There are the obvious things: have you got the time and the budget?
That's not the end of the story, there are many more considerations if you want to have a website which you're proud of. I bet if you talk to a few business owners, you will hear them say they a) really need to get a website or b) need to update their website as they haven't touched it in a long time!
Planning is key
Make sure your branding is right, don't build your website and then change your branding, you could do both at the same time as part of one project, but don't invest time and money in the website if you're going to change the identity, tone of voice, logo, corporate colours and brand palette. Is the timing right for you to give your website the attention it deserves?
Over the years I have project managed the creation of new websites for many different businesses, picked up old websites and had them updated, sometimes replacing them completely, sometimes changing the template and structure on a test server to go live, other times just shuffling things around, updating imagery and copy. I am by no means a web designer at the back end, I have built a couple of websites in free platforms, I wouldn't really recommend them. I've use content management systems from Joomla to WordPress, Wix to It’s Eeze and more.
Often when I come on board I'm shocked by the company website for one reason or another. Sometimes people have really overspent (on the initial cost or on-going costs), they don't have the functionality they need and most importantly don't really know how to update the site themselves.
Often where a site has been updated, sometimes by various different people (employees, VAs, owners, the digital agency), it has run wild and everything is completely out of place, in a mess or they just don't update it at all. Whether at through lack of time, trying to figure out how to resize the images, make sure they are given a description, inserting links. It can just be the attitude of: 'I have a website, I’ve spent the budget, it’s done, finished'.
How much should you pay?
Often when I speak to people I'm surprised by how much they paid for a website, I guess it could come down to how it was briefed it in, what was briefed in in the first place, did the decision maker change their mind several times through the process and increase the cost, what they thought they needed when they didn't really, or what they didn’t consider they might need further down the line.
I think it's important to consider that a website will always evolve or need updating, you can build on it as long as you have put those future-proofing features in place from the start. So don't get carried away in the initial brief or get a cajoled into making your website massive and overly complicated so that you can never make changes, and so super duper fancy unless you have an ongoing agreement with the designer you might be paying a whopping regular fee for maintenance or one-off fees for minor updates. You can always agree a project and a fee based on phase 1, phase, 2, phase 3, whatever it might be that you, your business and your website needs.
A website is an investment, it is a platform for your content and messaging, services or products.
Understand the cost from the start. If you just need a little overview site in the beginning, further down the line you know you're going to need a membership site or online courses sections, make sure you let the web designer know so that they can advise you on the most efficient, cost-effective and practical way you doing this further down the line.
Choosing a supplier and a platform - often the same thing
While sometimes there's a temptation to go with the person who offers you the most cost effective option. However what is that developer offering you what is in the package? Have they mentioned SEO? Where's the copy coming from? Where's the imagery coming from? Where is the branding coming from? The look and feel is important, have you got a graphic designer involved with the project or does your web designer have graphic design skills or are they using customisable template. Also look at what is going to be easy for you to update, or people in your team such as a virtual assistant. Some websites are so rigid you can't do things that you want to do with them and others are really complicated. Have a look at the integration options, find out if it will integrate with MailChimp on forms for example, or whatever other systems you're already using.
Have a look at the websites the supplier has already created, have a look at their own website. Double check that the websites the web designer has built work on mobile, people will tell you things are mobile optimised, they might be but they might look absolutely rubbish. Make sure you investigate this because so many people are using mobile click-throughs from social media and so on, on their phone that it's so important your website looks just as good on mobile as it does on a desktop.
What platform does the web designer they use?
Find out what packages they can offer you, in terms of security maintenance, hosting, if your website goes down on a Sunday will it be fixed on a Sunday? Find out what they can offer you and compare it to what you can get elsewhere, investigate how responsive they can be, meet them, talk to them to find out if they are the kind of people who likes to work with, that you can communicate well with and they answer your phone calls when you need to talk to them. There is the temptation to appoint web designers from sites like Fiverr and People per Hour because the prices are low, but there could be any number of reasons for that.
