Blue-skying your next website

woman with computer outside at table

So it’s time for a new website (or a rebuild of an existing website). That can be both scary and exciting.

Exciting because you start with a blank slate. That new website can be anything you want it to be. Including that shining unicorn.

Scary because, well, you start with a blank slate. Nothing there. Not even crickets.

At this point, it’s always very tempting to start talking tools and themes. Those are tangible and make you feel like things are progressing. Plus look at how beautiful the demo for that tool or theme is.

Except that may not be at all right for you.

So it’s time to slow down for a moment. Take a look at what your next website really needs to do for you. Not for somebody else. But you.

Here’s an example: Meet Mary. She coaches business leaders, helping them achieve their goals without burning out.

The website and your business or organization

Before building a website, she needs to have a very clear understanding of what that website is going to do for her. Not what Acme Inc’s website did for them. Or Big Retailer’s website. But Mary’s website for Mary.

So we start by probing for answers to a few questions:

Where do you see your business in a year from now? In 3 years from now? How will that impact your website plans?

What will a website that is truly aligned with your business and branding look, act, and deliver like?

What is the one thing your new website must do for you to be convinced it was worth the investment?

How about this?

Each visitor knows exactly who you are, has crystal clarity on what you do and knows their next steps to become your best customer.

The goal is to firmly connect your website and your business as one in visitors’ minds.

Now is also the time to make sure the website will be aligned with your business and branding. Branding is far more than just a logo. It’s about how your business is perceived by others. The style and feel of it. How it connects with customers. How customers feel about it. 

For instance, if Mary is very professional and measured in her work with clients, a website that is all emoting, full of bohemian colors and patterns, would definitely not be right. It would probably scare away potential customers.

If in doubt at this point, it may be wise or necessary to take time out from the website building process to define your story, messaging and branding before proceeding.

Fortunately, Mary knows her story, so we continue on.

Functionality 

Once we know what the website must do, we can look at different types of websites. Here are some possibilities:

  • Sell product
  • Sell services
  • Ecommerce (which is very different from selling a few products)
  • List building
  • Call me
  • Authority
  • Portfolio
  • Author

More than one may apply to you. But it’s important to know your business needs from the website.

In Mary’s case, she sells services (coaching), but they’re productized into packages. She offers a few options, but not a whole catalog. So not ecommerce. She definitely wants to build her email list and be seen as an authority. For right now though, the way she connects with people is by them calling her or booking a free discovery session.

That clears things up a bit. We now have more focus on what Mary’s new website must do. From that, Mary needs to decide which one thing is the most important. Because there can only be one main call to action.

Ultimately she decides that being able to compare coaching package options and signing up for the right one is the most important feature.

Integrations

A website doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so it needs to connect with or include other things:

  • Online payments/donations
  • Shopping cart
  • Social media
  • Email
  • Mass email
  • Calendar/event scheduling
  • Forms
  • Quizzes/surveys
  • Customer database (CRM)
  • Membership/paywall

This is not a complete list and not every website will need all of them. But even a basic site typically needs a few. The time to determine what integrations should be included is before actual website construction starts. Just to be sure we don’t paint ourselves into the proverbial corner.

How to make it happen 

Now is also the time to get a little technical:

Mary already decided on a domain name and got it registered. For many small businesses, the best course is to get your own name as a domain. Because we are the brand.

This is also the time to (realistically) decide how involved you’re going to be in the website creation process. Maybe Mary can do all of it (or learn how to do it). She might even enjoy the process. But is it the best use of her time and energy? Because while building her new website, Mary is not coaching business execs. Can’t outsource that one.

It’s also not just the initial design and build of a website, but how content will be updated throughout the life of the website, as well as how the site itself will be maintained. Again, some website owners want to or have the resources to take care of these things themselves. Others prefer to have some or all of this taken care of for them. Knowing that it will just happen. Like clockwork.

Then there’s the matter of integrating your website with everything else. How will sales/donations actually happen? What about email list signups? Event registrations? Surveys?

How does the backend interface with your business? New order handling and fulfillment?

Is there a backend database to connect to?

Additionally, Mary needs to decide if the website will be on her own hosting account/server, where she truly owns all the parts of it or if she’ll use a drag-and-drop website creator platform. The appeal of the latter is that you just drag and drop. So easy. The definite downside is limitations on what you can do on the site and with integrations. Plus, do you really know what the server running the website is like? Or where it’s located?

