SBOs want/need and actually addressing those needs in my work.
It was this quote from the research that really drove the point home:
Small business owners also universally saw a website as a drain on time and a general overhead for their business.
Despite all our encouragement in our marketing materials to “bring your ideas to life” and to “be free to build it your way” with a website, our users don’t view creating a website as a magical experience that is going to make all their dreams come true. They view it as a burden.
It also contributes to some of their key concerns:
A lack of time and management of money were the core concerns of all small business owners, regardless of their segment or stage.
We’re asking for them to give us both!
And then on top of that, when they view their successes, they don’t see their website as the reason they happened. It’s just one of many tools they utilized to achieve their goals:
Participants saw the catalyzing moment of their business journey as a first client, a first sale or a win that occurred within their business itself. While the website may actually have played a contributing role, it was perceived as incidental.
Which to me means we either need to step back and honestly acknowledge the utility of what we’re offering. Or, we need to step up and create value beyond just getting a website live. If we truly want to support our customers and create fulfilling, long-term relationships, then we need to address the fundamental concern of creating a website, while providing tools and education to make that website work on the other levels required for a business to succeed. Then we can start to live up to the marketing copy we’re putting out there.