Whether you’re hiring a web designer or embarking on a DIY Website Journey, here are some key things to consider and have ready before you dive in.
Disclaimer Rule #1 — Don’t get overwhelmed, don’t get paralyzed.
None of this matters more than DOING your thing, especially if you are at the very very beginning. This list is meant to center and organize your thoughts around making a significant investment of money and time in your website. If you find it tough to get through this list in one piece, you might not be ready for that investment. That’s okay! Go keep doing your thing for a few more months and then revisit this list.
Answer these four questions honestly and thoroughly:
(Seriously, grab a pen and paper and get real)
We’re going to start big picture and mildly existential, then drill down to some specifics…
– 1 –
“Why do I need a website?”
The deeper you can get into that simple, open-ended question, the more focused the rest of the process will be. Here are some follow-up questions if you’re struggling to write more than one sentence:
- “What opportunities, clients, or business am I losing out on by not having my own site?”
- “How can a website help my customers/audience in a way that my content on Medium, social media, or email marketing cannot?”
– 2 –
“What do I want people to DO on my website?”
Here are some common answers to that question:
“I want people to read my posts, read other posts in my archive, and then comment and interact with me about what I wrote.”
“I want people to buy my product.”
“I want people to learn more about my organization and get on my email list.”
Your answer is probably more complex than these examples, or maybe a combination. If you have a LOT of goals, you may want to decide how to prioritize them. For example, maybe email list sign-ups would be cool, but is not a top tier goal.
– 3 –
“What is an appropriate investment to make sure my website can do what I need it to do?”
A great website certainly wouldn’t hurt any business, but it can be more vital, and a better return on investment, for some kinds of businesses than others. Be honest about how you believe a website will help your business, and why NOW is the time to make it happen.
More specifically, most of us do not have infinite resources to hire custom app developers to create EXACTLY what we envision as the perfect platform for our business from scratch. So, make sure to have a clear sense of not only your budget, but what features you envision as “must-haves.”
For example, if you are selling a physical product, an intuitive shopping cart function is a must-have. The specifics of how that cart process works for the user, however, may be bound to the cost of the tools you end up using. Prioritizing this stuff early in the process, and reality-checking that with your designer (or yourself and your skill level) can save a lot of time and stress later.
– 4 –
“How long does this website need to last before I dramatically update it again?”
Does it make sense to use a free platform for the next 6 months before upgrading? Is your business cyclical, seasonal, or changing in a way that you need to budget frequent website refreshes?
In our experience, most websites could use some refreshing and attention every 2-3 years, but almost no one budgets for this. That’s about as long as it takes for us to get sick of our own sites, desire a change that reflects how our business has changed—our new foci—and possibly use new website tech that didn’t exist before.
That’s the big-picture stuff. Now, let’s get more specific:
Make sure the domain name you want is available, then go ahead and buy it.
Even if you don’t do anything with it for a year or more, buying a domain name is so cheap (less than $15/year, sometimes way less) and you should just snag it before anyone else does. We like Namecheap.com or Godaddy.com for buying just domain names—both of these are easy to work with on the technical side, when the time comes to point it somewhere. Don’t forget to set it to auto-renew so you don’t forget!
Find other websites you love, write down what you love about them, and why you love those things about them.
You could go full Mood Board with this, or a simple outline will do. In either case, this is extremely important in order to communicate WHAT you like and WHY you like it to either your web designer or your DIY self. If you have a group of five or six sites you love, you’ll start to see some similarities—maybe how they’re organized, certain features, or simply their aesthetics. All of this data is priceless when it comes to creating a new site you’ll love!
Start writing some website text, even if it changes later.
Starting to develop your voice within a website context is super important, and even the very first drafts of this will inform design decisions. If you hire someone, this will give them a sense of your vibe (and something to put into the mockups). If you’re DIYing, it will help clarify your decision-making and choices.
Maybe start with a welcome blurb or an introduction to your business. Or you could dive right into your bio, and take some tips from our in-house copywriter, Caitlin.
At The Wonder Jam, we require our clients to submit all of their copy before the initial design phase—but we make it clear that they’ll be able to easily tweak copy on the live site themselves once it’s built.
Have some photography assets.
Ideally, these would be custom images you took or hired someone to take of you, your products, or other things directly connected to your branding. But good stock photography can also work if you take some time to find images that work well together. We recommend sites like Unsplash.com or Death to the Stock Photo for sourcing those things.
If blogging or writing is part of your site, have at least 3-5 posts written, edited, and ready to publish.
This includes having final post titles and whatever imagery you’ll be using. In the design phase, this will give your designer useful examples of how long your posts, titles, and images tend to be, which will help your designer find the best way to showcase them. Once you go live, this amount of starter content will give your readers enough to really dive into your ideas. Finally, for YOU, the site’s launch won’t be a due date for a bunch of content, which adds stress to an already complicated time. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to back-date these posts so it’s not obvious they were all published on the same day!
This also goes for podcasts or other kinds of ongoing content you intend to publish on the site—get a good head start!
Choose a website platform.
For the purposes of this advice, let’s assume you’re not HTML or CSS-savvy, but need to be hands-on with your website—whether or not you’re building it yourself or hiring a designer. Making this choice before hiring anyone will help you find someone who specializes in the platform (and someone who will teach you about it, too). There are plenty of resources out there comparing the most popular platforms like WordPress, Squarespace, Shopify, etc to find what’s right for you. For what it’s worth, here at The Wonder Jam, we use WordPress for most of our client’s sites, and use Shopify for e-commerce clients.
That’s all for now! Considering the questions and tasks above will put you in a fabulous position as you get into the website creation process. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!