You Don't Always Need to Reinvent the Internet
As a web developer being able to build a custom application for a client can be both a virtue and a vice. With all the technology and great programmers in this world it is easy to go overboard in creating an online application or individualized solution. Over the years I've seen a number of web development companies, including my own, needlessly toil with creating the perfect application or solution for various clients. Individual Web site owners face some of the same challenges. When trying to find a solution to your web needs take the time to consider third party applications. In many cases you might be able to find a solution has already been created by another person or company. If a solution hasn't been created you might be able to find a third party application that can be easily modified. In many cases it is far easier to move into a space that is already built than starting to build from the ground up.
The easiest way to find a third party solution is by going to your favorite search engine and typing in what you are looking for in the search box. In many instances the best solutions might be in the paid advertisement column. Advertisers have taken the time to research keywords and phrases that match various user search phrases for products and services. Another place to find a possible solution is in various software and developer forums. It's amazing what information you can find with a well placed forum post or email. If you know any friends that do web development ask them for a few minutes of advice on your challenge.
Focus on Being Simple
Shopping cart abandonment is a good example of creating too many bells and whistles. A number of online retailers suffer badly from shopping cart abandonment. A user comes to a web site and decides to purchase a product. They place that product into the online shopping cart and proceed to the payment and checkout page. Shopping cart abandonment problems include too many steps in the checkout process or a confusing interface that leads to user uncertainty. When all the bells and whistles start to get in the way, users get confused at abandon the checkout process. It's important to focus on simple straightforward solutions. People won't complain if you make a process very simple. Ask yourself, "What does the user really need and what is the easiest way to deliver it to them?"
Break Down Individual Requirements
There are times when the solution can't be broken down with just one product. You might need to break down your needs at an individual application level. You might want to consider an open source solution. A number of web application technologies from shopping carts to databases are open source. This means that you can work off an existing framework and modify the source code at your discretion. Some open source communities have great technical and developer support you can leverage in your own endeavors. In some cases developers might grant you licensing to their software. This licensing might include provisions for minor modifications. If you are using third party applications check to make sure that all the applications will work in harmony.
You can save yourself a tremendous amount of time, money, and energy by using an already built or easy to modify application. It might not be the sexiest of applications, but as long as it works well and is easy to use, users most users won't even notice. Stay out of trouble by not confusing wants and needs. Always put the needs of the user in front of what you think they might want.