1. Get your web designers involved ASAP
Too many people make the mistake of trying to get everything set as much up as possible before getting a professional involved. Actually, this can cause complications and make life a difficult for both you and the web designers.
From domain names and web hosting to knowing what’s realistically achievable with your budget there’s a lot of time that can be saved by talking with a professional first.
I once had a client, a small business in Worthing, they approached us and told us that htey had already sorted their domain names and hosting out. They said they had found a really good deal and it didn’t make sense to look at other options. They ended up saving about £50 for the several domains they needed. What they didn’t realise is that they weren’t allowed to move their domains away for two years.
The web hosting service service was terrible. Support was even worse, it was unbearable. It was so bad that we couldn’t actually support the type of development our client needed because the web hosting was built on such outdated technologies. They couldn’t get out of their contract and ended up buying new domain names and hosting in the end. They really regretted not speaking to us sooner.
2. Make sure your branding is sorted out first
Unless you’ve decided that you don’t need to invest in branding (do so at your own risk!), or you’ve already spent time doing that (and a professional has verified whether it’s good or not) you should focus on getting your brand sorted first. If you’re a big tech company spending a lot of money on building a new app or highly technical website, spending a little time on branding will cost a fraction of what you’re spending on everything else and will really help you save time and money in the long run.
When clients start with the website, what happens a lot is they spend up to three times as long trying to make decisions on things as they go. This can be a problem if zero thought has gone into what your brand should look like, who it’s trying to target, the best ways of targeting them and what goals the methods of communication the brand should rely on.
The brand is everything. It’s your logo, it’s your business cards, it’s how you talk to customers over the phone or on social media. People get sucked into a cycle of re-visiting previous decisions they’ve made earlier in the project because later on they realise it actually doesn’t make sense to do/write/display/style something in a particular way. Branding is more than just the look and feel of marketing materials, it’s about understanding what you want from your business and creating a series of guidelines on how your business goes about things.
Having these guidelines in place removes the need to constantly spend time making trivial decisions. Instead of focusing on what colours to use or what styles to apply to photography you can be pushing the project forward in the strongest direction and not keep worrying about the small things.. You can instead spend that time running and growing your business.
It’s honestly a much better approach to get all of this sorted before moving on to the website. If you need help with branding then feel free to give us a call and we can have a chat about what you’re looking to achieve.
3. Slow down with the domain names
Domain names tend to be quite easy to sort out, however, there are a few instances where making the wrong decision can make life more complicated than it needs to be.
Typically, whoever builds your website will likely expect you to let them handle your domain name, web hosting and maintenance. We offer web hosting to our clients and I always get them to register new domains on an account they control and under their name(s) – not ours. There is no reason for this to be any other way.
Anyone that tells you they have to control it all either has no idea what they’re doing or there’s a good chance they’re looking to screw you over in the future. By giving letting them manage your domain on their own accounts, or under their name, you’re making it possible for them to hold you hostage over your domain, website and all connected emails. It’s not easy to get ownership transferred where two parties are in dispute over domain ownership.
4. Make sure you have enough time for the project
There’s nothing worse than dealing with a client who never has time to talk to you about their website. Lots of people think that you can just hand over some text and that’s all there is to it.
If you want anything other than a basic website. i.e. you actually want your site to make sales, generate leads or enquiries then you need to be investing at least 1-2 hours per week for project related discussion with your web design team and at least 3 hours per week working on new text content, choosing images, reviewing current content and discussing any ideas you’ve had.
If you don’t have any expectations for your website and don’t want it to add value to your business then feel free to spend as little time on it as you like!
5. Know your budget and relax
Life gets complicated for us web designers when we’ve got no idea about the project budget. It’s like buying a car. You don’t know exactly how much you’re going to spend in the end, but you know how much is in the bank and how much of that you’re prepared to part with. It’s more difficult for websites because they’re not pre-built, sitting in a big showroom with massive price tags slapped on them. Just start with a budget range. Minimum, maximum, “What can you do with a budget of between £X and £Y?”, that’s all you need to start with.
