Monday, July 28, 2008

Pros & Cons of Managing a Website for a Small Company

I've now officially left my job as a website producer for a pension plan after six years doing the job. I recently won a SSHRC scholarship, so I'm now more able to focus on my studies and raising my family.

In looking back at my time managing the website for a small company, I realized that while such jobs are not right for everyone, there are many benefits.

1) Jack of All Trades
As not uncommon with working for a small company, I was pretty much a department of one. This means that I got the opportunity to dabble and learn about a lot of cool stuff (search engines, web analytics, AJAX, Flash, accessibility, etc) and refine skills (web writing and editing, information architecture, web design, etc.). I have friends who specialize in only one of these aspects. This might be fine to really hone one's craft, but I would have found it insufferably boring. There are a lot of fascinating aspects to websites and it's great to get to explore lots of them. However, it is frustrating sometimes as there is not ever enough resources to draw upon, projects can take a long time or never get done, and, there's no delegating. Even after six years and feeling like I was an expert, I still had to do basic chores to keep the site running and updated.

2) No Bells & Whistles
Small companies tend to not be able to afford the latest bleeding edge technology or design. For the most part, I'd say that's fine. With rare exception the latest hot stuff doesn't tend to add much value to a site, and can even be problematic for users. However, as an Internet professional , it's in our bones to want to try out cool stuff that's been proven to work. It quite frankly sucks sometimes to sit on the sidelines and watch the parade go by.

3) Be Your Own Boss
Small companies where their website is not a vital component of their businesses tend to not have much in-house expertise on running a website. In my case, this meant a great deal of autonomy to do projects I felt were worthy (and justified via business cases). It also meant that my expertise was valued, I didn't have to argue for every decision or priority (as can happen with team structures), and I didn't have someone looking over my shoulder. These environments can also mean that your work, however, is never an organizational priority, and one can be marginalized at times. Also, for someone wanting technical guidance or camaraderie, these places can be lonely - so it's best to recruit colleagues and mentors outside of the company to get advice and help from.

4) Sense of Individual Accomplishment
I readily acknowledge the contributions of programmers, writers, translators, designers and software vendors, all of whom invaluably contributed to the site. But for the day-to-day work of running of the site and of planning, there was really only me. I formerly worked with a company where everything was very much a team effort. While collaboration like this has advantages, it was sometimes hard to see one's individual accomplishment. Over the last few years, I had the opportunity to guide, direct and implement the website along the lines I felt were important. A lot of jobs, don't give one this degree of responsibility, pride and sense of accomplishment.

A few days before I left my job, I found out that the website relaunch I spearheaded was successful in winning an award recognizing the achievement (plus we also one an award for online annual report). So between this and the company launching its transactional website last week, I now feel that my swan song is complete. I can retire from the stage of financial services websites and see what new acts will come my way.

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