Started in 2000, BE’s ambition was to be the information portal for Europe’s SMEs. The sites comprised (for a while) UK, German and French operations, but the combination of cost of content, cost of marketing, cost of operations and – ahem – total lack of willingness to pay on the part of SMEs rather doomed that model.
At the time we stumbled upon a previously-learned lesson and became a sort of ‘contract publisher’. By working on behalf of organisations who had to provide excellent, business-focused information (the DTI, Business Link, British Chambers of Commerce) and those who saw it as a valuable add-on (Banks, technology companies, business organisations) we found a profitable space. A small space, but at least profitable.
Looking at Work.com, however, we can see a new take on this. The software, systems and hardware are tending towards zero. The cost of content is limited since people contribute for PR or ‘guru point’ reasons. Quality and relevance are helped by a ratings system and having Work.com editorial staff (whose guides are distinguished with a ‘work.com staff’ imprimatur).
The business is also more networked from the outset, with each article offering quicklinks to Digg, delicious and to email. These offerings are now standard, yet I can remember the pain of having to code such capabilities ab initio even as late as 2003 (whereafter we switched to Plone as our CMS and got these capabilities ‘free’).
Interestingly, though, Work.com has so far not moved beyond being a static site: pick a topic, read it, rate it, leave.
The holy grail of business advice is making it actionable. To this end interactive diagnostic tools are vital (since in many cases people aren’t fully certain that they have the right question, and therefore can’t evaluate the “answer”). Furthermore, a step by step action workflow is necessary. Take the fraud prevention guide (picked at random): under the “Action Steps” it kindly offers deep links to other people’s online tools, checkups and CD-ROMs. However, this is ‘viewing’ not ‘doing’. Why, in a Web2.0 world, don’t these run on the site? Why not JFDI there and then?
There’s a fallacy that ‘filling the bucket’ with content items and guides is somehow a good thing. However, more is less. People have no shortage of other guides (all equally good), and can find these services via a quaint thing called Google.
My current view, were I to do this again, would be to launch with 12-20 deep, detailed, workflows for the biggest problems in business. I’d then add a couple a quarter, but would spend most effort in making each workflow industry-specific and country-specific. I’d also create lots of video of – seriously – form filling (think of the video on planes to the US on how to fill out the immigration cards). Thankfully, YouTube can do the heavy lifting there.
Businesses want reliable, worked-through, detailed and very, very real support for their basic requirements. After that, it’s all fun, learning and ‘development’.
In business support the ‘appearance of less’ is always more. Businesses will grudginly pay for solutions, but only advertisers will pay for to-do lists.