It’s not about getting you to agree to the highest budget, but things take time and that costs money. It’s our job to try and find the most cost effective solutions to the problems and challenges you want to overcome. That means knowing what you want to do and how much you have to spend. If we don’t have either one of those bits of information we have to start guessing, which is the absolute worst way to start a web project, and almost always ends up in the web designer giving you a proposal that’s too high or too low. Make life easier for everyone by just giving a rough budget range at the start.
Not knowing how much a project like yours should cost is different to not wanting to give any budget information. If you’re worried about getting ripped off then you’ve got to learn how to find and work with great web designers. We have a whole series of posts that give you a behind the scenes look at how this industry works, use it to learn the difference between professionals and time wasters!
I’m a huge fan of the Minimum Viable Product development style. This is all about launching with the most effective and streamlined version of your project and taking time to understand what your customers actually want instead of guessing and wasting a load of time and money. The idea is that after launch you’ll have a much better idea of what to spend time on and you’ll be able to collect feedback from users instead of guessing which bits of your site to invest in. When I talk to clients about their budget I’ve got three goals.
- Understand their needs and wants.
- Help them decide priority features vs nice to have features, build trust.
- Explain costs involved and submit a proposal that includes only what they need.
No part of our process involves upselling unless we believe it’s genuinely going to improve your chances of generating sales, enquiries, leads or anything else that will really help. If I don’t know what you want to spend it’s impossible to suggest a way forwards. I won’t know whether to suggest a short term solution for £500 or something a little more robust for £2,000.
The more precise your budget information, the better. If you’re going to turn web designers away because they’re coming back too expensive, they’re either not interested in smaller projects or the project requirements have become confused. It’s not about ripping you off, it’s about planning and carrying out affordable web design projects.
Want to know how to have the productive discussions with web designers about budgets and how that process can result in a much more successful web project overall? Give that a read, you won’t be disappointed.
6. Know what you you’re trying to achieve with your project
Building a new website just because you want one is a great way to waste your money and miss out on opportunities to make money, sell products or services or generate demand for your business.
Think about how the website can help you solve key problems your business is facing. Give some thought to the following:
- Struggling to generate enough enquiries?
- Getting too many enquiries that end up being time wasters or too low quality?
- People asking too many questions before making a purchase with you?
- Taking too long to convert enquiries into customers/sales?
- Users complaining that it’s too difficult to find the information they need?
- Need additional functionality to simplify managing your business/online store?
- Tired of your business looking ancient?
Whatever the reason, if you want to succeed, you’ve got to think about this and give whichever web designers you approach more to go on than just “We need a new website”.
7. Research your competitors
99.99% of businesses have competitors, other businesses with the ability to take customers away from yours.
If you’re doing everything yourself or you’re a new business there’s a very good chance that they are doing at least one thing better than you are. Look at their site, think with the mind-set of a customer. What works, what doesn’t? What do you like, what do you think could be done better?
Take notes, don’t just try and remember it all. These are things us web designers want to know about, so if you can get a good amount of detailed notes together, the better chances you’ve got of ending up with a website that really helps your business grow.
Replicating success is one thing, understanding and learning from it is another. Use this as a way to fast track your own success and then think about how you can do better.
8. Look at the biggest companies that do what you do.
Just as you can learn from those at your level, think about where you want to end up. What’s your vision? Find businesses who are at the top of their game, leading their industries and study what they’re doing.
Again, put yourself in the position of a potential customer. What would they expect and how does the industry leader make them feel good about spending their money with them?
- What do you feel as you navigate through their website?
- What key questions, issues or problems do they tackle first?
- How do they tackle those things, through blogs, a series of in-depth web pages, something else?
- How are they investing money to grow their presence?
- What sort of visuals styles are common between this site and others you’ve looked at?
- How does their site compare to what you had in mind for your own?
- Are they missing out on a trick or two? Could you do something better than them?
Replicating the success of others is a great way to get your business of the ground. Just as you don’t need to re-invent the wheel, you also don’t need to spend a lot of time learning about the basics when you can save time and money doing what the pro’s do.
9. Think about what you don’t want
What I’ve noticed is that a lot of clients tend to focus only on what they do want. Knowing what you don’t want helps web designers learn about your preferences.
