Deciding to build or commission a new website before you’ve got your positioning sorted is a bit like building a shop before you know what you’re going to sell in it.
I mean, my thinking is that a shop really ought to look, feel and work pretty differently depending on whether you’re selling fish or shoes. For example. Or, legal highs or accountancy services…
It can often start a bit like this.
SCENE: Management team meeting, agenda a bit vague. Cross/bored manager begins familiar rant.
“Our website’s crap. We write a random blog every month about our company barbecue or our latest work experience placement, but we don’t even explain what we do. At least, not in a way that our customers can understand. The home page is way too busy, you can’t find anything. And Bob’s picture is STILL up on our team page, and he left in 2012 after stealing the company car.”
Other folk start to chip in.
“Yeah. It is SO out of date. We haven’t changed the pictures for over a year, we don’t even have an office in London any more, and the telephone number is still in the old format. (Winchester 236, may we be of assistance?).”
Then there’s around 10 minutes of a general free-for-all insulting everything about the website. Including the fact that productization was spelt with a z. And isn’t a word at all, according to Lizzie in accounts.
Hopefully, someone starts talking about what can actually be DONE about it. The end result is that a poor, unsuspecting (and often quite junior) ‘volunteer’ is pointed at and asked to take the project on.
Three things to do before you commission a new website
The first – and most important – thing to do about it is to consider your website in the context of your whole business, and not as a stand-alone tool.
There are very few businesses nowadays for whom a brochure-style website is a valuable outcome.
By brochure-style, I mean a website that purely explains to your audiences what you do, where you do it and how to contact you.
But this is what you might end up with, if you don’t think about three vital things before you start.
First – get your positioning sorted
You can find a lot more in-depth stuff on positioning – and how to get it sorted – over here.
You know your positioning is on the right track when everyone in your company can agree and articulate these five things.
- Who your ideal customers and prospects are
- How those prospects are grouped
- What value you can bring to each of those groups
- How and why you are (truly) different from your competitors
- Why you don’t offer certain services – or sell certain products – that your competitors do…
The fifth point is really all about finding your niche.
Without a niche, you can’t really have a true positioning – because this article is for SMEs, and if you’re small, you can’t do everything for everyone. (Or at least, you can’t do it well. On top of that, people won’t believe you.)
Next, dust off your marketing or new business strategy
If you haven’t got one of these at all – this post may be a handy starting point.
If you have a marketing strategy, but haven’t seen it for months (years?), then get it out and give it a thorough going over. Make it fit for purpose, then think very carefully about the role your website can and should be playing in that bigger picture.
Plan your website alongside your strategy
Here are some useful questions to get you started:
What is the main purpose of your website?
It it providing information and advice, offering useful tools and resources, or enabling transactions?
How many audience groups – with different needs – are there?
Perhaps you have a service or products that cater to beginners, intermediates and experts. Each group will have separate wants and needs.
What do we want these people to do once they reach our website?
Do you want them to download your e-book, sign-up to your promotions and newsletters, or buy products? Different audiences may have very different pathways around your site.
Actually the most important, this one. Should have put it at the beginning.
Think carefully about what value your website will bring to your customers. Not just what you want them to do, but what they would appreciate from you. If in doubt, ask your customers.
If you’re not sure where to start with customer research, you might find this useful.
Then: choose a web designer/developer carefully
This actually the hardest bit. Because there are millions out there. In fact, the number of web designers may now have surpassed the gazillions mark.
And despite all my advice to them (would you believe it), very few of them are well positioned or have a clear niche – so you (the buyer) cannot tell the difference between them.
A few pointers for this:
- Don’t just rely on referrals, but get one or two from a friend with high business standards
- Look carefully at what they’ve done most of – and think how that truly fits with you
- If you find one who has a niche positioning in your sector/size/industry, include them in your shortlist.
- They will almost all say ‘yes, we can do that‘ to absolutely anything you ask. It is quite possible they have never done that thing before. But they are sure they can. (While it is nice that they’re so confident, is is not always very reassuring.) So, if you find one that says no to something or is completely open about not having done something before, dig deeper. Their honesty may be just what you need.
- There are people whose sole job it is to help set you up with – and then manage – the right web designer/agency for you. A senior digital project manager friend of mine, Tom Hadley, is offering just such a service.
So, that’s three things to get sorted before you start building a website.
Once you’ve decided to start, please take the responsibility away from that poor, unsuspecting junior marketing co-ordinator.
Give them the project co-ordination, that’s fine, but take away the responsibility. You need a senior manager or board member to make the real decisions, otherwise each stage of the project will sit for ages in the ‘It’s gone to the management team, but they can’t agree’ category…
Either that, or use someone like my mate Tom. If you’re team is busy with their day jobs, then he becomes your web project manager and agency liaison. He’s on your side. (In the interests of impartiality, other project manager folk are available.)
If you’re a larger SME and have never commissioned a website before – and your website is an important part of your marketing strategy – then investing in a (high quality, experienced) project manager is very likely to pay for itself.
It would mean that:
- You have confidence in the quality and clarity of your brief to the agency
- You are confident that the scope won’t creep (90% of web projects suffer from this)
- You will stick to your budget and are confident it won’t run away with you – ditto 90%
- Your project will go live when it’s planned to – ditto 90%
- You maintain a good relationship with your designer
- You get what you wanted – because of all the above
Forget all that.
Just get a web designer in and build it.
This is the other approach.
It can feel really quick, agile, like you’re getting stuff done. And it can’t be that hard, can it? Surely you don’t need that much planning just to get a website built?
After all, pretty much every business in the world has a website of some sort, doesn’t it…?
You can give this a go. But any web designer/developer worth their salt will start asking questions. They have to. In order to get the answers from you that will create their brief.
NOTE: If your web agency doesn’t ask any of these questions, do NOT use them. They’ll just be building the website they think you should have, and not the one you need.
Charge straight in with building a website, and you can get one quickly.
But you’ll get one where you can’t work out how to best structure your information. What do your different customers want from your website? How will you separate the different audiences?
You’ll get one, but you won’t know what to say on it, ‘cos you aren’t clear on exactly who you are talking to. What tone of voice will you use? What language and keywords do your different customers relate to? What specific terms do they use when searching for products and services like yours?
You’ll get one, but you won’t know what images to use on it. What pictures will fit and appeal to your market. What look and feel reflects your values, or those of your ideal customers? What sectors are you focused on?
Who the hell is this website for?
Why are you building it anyway?
I hate to end a post on that doomy gloomy sort of note. But I’m going to anyway.
I think I’ve said enough.