You know when you need a new website. That’s the easy part. Here are the top 5 things you need to consider before taking the plunge…
1. It’s waaay more work than you think it will be (for you).
The reason why web design seems so expensive is that it involves a lot of work (even the seemingly “simple” sites). What most people don’t realize however, is that it’s a ton of work for YOU as well. Designers are just that – designers. They’re not your marketing manager. They do their best to work with you to uncover what your business needs are, your brand message, and your marketing strategy, but you’re the expert in your line of work. As such, you need to know what you want your website to do for your company. You need to know what you want to say.
Before the coding even begins, you will work with your designer to figure this stuff out. They will ask you to fill out a “brief” or questionnaire to get to know your organization, how you do business, your strengths, your target audience, your competition, your goals, and more. You will come up with a site architecture (site organization) that makes sense for what you are trying to accomplish. And this is where the heavy lifting comes into play – you have to come up with most the content. That means that you need to provide all of the words that will appear on the site, as well as the imagery. Your designer should help coach you on this, offering advice on things like phrasing, image procurement, and possible graphics.
Of course, every client-designer relationship is a little different. Most designers offer copywriting services (writing the text for your site) and image procurement and selection if you do not want to do it – but these extra services come at a cost. Usually a significant cost.
The bottom line – You will be expected to fill out a detailed brief about your company, develop a site architecture (with the help of your designer), come up with most of the imagery and text, and go through rounds of feedback as the concepts and page layouts are developed.
2. Don’t have a friend or relative do it for you.
If you value your relationship with your web-dabbling family member or friend, then don’t even start down this path. I promise you, it won’t end well. Most of the time, they will offer to do it for a steal of a deal. Even worse, that friend or family member offers to do it for free. Even though this sounds like a tempting offer, and they have your best interests at heart, remember – you get what you pay for.
Perhaps the most convincing reason for not having a friend or relative do it for free/super-cheap, is that it’s simply bad business. On their side, they won’t treat it like it’s their job… because unless they are a professional web designer, it isn’t their job. They will be doing it on the side of whatever else it is that they do for a living. And something will always “come up” that will get in the way of working on your site. And as you’ve read in the point above, it’s a lot of work – for everyone involved.
The only exception to this advice, is if your friend or relative is a professional graphic designer who will be treating you just like every other client – complete with a contract, a formal process, and proper compensation (a friends + family discount is totally understandable). And even then, be wary of how your personal relationship might affect your feedback. Example: I don’t really like the concept they have come up with, but I don’t want to hurt their feelings – I have to spend thanksgiving with this person. If your designer friend is truly a professional, don’t be afraid to provide frank and constructive feedback – they’re counting on it.
The bottom line: Use a professional web designer. This is the face of your business we’re dealing with here.
3. Websites are like cars – they require regular maintenance (read: $$$)
This is simply a fact of life – a cost of doing business. Most websites are dynamic, and are built on a CMS platform (content management system) like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla. To keep up with the break-neck speed of web technology advances, these platforms, along with all the associated plug-ins, themes, templates, and apps, continually release updates and upgrades. Annoyingly, it never ends. If you want a site that continues to perform as it should, be prepared to spend somewhere between $300 – $500 a year on having someone back-up, update, and fix any resulting glitches on a regular basis. Depending on how savvy you are with your website, you can do this yourself for the most part (you may still need a web designer/programmer to help if glitches pop up). Be forewarned: while you may have the best intention of backing up and updating your site regularly, be realistic with how committed you are to doing it. For most people, backing-up and maintenance is something that they let slide – which isn’t a big deal, until it is.
The bottom line: Set aside an annual budget for website maintenance and back-up.
4. Do your business planning and marketing homework first.
If you haven’t identified a target market or key audience (“everyone” doesn’t count); if you haven’t identified who your competition is or what they are doing better than you; and if you haven’t figured out that unique thing that makes you successful, then you’re not ready for a new website.
There’s nothing more frustrating (for both you and a designer) if you haven’t taken the time to properly figure out the ABCs of your business. Websites are communication tools. In order for them to be effective you need to know what you want to say, and to whom you want to say it. This sounds easy enough, but few small businesses have taken the time to really dig into these areas and commit them to paper (business or marketing plan). Most business owners operate on instinct – they “just know” what their strengths are and who their customers are. The problem with this is two-fold. First, if you are unable to articulate it, how is a designer supposed to know to build a site that communicates what your business is about. Second, if some of the important questions above aren’t clearly answered, then the business will likely remain unfocused and ineffective – changing strategy whenever a new idea is proposed. There’s a fine line between being adaptable and being directionless.
The bottom line: Do your business homework. The quality of your site depends on it.
5. Consider the cost of a website an investment in your business.
I won’t get into how much a website will cost – because that’s a topic that deserves it’s own article. Suffice it to say, it will seem like a lot of money to you, no matter what kind of organization you are. The best way to look at it, is that a well-built website is the single-most important communication tool you have. It is the virtual storefront for your organization, and often it can make (or break) a business. For many people who are your potential clients, they will judge you mainly on the impression they get from your website. If they can’t figure out quickly exactly what it is you are offering them, or if your site is not organized well enough to help them through to the next step (to purchase, call, etc), then they will close the window without giving your business another thought. They will find your competitor.
The bottom line: Your website is in investment that provides a return. How much of a return depends on how well it was built.