If you tell us that you don’t like a page because of the colours, for example, we could look at it and notice that there are a lot of strong colours that dominate the page. Now we know that you are looking for a subtler colour palette that prioritises a smaller number of sections per page.
Even if you couldn’t tell us that in as few words, that’s really going to help the people you work with better understand your needs.
Don’t focus on one or the other either. By splitting your focus on both the good and the bad, it’s a lot easier to know which direction you want to head in.
10. Think about long term needs and problems you want to solve
Knowing what you need right now is great but spend some time thinking about what’s important now versus what’s important in the future. Not only can you potentially save yourself some money on the first phase of your web design project, but planning for the future and sharing your plans is going to help you build a better relationship with those you work with.
You can start by thinking about the problems your business is suffering with right now. Every business has problems, it doesn’t matter how big or small you are.
Even brands as big as Microsoft are struggling to solve problems. They’ve got an image problem, as being seen as the dinosaur of their industry. They’ve got a range of products that are struggling to compete against competitors, each with their own list of problems as long as Mr. Tickle’s arm.
Think about how you’re going to take the brakes off of your businesses growth:
- Is your business stagnant, do you need more customers?
- Spending too much time on admin and data heavy tasks?
- Struggling to find reliable people to bring into your business?
- Need a platform to easily promote new products or services?
- Struggling to get enough of the right people visiting your site?
- Need to integrate services into your website?
- Unsure how digital solutions can help your business?
There’s a lot to consider but as the business owner you almost certainly know most of this stuff already.
Whatever problems you discover, write them down and put them into groups in order of most pressing and least pressing areas you want to focus on and by all means talk to web designers about how they would suggest dealing with it all, and in what order.
11. Decide on the decision maker(s) before you start
The more voices involved in a project, the less effective the outcome tends to be. What usually happens is that you end up with a series of contradicting decisions that can bring the project to a standstill or just make life very difficult for everyone involved.
The business owner, the marketing manager or whoever is in charge needs to be the one making the big decisions. Absolutely get people’s opinions but don’t give everyone a vote.
Colours, fonts, images, all the small things should be decided on an understanding of what your site users and customers expect or want. Just because Joe from accounting like the colour blue, that’s not a good reason to include it on the website, especially if it conflicts with the guidance of the professionals you’ve hired!
12. Decide how you’re going to be involved with the website before and after launch
You need to have a think about what life is going to be like after the site is launched and who’s responsible for what:
- What content, text, images or information will you need to change on a regular basis?
- Will you need to add new content on a regular basis?
- Who’s responsible for making on-going changes to the website?
- Is it you?
- Does this person have the right skills? Do they know HTML or CSS?
- Can they make lots of changes without breaking the site?
- Could this person be relied on if they had a bit of training?
- Do they intend to add new pages yourself or will you have them professionally designed and built?
- Can they produce well written and SEO friendly copy?
Making decisions about all of this early on means that you can have a conversation with your web designer(s) about how you expect things to be after the project. This gives them every opportunity to build the site exactly how you want it.
The alternative is to be stuck in a position where you can’t do what you need after launching the site without paying the web designers more money. If the web designers you’re speaking to can’t do what you need, find someone else.
Ever wondered how to do great SEO with zero budget?
13. Websites aren’t a one off investment
Lots of people believe that once you build a website, that’s it. You’ve got one. Time to move on to something else. The problem with this approach is that, well, it just doesn’t work.
As an example, let’s take the owner of a small independent restaurant or takeaway. Growth to them means making sure they’re busy as often as possible. When there’s no more they can do on that front, their only option is to open a second restaurant, right?
No way. There’s so much more they could be doing to increase their revenue, make life less stressful for their staff and improve the experience their customers receive. Growth can come in many forms.
Late night takeaways get a lot of customers from people who have been out that night. Lots of them are expecting to get a taxi back home. The takeaway would be in a prime position to start offering lifts home alongside their delivery service. Restaurants could start offering classes during quiet times or put on community events. Too many people shy away from “crazy ideas” because they think it’ll never work. The truth is that those businesses who try are more likely to succeed.
