I love launching websites, but I know the process isn’t without its challenges for soon-to-be owners kicking off their first site. So, I’ve provided advice on how to solve the most common problems in my experience. These problems are:
- Difficulty letting the designer know what you want
- Sites that don’t do anything for your organisation
- Providing content for your site
- Contracts – Length, cost, and hidden clauses
Problem 1: Cowboys
Solution: Learn to spot and avoid them
Unfortunately, there are cowboys in almost every business, and there are a lot in web design because a lot of the quality and value of a website is hard for customers to see or assess directly.
Think of the old ‘dodgy car salesperson’ stereotype. They polish the outside to a high shine, fix the engine with sticky tape and sawdust so it’ll run for a little while. Then they lay the sales patter on thick. Because most people don’t look in all of the nooks and crannies under the bonnet, the cowboys get away with it. It’s the same with websites. To avoid being duped, you need to be the one that looks at the workings of the site (the ‘back end’) and knows what they are looking for.
More on that in a minute. First though, you don’t have to worry about checking for cons if you work with someone you really trust. If you’re thinking of launching a new website, ask friends and business contacts to recommend designers that have done good work for them. A referral will be much more likely to do a good job by the book. If it’s from a tech-savvy acquaintance or marketing professional, all the better as they probably know what to look out for. If you can’t find a recommendation, look for a designer with lots of positive reviews on a platform where they can be authenticated, like LinkedIn or Google My Business.
Once you have chosen someone, be clear on what you want and what you expect to pay, and find out what platform the site will be built on. The vast majority of small business websites are built on WordPress (37% of sites on the web), but Wix and Square Space are also popular for self-builds. When the site is complete, ask to be given administrative access to the ‘back end’ of your website on that platform before you pay the final balance. This will involve signing up with your email address and passcode and will let you take a look behind the scenes by going to a particular web address.
Look for a lot of red dots with numbers in them (WordPress), exclamation marks, and warnings as signs that something might be wrong. Ask your designer to explain them. If you are paying for your site to be maintained, check this every few months. A lot of these signs appearing over time means that your site is not being maintained properly.
If your site is on WordPress, or you’re thinking of getting one made on the platform, you can learn a few basics about using it here. This will help you check up on your sites and their builders.
Problem 2: Difficulty letting the designer know what you want
Solution: Sit down alone, plan and use reference points
Talking someone through your concept is not easy. Even a great artist would have difficulty describing their art to another, instead of painting it themselves.
We all have ideas of the way we want things to be that we can’t get across. Sometimes things just feel right and all-too-often they don’t. The question is how do we explain our way to the thing that feels right?
The first step is to get a designer who really listens, understands, and engages with their clients’ ideas. Go back to those testimonials and reviews again to check if that’s the case. On the other hand, if you don’t have an idea and you want the designer to lead the way, look for reviews that emphasise this ability.
The next step for those who do have an idea is to sit down before briefing your designer and consider exactly what you want. If you can’t define the idea as a whole, break it down and list everything about it that you can define specifically. Another great idea is to look at sites similar to the one you are having designed, like those of competitors or connections. You could simply do a Google search for the product or service you offer and look at what comes up. When you find a site you like, write down its address and everything that you like about it, as well as what you would change. This gives your designer a great basis for their own design and helps you get exactly what you want.
Problem 3: Sites that don’t do anything for your organisation
Solution: Your site is a marketing tool. Work with people who understand this.
A website shouldn’t just be a passive collection of words and pictures. It should do something for you and your organisation. If it doesn’t do this, it’s not worth paying for, or even working on.
I include ‘working on’ here because many of the sites that don’t do anything for their owners are often DIY sites. This happens because of a lack of purpose during the design. Beware though, it can happen with professionally designed sites too.
To avoid getting a useless site, have your objective for the site in mind from the very beginning. Do you want to sell online, promote your business or get a message out there? Be as exact as possible: How many sales do you want to make? What do you want people to do when they’ve seen your business promotion or message? For example, if the first step in your sales process is a meeting, your site can set up a meeting with just a click from the user.
If you’re working with a designer, tell them what you want from the beginning and ask how they plan to achieve this, what it will involve and how much it will cost. In this way, you can assess their plan and avoid uncertainty later on.
When the site is finished, test it by using it as your ideal visitors would. Is it easy for visitors to take your preferred course of action? Does the site make them want to? Does it do as much to get them to that final action as possible? If the site just says, “Why don’t you get in touch to book a meeting?”, that could be replaced with an auto-booking link that will handle everything directly.
These checks will ensure that your website is ready to start working from you, but they are the first step. A functional website is just one tool that should be surrounded by a whole toolbox of marketing systems. These can include methods to bring people to your site, like social media and Google ads, ways to reinforce the site, like a blog, and ways to assure conversions, like ecommerce tools and booking systems
Problem 4: Providing content for your site
Solution: Set a deadline and learn what works, or get someone else to do it
Most web designers will not by default write your website content for you. Some, including me, will offer content writing as an added extra, while others will expect you to create or acquire it yourself.
Either way, you’re left with a choice between creating the content and paying for it. Issues like time, budget, and level of expectation come into play here. It’s important to be realistic. Do you have the time to write a site’s worth of content at around 300 words per page? Can you write something that will effectively achieve the goals you laid out in solution 3? On the other hand, can you explain what you want to another person or is it something so personal that you need to write it yourself?
If you decide to write your website content yourself, I have a blog with tips on how to do it. Beyond that, set a strict deadline and make yourself accountable to your designer or someone you trust. Otherwise, you could end up paying a hosting fee every month for something that doesn’t exist.
If you opt for a writer, look for a specialist who specialises in websites or online content. Otherwise, ask your designer to recommend someone. That way you know the two will work well together.
Problem 5: Contracts – Length, cost, and hidden clauses
Solution: Ask questions and read the terms or go for a non-contracted offering.
This is another problem that’s common to most industries. Getting stuck in a contract that you don’t need or that costs too much is never fun, and neither is not having the support you need. As usual, read everything carefully, ask questions, know everything you’re paying now and in the future, and watch for rising costs. Also, are you paying for ongoing support and maintenance? Sites need updating and fixing occasionally, and this needs to be done by someone who knows what they are doing.
Two important things to pay attention to are the hosting for your site and the domain name. That’s the place where it’s saved online, and the address people type into their browsers to get to it. Both of these must be managed to keep your site online. You need to know how much this will cost and what will happen if the designer or provider goes bust. One of the most common problems website owners have is when these people disappear leaving sites and the names that go with them inaccessible and broken. If you own John’s deliveries online for 10 years, then lose access to www.johnsdeliveriesonline.co.uk, it can cause real problems.
Paying up-front for a non-contracted offering is an alternative option, but this comes with its own risks. You will have to organise your own hosting and domain name, and you will have to maintain your site yourself. One-off fixes for broken sites can be expensive.
Whatever you choose, I wish you a long and problem-free career as a website owner.
Having problems? Get in touch and I’ll help out.
If you’re having any difficulties at all launching your site, feel free to ask for help by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll see what I can do. No obligations.