Every week or two, we receive an inquiry from a business owner requesting a quote to build their website. Sometimes it's for a brand new site, others for a redesign of an existing, outdated site. We have many conversations with clients about all the tasks required to really get it right the first time, but our suggestions often fail to stick. Here are five things clients often don't want to hear when it comes to building their website.
1. You need a brand
Brand identity is a critical part of defining who you are as a company. A quality brand:
- Sets you apart from other businesses.
- Sets the stage for everything you produce—visually and otherwise.
- Is authentic—a demonstration of the cultural values of what is being represented. When your brand doesn't match the values of your business, it sends a confusing and inconsistent message to customers.
Often, businesses will approach, eager to build a website, yet have no brand established. (A blurry logo created thirty years ago doesn't count.) Your brand should come before any website efforts.
The bare minimum you need for a brand includes:
- Color palette
- Font guidelines
- Short statement outlining your purpose and audience
These items are the cornerstone of all your marketing efforts, from business cards to website to social media. Without them, your message gets diluted and unclear.
2. You need a plan
All substantial projects need a plan. When building a house, training for marathon, or building a website, quality results come from proper planning, not flying by the seat of your pants. A proper website plan sets clear milestones, a realistic launch date, and clarifies each participant's role and what is expected of them. The plan for a small scale website—a coffee shop's, for example—may fit on a single page. By contrast, a 300-page website for a large manufacturer will require a long and detailed plan. For small businesses without web experience or available project managers, a needs assessment is also critical. Before you can write a plan, you must know what the business actually needs.
3. Your active participation is critical
With few exceptions, every time we complete a website, our client remarks "Whew. I didn't realize how much time I would have to spend on this project!" While we can supply or create nearly every part of your website, from copywriting to photography, we can't read your mind. The person most knowledgeable about your company is you. Sometimes clients imagine they can hand off whatever written material they have around, send over a few out-of-date images, and they will magically coalesce into a website. The fact is, quality outcomes require active client participation and decision making. On larger projects, we will often liaise with several key members of a business to translate their knowledge and experience to the screen.
4. It's going to take longer than you think
When we ask new clients their deadline for a website, we often hear "as soon as possible." In reality, web projects are rarely completed as quickly as anyone requests, and in our experience, this is almost always because clients underestimate the work involved (see #3). And in a small business, all it takes is one key person out sick or called away for a critical matter to delay completion. That's ok—but it's important to realize going in to the project.
5. Once you finish your website, it needs regular care and feeding
It's very common for companies to spend months of time and effort to build a state-of-the-art website, and when it's done, congratulate themselves and promptly forget about it for months or years (until something breaks or someone notes that Missy Yu was fired four months ago, and she's still beaming her smile out from the staff directory). Websites need a plan both for care and feeding of content, and for regular maintenance and backups. Since they run on software written by humans, websites require periodic updates to maintain their security and reliability. You're not still running Windows XP, are you?
Don't be worried, be proactive.
While you may not want to hear the above truths, if you accept them and proceed with full knowledge of what to expect, you're far more likely to launch a successful site in a reasonable time frame. To learn more about the process, check out our book Website planning for small business.