Thinking Big Picture: What You Need to Know Before You Waste too Much Time and Money on Your Website

So you know you need a website but have no idea where to begin.

Is hiring someone to do it for you the best option?

Or should you figure out how to do it for yourself?

No matter which direction you choose to go, it’s best to consider a few things that will save you  a lot time, money and stress.

Dara SkolnickI talked to Dara Skolnick, web-designer/developer extraordinaire about how to get started with building your own website or having one built for you.

The most refreshing thing about my conversation with Dara was her big picture thinking around what your website needs to do for your business and your brand.

Let’s take a look at some of her guidance on how to wrap your head around websites and how to decide what’s best for you and your business

 

What is the very first thing a person should do when they realize they want to build a website?

Spend some time soul-searching and pin down what you are trying to accomplish with a website. Too many people just think “I need a website” and then start building one without spending time defining what they want it to do for them.

What are your business goals? Who is your audience? What do you want them to do on your website?

Sometimes just starting with a Facebook page or an Instagram feed can be enough in your very early stages. Using social media can help you build up content and find out what works before investing in building your website.

Content is so important – it’s better to have a social media presence or a simple DIY website with excellent content than it is to have a fancy, custom-built website with crappy content.

So have as much of your photography and content ready for your website before you begin building. You don’t need to have it all, but having a decent amount makes the process move more smoothly.

Sometimes people overlook their domain name as well. I recommend buying your domain and making sure you get it before staring to build your website. You don’t want to get attached to a name and then plan around it, only to find out later someone else has already taken it.

Buying your domain is cheap and you don’t need to have hosting services or anything else to own it. If you find a domain name you like and corresponding social media handles that aren’t taken, I recommend grabbing them before someone else does!

 

Ok so now they have some clear business goals in mind for their website, they have their URL and have gathered some images and content to put in their website – should they build their own or hire someone like you to do it?

It all depends on each person’s ability, time, budget and desire.

These days, there are very user friendly ways to DIY a website so going that route definitely saves money. When you are in the very early stages of your business, the DIY route can be the best option. It allows you to get started, to learn more about what you want to do with your website, and can be done for little or no cost (apart from your time).

Once you have a clear picture of what you want to do with your website and you know your business is worth investing in, hiring a designer/developer is a good way to make sure your website is as effective as it can possibly be.

 

When taking the DIY route, what’s the best platform to build on WordPress or Squarespace?

They’re both great DIY platforms.

Squarespace is probably easier for people who know nothing about building websites. Everything is built into Squarespace (no need to look anywhere else for themes or plugins) and it has everything you need for your initial website internally. That makes it very user-friendly for complete novices.

Squarespace also has better looking free themes than WordPress. If you know nothing about design, you’ll likely create a better looking website if you go with Squarespace.

There are a lot of great themes for WordPress too, but the learning curve is steeper. You can make a great-looking site and a site that can do absolutely anything you want it to do.

WordPress can do A LOT so you get a lot of versatility from it. You can also grow a WordPress site into anything you want in the future.

It’s important to know the difference between wordpress.org and wordpress.com. I don’t recommend using wordpress.com – the free blogging service – because it’s limited in what it can do for you (wordpress.com doesn’t let you use custom themes or install any plugins).

To use wordpress.org, you’ll need hosting services and will install WordPress through your host. So you’ll need to feel comfortable doing all that or you can hire someone to help you set it up.

 

People new to DIY websites are often afraid to make mistakes with their site that can’t be fixed. What advice can you give them about that?

Luckily, there aren’t that many mistakes you can make that are irreversible.

Websites are almost always fixable. If you mess something up, you can usually fix it later – unless you forget to pay your hosting bill. If you do that, your site will be erased.

It’s so important to make sure your site is being backed up outside of your host and to protect it against viruses. Those two security measures are critical to the longevity of your website.

Squarespace has everything you need already installed for you so if you go with Squarespace, you don’t have to worry about these things.

If you are using WordPress, I recommend you install a backup plugin and an antivirus plugin.

I recommend VaultPress for backups. And for security: Wordfence, which has a good free version. If you want to pay for protection, Sucuri is the way to go. If you ever get hacked, these are the people to go to.

Another plugin I like to install is: Limit Login Attempts. This plugin stops hackers from forcing their way into your site by locking them out if they enter in the wrong password too many times.

And finally, another security measure is to make sure your username isn’t ‘admin’ – it makes your site vulnerable to hackers. So when you install your WordPress site, make sure to pick a unique username.

 

When should a person start working with a developer/designer?

