Ready to launch? How BS 8878 helped this SME’s website get off the ground

Back in the public comment stages of the creation of the BS 8878 Web accessibility code of practice there was one audience that asked the toughest questions – SMEs. They wanted to know if the standard would give them something useful, or whether it was just for large companies with more to lose from neglecting accessibility.

Put directly, if you have no money and need a website for your business right now, does BS 8878 help at all, or is it just another ‘nice to have, if I had the time’?

At the time, we didn’t have a very good answer. BS 8878 was born out of comparing my experiences in helping product managers (including myself) take the needs of disabled and elderly users into account when creating sites like BBC iPlayer, with those of other accessibility experts and evangelists in the fields of eLearning, eGovernment, agency work, and eCommerce. Between us on the IST/45 committee we had most of the bases covered in web genres and platforms.

But would the processes we knew worked for our organisations also work for SMEs?

Well, 6 months on from BS 8878’s launch and a job change later, I’m now in a much better situation to answer that question, as now I’m one of those SMEs balancing priorities between serving my existing clients well, nurturing new leads, and working out how best to promote my business. My website is an essential part of that promotion and, like all SMEs, I want to get the right messages out about my business, to the right people, as quickly and inexpensively as I can.

So here’s my answer… as a series of blogs on the decisions I’ve taken in creating the Hassell Inclusion website. I’ll look at how BS 8878 has helped me with each of the decisions, and how its process has guided me in keeping foremost in my mind what the important decisions really are.

Part one – The importance of purpose: how to know when your site is ready to launch

Yes, I know that sounds like a crazy place to start, but it’s really the thing on your mind when you need something, anything, right now! How long do I have to spend working on this thing before I can put it out there and get me a web presence, without making that presence so half-hearted as to score an own goal before I’ve even started?

Well, you’re not going to be able to answer that question without being clear about the purpose of your website. If you don’t know what your goal is how can you know if you’ve scored? And if, like most sites, you’ve actually got lots of goals for your site, you really need to know which of them are important and which aren’t. With these two bits of information (which steps 1 and 6 of BS 8878’s process asks you to think about) you can’t possibly answer step 15, which is all about whether it’s sensible for you to go live yet.

The trick here is to work like Apple, Facebook, twitter and any other successful software vendor you can think of: ship early, and then improve your site over time. Check out the v1 of these and many other successful websites at: What the World’s Biggest Websites Looked Like at Launch.

The thing that makes those giants household names rather than the hundreds of competitors who failed to win that success is the question of when you should ship – how good does your site have to be?

And that comes down to what’s important – what you reckon is the minimum amount of quality and functionality for your site to be useful to users and make the right sort of mark against your competitors (assuming you have some)?

In business talk: if your product demonstrates enough of its unique selling points (USPs) and no more than that, you’ve achieved your minimal viable product, and you should get it out there right now.

If you’re too early, your audience may consider you an also-ran and not bother coming back in the future. Too late, and your audience may have found what they were looking for somewhere else already, so you’re now going to have to spend half your time working out how to get them to switch to you.

The important thing here is that while it’s you making the judgement of whether you’re ready to go, it’s your audience that will decide whether you got it right. They are the people who will make your site successful or not.

Which is why thinking about your audience is step 2 in the BS 8878 process – without this, you can’t make good decisions later on.

So, bearing in mind you’re reading this on my v1.0 site, I obviously made the decision that my site was good enough to go. This is how I made that decision, and you can tell me in the comment section of this article whether I got it right…

Here’s my purpose, target audiences and user goals and tasks for the site. This took me one hour of clear thinking, and the odd tweak while I made the site. That’s good value for something which has kept me focused the way it has.

Step 1 – Purpose (v1)

To promote Hassell Inclusion ltd.

  • shopfront for potential clients: information on my services; showcase for my experience (CV, presentations, videos, academic papers) and thought-leadership (blog, tweets); how to get in touch with me
  • added-value client area (access to support, tools and FAQs)

Step 2 – Target audiences and what they are looking for:

Segmentation by interest

  • Potential clients looking for accessibility expertise or consultancy
  • Current clients looking for follow-up after one of my courses
  • People interested in the latest info on accessibility & inclusion, or in me and what I’m doing

Segmentation by capability

  • Main audience: likely to be technology-aware, business-focused web professionals
  • Secondary audience: people with less technology knowledge who want a non-technical starter to understanding web accessibility
  • Statistically, disabled and elderly people are less likely to be web professionals (sad but true). But there is no good reason why they shouldn’t be, and they have more to gain from inclusion than most people, so I should do all I can to make the site accessible to all. However, where I am giving advice on technical issues to that main audience, I should avoid dumbing-down that advice (so it’s likely that people with learning difficulties may find some content too complex).

Thinking about this last point uncovered another purpose for the site: to be an example of best practice in web accessibility and use of BS 8878, as well as advocating these.

Step 6 – User goals and tasks (which are USPs and which aren’t?)

  • get information on services (absolutely key)
  • get an accurate, historic and current view on Jonathan Hassell’s experience, and keep up to date with his thought leadership (key as this is potentially a differentiator between accessibility agencies/consultants)
  • get in contact and ask follow-up questions (key for getting clients)
  • get added-value support, content and tools for existing clients (useful but not a USP, as I can handle this via email initially)
  • get general interest information on accessibility/inclusion (less important as there are other places where people can get accessibility information)

Revisiting step 1 – Purpose (v2)

Thinking about these user goals revealed a clearer v2 purpose:

  • to attract new clients
  • to keep existing clients happy, efficiently
  • to be an example of best-practice in web accessibility

This re-writing regularly happens as you move through BS8878’s steps. Like many things in web production, iteration is key – often you’ll get insights at later steps that will help you improve and clarify your original answers.

Step 15 – How I made the decision if I’d done enough to go live

So, to be absolutely clear, this is my v1.0 site. I’m not happy with much of the way it looks. But that isn’t one of my USPs, whereas ensuring that my main audience can find out what Hassell Inclusion is all about is (although the findability of the content via google and via the site’s navigation will get more work as soon as possible). They have what they need: to know what services I’m providing, enough information about my experience to decide whether I’m a good person to provide those services if they need them (through CV, blog and newsletter), and how to contact me (through the contact form).

In the end, when you start your own business you often have to get over the idea that, at the start at least, you (your ideas and experience) may be your business’s USP.

I think enough of that USP is now visible on my site. So I launched it.

There you are. I hope you’ve picked up that this blog isn’t your typical accessibility blog, just as Hassell Inclusion isn’t your typical accessibility company. It’s my aim, in both, to bring a holistic business perspective to accessibility, rather than purely a technical or user-experience one.

The rest of this series will be all about the decisions I made in the steps in the middle there, starting with a closer look into target audiences next week. For those not wanting to wait, you can get a flavour of these now in my BS 8878 summary slides.

So I hope there’s enough useful information on my site for you want to sign-up for my newsletter to ensure you don’t miss learning more about how I created the site and other insights from Hassell Inclusion.

If there isn’t, please leave me a comment below telling me why.

If there is, please let me know what aspects of inclusion you’d particularly like me to cover in the future, and I’ll do my best to do just that.

Either way, thanks for reading! And I’m looking forward to the discussion…


Jonathan Hassell says

NB. More conversation around this post is also going on in the linked-in BS8878 community at:

Corine Celia Knapp says

Thx for the fantastic blog.

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