Can you imagine a business model that completely replaced an established, growing and successful industry, taking away jobs from professionals with decades of experience and replaced it with something better and cheaper? Sounds pretty far-fetched, doesn’t it. Not to Uber or AirBnB. Oh, and, these companies have a combined value of around £80 billion. Embrace change and being different. Backed up by experience and business smarts, you’ll go so much further than being a “me too” business that’s too scared to try a different approach.
For any business that wants to disrupt the marketplace, grow or achieve great things, investing in your website and online presence after launching your new website is how you’re going to make people aware of what you do and why they need to spend their money with you.
Outside of business growth, SEO, content marketing, social media and general promotion there are many other areas that websites can help. From automating processes and sales to increasing the quality of leads and reducing time spent on admin there’s a lot that can be achieved.
But not all at once. Plan your long term objectives and don’t try to tackle everything at once.
14. Don’t forget about web hosting
Something that’s often overlooked is the thing that actually makes your site work. Your website is made up of lots of different files. Web hosting is what makes those files available for the whole world to view, over the internet. A server hosts these files, and it’s basically just a suped up version of the computer you’re using now – just that it’s only purpose is to store lots of files.
There are as many different hosting plans as there are items on a Chinese takeaway menu, ranging from £5 to £5,000+ per month. Too many people rely on “the cheapest hosting available through providers such as GoDaddy, 1&1, DreamHost and many others that wear their customers down with poor service and even worse support.
Cheap hosting is not good for your business and should be avoided at all costs. The worst part about this is that there will be people reading and disagreeing with this, who haven’t had a bad experience yet. You will, I promise you, and for the sake of about one cup of coffee per month you’ll wish you had listened!
The only time I would recommend using ultra cheap web hosting is if you’ve spent less than £500 on your site and you don’t care about it going offline, losing emails or ranking highly in search engines.
Support – Slow, painful, often useless and almost always handled in other countries and (even worse) by text. Hosting companies are phasing out phone support, instead forcing their users to spend up to 45 minutes to solve simple issues whilst poorly trained staff manage at least 5 text conversations at once.
Hacking & Security – Very little is done to prevent your site from being hacked. One of the worst examples I can think of is a client we had that refused to spend any money on better hosting or securing their site. A year later, after thousands of pounds had been spent on marketing, SEO, bespoke content and more… They got hacked.
Not only did Google blacklist their site (it disappeared from all search results) it was later discovered that all visitors from any search engine were being re-directed to porn sites…
Speed – This is now a ranking factor. Slow websites are going to face penalties from Google and other search engines. No one likes waiting, websites are the same. If you have an international audience you’re going to want a hosting service that includes a Content Delivery Network (like the hosting plans we offer) that makes your site load much faster for visitors in other countries.
Emails – Cheap hosting puts emails on the same server as your website. If your website is hacked you’ll not only lose your website but all your emails will be compromised too. If your site goes down, so will your emails.
Good web hosting doesn’t have to cost a lot, but too many people still think it’s okay to risk their online business with bargain bucket web hosting that’s destined to fail them sooner or later. Paying the equivalent of a couple of drinks or coffees a month shouldn’t be a financial concern for any business that knows what they’re doing.
15. Discuss your expectations as early as possible
In a crazy turn of events, I’ve saved the best piece of advice for last.
Whatever it is you want to do, however you want to do it, just make sure that you discuss whatever is important to you. If you want to be able to have lots of face to face meetings because you know that that’s the most effective way for you to communicate, tell the web designers this.
Every single web designer has their own way of doing things and they’re going to vary, often quite drastically, from each other.
What do you want to happen after the site is launched? What can the web designer do to impress you and make you feel happy about working with them? What should they avoid doing? If there’s anything that’s going to cause either an overwhelmingly positive or negative reaction from you then it needs to be talked about.
Whether you’re a serial entrepreneur or a parent of three, desperately trying to get your home business off the ground, the information in this blog post will help make sure your next project is a huge success. I hope this has helped you in some way – if you think this post has given you even one helpful piece of advice I’d love to hear about it in the comments section below 🙂