Having your own website, on your own server, may be a bit more complex for starters, but gives the greatest flexibility for today and tomorrow.

Mary, who actually built her own website several years ago, decides that the best for her sanity and business is to get the new website built for her and then professionally maintained. That way, she can focus on giving the clients her full attention.

One more thing: COI and ROI

Finally, let’s talk options: What’s the alternative to getting a new website that can and will grow with you and your business?

That brings up COI and ROI: Cost of Inaction and Return on Investment. You might not have thought of either in connection with a website. No worry, many small business owners don’t. But, to quote Igor in Young Frankenstein: “Well, they were wrong then, weren’t they?”

Let’s do some numbers. Mary’s typical clients will spend $3,000 with her in the first year. On the average, she signs up one new client per month. That’s after a fair amount of contact back and forth and a free discovery session or two. Prospective clients have to move from not knowing her and what she can do for them, to being convinced that she can help them and taking the step to become clients.

Each prospective client has to get to know, like and trust Mary. Then they’ll work with her.

The right website will greatly help in that process, building trust much faster than Mary can do person to person. So let’s hypothesize that a new website will help Mary get just one more client every 4 months. That means 3 additional clients in a year. Or 3 x $3,000 = $9,000 of additional income per year. 

Mary has the capacity to handle those new clients, so it’s definitely a win.

For moving forward, Mary has several options:

Do nothing — just keep going with the existing (outdated/broken) website. Cost: $0. (But that’s not quite true, because no website or a broken/outdated website hurts Mary’s credibility. It’s going to be harder for her to get new clients. So probably costs her at least $3,000 (one client) in income that she will never see this year. Likely more next year and thereafter.)

Build her own website — Mary kind of likes tinkering and as noted, built her first website herself. But then found it hard to make time to keep it up-to-date. Or knowing if it was really doing what it needed to do. — She decides to do it right this time. So drops her efforts to find new clients and cuts back on working with existing clients to learn how to build a great new website. It’s a temporary slow-down, but it will all be worth it when the new, shiny website is live and attracting new clients. 

Of course the time she spends building the new website has a cost. Let’s say that Mary is a quick learner and manages to get her website done in 3 months. But she skipped getting new clients those months. That’s 3 x $3,000 = $9,000 in lost income. Ouch. (Plus cost of therapy because stress.)

In the end, Mary has the satisfaction of having built her own website. Now all she has to do is make sure she keeps it up. Month after month. If that doesn’t cost her actual money, it will leave her tired and distracted.

Get Website Done For You — Mary is now the client. Working with me, an experienced designer, developer, and strategist. We work together to build a website that is just right for her and her business. She stops losing money. Actually makes more money, because the new website helps her connect with more clients. And she won’t need therapy to deal with website stress. 

Which one of these options would you say brings the best return on investment for Mary?

The final one, getting the website built for her, has an up front cost and an ongoing cost for maintenance. But it helps her bring in more new customers and frees her up to focus on what she is really good at. That’s a win on all fronts and in terms of actual money, the new website will generate more additional income than it cost to build it. In the first year. Win on all fronts.

Remember, COI is avoided by taking the right action. Taking action has a cost, but unlike the cost of inaction, that’s an investment that will yield future returns. COI is just sunk. Like throwing money out a window.

A well-aligned website will produce a return on investment, because it helps grow your business, making it stronger. It builds credibility with prospective and existing clients. It helps turn prospective clients into paying customers faster. That’s solid return on investment.

At the end of the day

They say that Rome wasn’t built in one day. Neither is a good website. But it’s entirely doable to get there.

Mary started at a point of being ashamed to even send people to her existing website, because it was so outdated. She did her homework, taking time to figure out what a new website needed to do for her and how it must align with her business. She chose to work with a professional in this process, because she has a business to run. In the end, she got a website that meets (and exceeds) her needs now and with room to grow for years to come.

Had she chosen to build her own website again, the process would have been similar: Do lots of homework early on to figure out exactly what that new website must do. All before actually building a website. 

It’s never the right option to just pick a pretty (convenient, free, whatever) theme or platform and just start building. Unless you want lots of headache and frustration, rather than a win that helps your business prosper.

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