So, you want to sell your products online or, if you already have a web presence, you want to sell a lot more. You may need to build a new webstore or a set of new features. That sounds expensive, right? Well, it certainly can be.
Related: The 6 Best Ecommerce Platforms for Small Businesses
There's one way you can cut costs before you even start an ecommerce project. Yes, there's a fail-safe method that may seem counterintuitive because it requires your time before design and code are even discussed. But, spending some effort before you kick off the process can save you time and money as you cross the finish line. A well executed website usually requires the help of an experienced agency and the first thing a good one will want to know is how your business works and what makes it unique.
Here's the big tip: Identifying your business workflows and project requirements (in a file often called a BRD -- business requirement document) is one of the most effective ways you can save thousands of dollars over the life of the project. A well-written BRD will level-set both the client and the agency or prospective agency on how your business functions. Then the actual project can be approached with a laser focus. You can't afford an agency traveling a winding path -- trying this and that (while spending lots of money and time). Everyone needs to know how business works.
Here is what's great about this document -- you don't need to have a marketing degree, engineering degree or any degree for that matter. You just need to clearly understand all the parts of your business. Since it is your business, this should be straightforward work.
Let's take a look at a BRD and explain what it looks like, how to start and the objectives it solves.
When do I start?
After the agency discovery phase is done and you've chosen an agency that you like and is compatible, it's time to get all the working parts for your business documented for the next phase.
What does it look like?
Here's a list of items that should be in your business document. There may be areas that need to change. Make a note of those -- "this is what we do now" and then "this is what we would like for the future." There may also be other mission-critical parts that you will want to include like these items:
This area has increasingly become more complex due to all the sales channels (like Amazon) and storage options available to companies now. Do you keep inventory? If so, how are the numbers reconciled? Is there an outside service that does this for you? How are the products and SKUs created and how are they imported into the system?
Be prepared to fully document the carriers, special rates, uncommon packaging, returns, bulk orders and all the credentials that come along with these services.
Related: 3 Fundamental Areas of Ecommerce You Should Never Skimp on
What taxes do your state, county and local governments require you to pay? Do you have a presence in another state? If you do, you need to figure your share there, as well. Because of the potential complexities, many companies are moving toward cloud-based tax services that do it all for them.
Which payments do you accept? Make sure to list all the payment types, payment methods and special scenarios for certain customer groups or locations.
Do you fulfill through third-parties or do you do it yourself? Outline the workflow -- from when an order comes in, the item is picked, how you decide what box to use and the way it is packed all the way through when it ships. This includes, but is not limited to, applications (web services), the people involved and the warehouses you utilize.
You may take a quick look at these few sections and wave it off, saying, "Yeah, this is basic." But, all these elements may not be so easily understood by people who don't follow your workflow every day. What makes sense in your head needs to be detailed out for everyone involved in the project. Writing it out is a very good exercise for critically thinking about these parts. And use graphs, drawing and charts if they can help explain the processes. At your project's peril, don't discount this step in your project.
What does a BRD solve?
A well-conceived and executed BRD helps your team and the development group clearly understand the playing field. Once presented and digested by the involved parties, you can accelerate the setup, receive better quotes and essentially educate everyone involved in the project. As a partner of my own agency, I can empirically say writing the BRD with your own team can save you thousands because it heads off unnecessary meandering in the project.
A simple BRD is a great start but many businesses need to specify other aspects or departments that need documenting, such as special customers, outside relationships or web services. In any case, getting the five basics down is a proper first step. Your web team will help you take it the rest of the way.
From an agency's point of view, a project that arrives with a proper BRD sets a perfect tone for a satisfying process. It saves time. It minimizes mistakes. Ultimately, it will save the agency from trying to do it for you or learning as they go which generally opens the project up for stumbling blocks and inefficiency.
With a BRD, save money, save time and prepare to succeed.