Businesses interact with the Commonwealth every single day on a variety of matters – from accessing resources to understanding obligations and regulations. In dialoguing with business owners, we found that some business owners knew exactly which persons and programs to contact within the state, easily accessing the desired services or information about grants, counseling and other matters.
However we found that many other businesses were uncertain about what support exists within the state and did not know where to start to find the services and information they need to successfully run a business in the Commonwealth.
We knew that businesses were expecting to find all of this information on the web, but we learned that our business website was a source of confusion for many of our businesses.
First, we learned that the content itself was hard to understand. We did a good job of pointing to programs, but we did not do a great job of describing how the programs work and what the benefits are to businesses. In addition, our business customers described the language on our website as “government speak” — riddled with acronyms and legislative bill numbers, with very little business-friendly explanations.
Second, we realized the website was hard to navigate. For example, when the website linked to content, it often linked to top-level pages (i.e. “home” pages) of agencies, not to specific programs. This meant a business would click a link and then have to wade through another website to find the useful information. Alternatively, the website would sometimes link to pages which simply contained links to other pages — with no explanation.
And, lastly, businesses found that the business information which they needed was sprinkled throughout many different web pages from a multitude of state government agencies. The burden was placed on the business to sort through and make sense of it all.
All of the above made it difficult for business owners to interact with the state’s website. All they wanted to do was to quickly get the information they needed and then get back to what they do best –run a business. But, sadly, they were not able to do that.
The solution was to create a one-stop web portal for businesses to facilitate interactions with the state by providing one place to find current and clear information, using business friendly language, containing information about how they can get their needs efficiently met.
A multi-agency team was convened to create a best-in-class business portal for Massachusetts. This team was comprised of many agencies which interact with businesses on a regular basis. Each agency expert took on a specific part of the subject matter and helped to “curate” the content in that subject matter. For example, hiring and managing employees was led by Labor and Workforce Development, taxes was led by Department of Revenue, and so on. The task of the content experts was to find every program that exists within the state on a specific subject matter.
During this part of the process we developed a few main areas of focus for curating the content. We focused on transactions, programs and contacts. Businesses were not coming to the state to read long articles about business. They wanted to perform a transaction, find a specific program or find out what department to call to get their questions answers.
Once we systematically compiled the programs and services from the many different agencies and topics, we were able to succinctly profile an impressive set of support systems for businesses. In all, over 150 Commonwealth programs were compiled, each supporting a different aspect of businesses in a different way.
After the experts collected all of the content, we started to work on the site navigation. To be effective, we involved sample businesses in a user testing process. In this process we let businesses tell us how they would like to find the content. They helped sort, organize and name the content and the content categories in their (business) language.
For example, test users indicated that “procurement” was not a term they would look for on our website. They preferred a phrase like “Doing Business with the Government.”
This process resulted in a one-stop web portal for businesses at mass.gov/business and mass.gov/smallbusiness which launched in March. The new navigation and content is clear and simple — and every piece of content is written in business-friendly language.
Even after the launch we are focused on continuously listening to our users. On every single page you will find “contact us” and “give us feedback”, as well as, an “online tool” section that calls out the transactional items.
We will continue to enhance and develop this website and we look forward to continuing to keep the content fresh, updated and ever-evolving for our Massachusetts business owners. Stay tuned and feel free to give us your feedback.