Confession: this post was inspired by one of those semi-trashy 'Say Yes to the Dress' type of programs I watched the other day. In this particular episode, the bride wanted her perfect day (of course) and hired a wedding planner to take care of the details. Then the bride went completely AWOL. The distraught wedding planner was left to make critical decisions all on her own, and to guess at the rest of the information - what kind of playlist did the couple want for the evening, how was the seating arrangement supposed to work, what was the program order, and critically, how many guests were going to show up?
When it comes to building the perfect site for our businesses, our expectation can be that we'll hand it all over the site designer/builder and receive a miracle in return without doing our part. But we have a crucial part to play in figuring out what we want and why we want it that way. Whether you're taking the DIY approach, or hiring someone to build your site, these ten questions are worth taking the time to answer before you start.
1. Why do I want a website?
As a business owner, the pressure to tick all the right boxes and do the ‘right’ thing is real. Having a website is one of those things we assume is absolutely necessary for the success of our businesses, and nine times out of ten that is absolutely true. But what we don’t necessarily ask ourselves is the question ‘why?’ Why is it important to have a website; why should we have a website; and why do I want a website?
There are many reasons to have a website - to expose your products and services to a wider audience, to showcase your business visually, to share your point of view through a blog, to sell stuff, to write and post reviews, to appear more professional as a business...
Your ‘why’ will influence the ‘how’ of your website design and build, so its critical that you answer these questions before you embark on what is a significant investment, both for your time and your money.
2. What primary purpose will it serve?
Now that you’ve figured out why you want a website, try to pinpoint what its primary purpose is - to make sales, or share your portfolio? To host your blog, or to display your expertise in a certain arena? To sell products you design, or to share your 'works in progress'? To provide a point of contact with your customers, or to streamline your customer communication?
Again, if you can identify the primary purpose of your site, it will prescribe how your website should be designed and put together.
3. What secondary purposes will it serve?
Most websites don’t fulfil just one purpose - they are multifunctional. Its important to think through not just the main functions, but all the secondary functions as well. Perhaps the main purpose of your website is to provide an ecommerce platform to sell your products, but your secondary purpose is to build your online exposure to more potential buyers. How will this secondary purpose be built into your web design? And how will you communicate this to the right people from the outset?
4. Who will use the website?
Many of us make the mistake of starting with ourselves - designing a site that WE love - rather than thinking of our clients and customer base first. The answer to this question should tie in with your marketing research, so now is the time to use all those helpful demographic questions you’ve been answering to make sure that the way your website works, and how it appeals to your ideal client.
5. How will they use it?
Another really important question to ask yourself before you start the process of building a site is "How will people use this site?". Is your website a beautifully curated online space for people to endlessly browse? Does your site provide answers to common questions? Will people shop and make payments on your site? Will they subscribe to services, sign up for podcasts, or watch short instructional videos? All these questions are important to answer up front.
6. Do I want to sell products and exchange money on the website?
Rather than needing a website, are you actually looking for an online shop? There is an important distinction between the two, and you need to know this from the beginning. You might want a combo of both website and online shop. Or you might want to build a website now and add on an online shop at a later stage. Knowing this from the beginning will probably influence your choice of platform and the way you build.
7. What does success look like?
Imagine yourself at the end of the web building process. What will make you happy? What will make your clients happy? What do you envision as the points of success for the project? Time taken up front to clarify these things will simplify the work flow, and ensure a smoother communication between you and your site designer. It will also go a long way to preventing disappointment with your final product.
8. How can we avoid failure?
We often ask about success but forget to get clear on how to avoid failure. A good question to ask yourself is ‘what are my ‘must-not-haves’ for this project?’ Perhaps there are examples of websites you absolutely hate which you can provide as examples. Maybe you have a few pet peeves, like the use of a certain font, layout, or colour scheme. Maybe you just can’t stand one page websites. Now is the time to speak up about those things.
9. What’s the scope of this project?
The scope of the project must include a time frame - when do you want it to go live? It may also include those smaller key dates, or milestones leading up to the big launch. Make sure these bits of information are on the table before you get going. Another important question to ask regarding scope is about the budget. How many iterations have you budgeted for, and how much tweaking is within your price range?
10. Am I available to co-work on this right now?
Building a website requires a lot of communication up front, as well as ongoing consultation throughout the process. If you are planning to be away on holiday, or are just snowed under with the day-to-day running of your business, you will probably frustrate yourself and your web designer. If you're planning to work on a website, make sure you have some flexibility when it comes to your schedule to ensure that you are able to be available for important decisions before, and during the process of your site build.
If your answer to this question is ‘no, I’m too busy right now’ it might be worth rethinking your web building schedule so that you make the most of the experience.
Before doing your research to find someone to build a website for your business, take about 20 minutes to sit down and answer these questions for yourself.
The clearer your intentions, the better you'll communicate what you want, and the more rewarding and successful the process will be for you. Of course, if your web designer is worth their salt, they'll also have some questions of their own for you, and you'll be well-prepared to answer them.
Are you ready for your very own online space? why not drop me a line. I love building beautiful, clutter-free Squarespace sites.
* Point 7, 8 and 9 were inspired by a helpful Shopify article. You can have a look at it over here.