You’ll know when you need to hire a web designer/developer.

You’ll feel like you’ve outgrown your DIY site. You might know it’s time to take your business to the next level and will need a more polished design with custom functionality to do that. A custom design will give you that super crisp, super professional, higher-end type website which enhances your business’s credibility.

Some of the benefits of a custom design are that you’ll build a business strategy into the look and function of your site.

For example, with your designer/developer you’ll analyse business goals, look at what worked well and what didn’t with your old site, consider how to better convert people into customers and you’ll be able to develop a look and feel for your site that is perfectly reflective of your brand.

A custom site can also optimize performance if you work with a developer who prioritizes it. Custom-built websites often load faster than websites using bulky pre-made themes, and that will make your users much happier. People don’t have much patience on the Internet.

 

A lot of people feel shy about approaching designer/developers because they don’t know much about the process or what’s involved. What’s the best way to approach a designer/developer?

It’s always best to have a clear set of goals in mind before approaching a designer/developer. Of course many designer/developers can help a person clarify goals for their website but when the client comes already prepared, the entire process flows much smoother and saves everyone time.

Working with a business coach or content strategist beforehand can be a good idea – that way you’ll have all your business goals nailed down and know what you can invest before getting started.

Don’t worry about feeling silly or not know what you’re doing– although I’m the expert in my field, you’re the expert in yours. It’s my job to help you find clarity around your website. So don’t be embarrassed about not knowing everything! We’ll figure it out together.

If someone does make you feel stupid, it’s a good reason to not work with this person. There are so many people out there you can work with – you might as well work with someone who is kind and helpful and doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself, right?

 

Can you give any guidance on what kinds of questions small business owners should ask when approaching a designer developer? What should people expect from a designer/developer?

You should expect a partnership with your designer/developer. You both have to be moving towards the same thing.

Never forget that your website is about your business goals – designers should understand these things. It’s not just about the tech – it’s about how that tech enables you to achieve what you want to achieve. You need to both be on the same page before you enter into a business relationship.

Ask them: What are your priorities as a designer? What do you focus on when designing a website?

You want one who can make both a pretty website and a strategic one. You want someone who understands your website is driving your business.

Ask them about their process so you know what you’re getting into. If you’ve never had a website, you might not realize what goes into building one. Have a conversation about each step and what will be involved so that everyone knows what’s expected and what’s involved. The more communication upfront, the better the project will go for everyone.

It’s also important to know the difference between a web designer and a web developer. A web designer creates the look of the website, while the developer brings it to life in code. Some people are both designers and developers, which can be convenient since you’re just working with one person, and some people just do one part of the process.

If you hire just a designer who isn’t also a developer, ask if they have a trusted developer they work with. Then look at the developer’s work too. Check to make sure you know the process of how they work together and how the entire process will work.

Your website needs to look good and function well, so don’t overlook development in preference for design. A good developer will make a secure and well-functioning site and therefore one that lasts a long time. Both are equally important to building an effective website.

 

People are afraid of getting ripped off because they don’t really know what’s involved in the work – kind of like car mechanics. Sometimes they will ask for quotes from a number of people and get wildly different prices for the same thing. What’s going on with that?

There are so many people who do this work and each person has a different way of doing it. Some have lots of experience, others have little. That makes hiring the right person difficult.

I’d recommend you get a referral so you at least have some insight into a person’s history. You can also ask people for references. Of course you should look at their past work to see what they can do.

If you get different quotes from different people, you should go with someone who has demonstrated their value to you and who has fully explained that value.

If they just give you an hourly rate with the total number of hours to complete, you know nothing about what they will do for you. Their quote should be clear enough for you to understand exactly what you’re going to get for the price they are quoting. They have to show you what they are worth.

That means, the cheapest is not necessarily the best deal. Neither is the most expensive. You need to know exactly what you need from your website to be able to make these kinds of decisions but you should definitely expect the designer/developer to be very clear about what they can offer, at what price.

 

And finally, how long does it take to design/develop an average sized website for a small business?

This will differ from business to business but for most small businesses, it’s reasonable to allocate at least 3 months from start to finish for a full (re)design/(re)development.

That process involves revisions, feedback, tweaks and all the setbacks that come from trying to find the right images, content and getting the copy just right – all the things that will make your website shine and deliver results for your business!

 

Dara Skolnick builds websites for entrepreneurs, creatives and big-hearted businesses. To learn more about Dara and her web design/development services, check out www.daraskolnick.com

 

What else? What questions do you have about your website that we haven’t covered here? Leave your questions in the comments.

 

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