It's up to you too
Have your information ready for your web designers, have your copy and images ready to go, try to avoid making changes when the site is part way through being built when you've decided you don't like the way your copy sounds, that's their time, that's your money being spent going back and forth. Have a good idea in your mind of what you expect your website to do, what you want your customers to do, the journey you'd like them to go on when they get into your website. Where do you want to take them, what's your ultimate goal, do you want me them to come back repeatedly? What reason are you giving them to come back, how? are you going to have a blog that you update, do you have a monthly message, a download, embedded vlogs? What is it that you want the visitor to do and what is it that you can give, and tell the web designer before the project gets started.
Your current website (if you have one)
You might have a website already, you like it, you are comfortable with using and updating it, however you may have outgrown it, the navigation may have become tricky or overloaded, visitors can't find what they're looking for, there might be nowhere else to take this website if you need a special membership area, it might be better to build a new site.
Have you got Google Analytics on an existing site? Do you know where your customers are going, what they're doing, what they're interacting with, what's turning them off what's keeping them there? Do you know how many enquiries are coming through your website and how? Are they asking for directions are they hitting the phone number, where are they coming from? Share your Google analytics with a future potential web agency so you can talk it through with them, they know what they are looking for.
Look at other websites
What is it that you like about other websites, are they easy to use? You can find what you want quickly or is there lots of depth in there, lots of resources to spend your time browsing, through are there lots of big buttons to make it easy to find things? Are there forms to complete or is there just a phone number and an email address to contact people the way that you want to? What is practical for their business, might not be for you and yours. Are there lots of videos? Is there an online shop? What is it that works for them that you feel could work for you and your audience?
Work out what your goals are for a website, who is your target audience, what are your competitor websites like? What is your budget? Have you got time to write the copy? Time to find the images or have the images taken? When are you going to fit all of that in to book time for the web designer, when do you want the website to be finished? Is there a specific event you're speaking at?
Collect together all the information on your other existing digital channels so your Facebook and Instagram handles LinkedIn and Twitter handles, do you want any of those feeds to feature on your website? Do your customers come to your premises? Are they looking for your address and directions? Are they looking for a menu or price list? What enquiries do you receive that maybe aren’t being answered by a current website, or because you don’t yet have a website? The website should be about making things easier for you and the visitor, are you introducing an online booking system, a portfolio to display your work or case studies?
Make sure you've got time to think about your copy otherwise ask someone to write it for you (make time to proof and edit it), someone who understands the little bit about SEO and a bit about back links and the customer journey, so at the end of each page there is somewhere to go, or the visitor can find what they want on the website. I see so many websites where you get to the end of a page or a blog and then there's nowhere else to go. Your website is a shop window, it's your shop front, you want people to come to your shop floor, and have a mooch around, explore and a bit like that middle aisle in Aldi, you go home with something you completely didn't expect to find. Equally you want them to find what they were looking for and make that purchase, place that booking, go through that transaction, make that phone call enquiry, book a consultation, sign up, download, whatever it is you want them to do.
And finally who will update this website going forward will it be your web designers, creative agency or will it be in-house, maybe you will need to be able to update something quickly e.g. an event listing time changes, or you get a booking code for an event to share with your clients and just want to be able to put on quickly. Is it your team? Your virtual assistant? Do they know how to use this particular platform but the web designer uses will they provide training or a webinar, are there help videos available is it easy to use? Will you be able to quickly login and update it? Have a trial. Do you have the ability to edit and resize images in the house, or do you need a platform that can do this for you, just another consideration in terms of time and investment.
As I said, I do not build websites, I know people who do and I often coordinate these activities, overseeing the project, previously in-house and on a freelance Virtual Assistant basis.
How can a VA help with your website build?
- Seek new potential suppliers/providers
- Carry out website competitor research
- Carry out audience research
- Putting forward ideas for content
- Writing copy
- Editing existing copy
- Sourcing imagery
- Coordinating photo shoots
- Writing product or service copy
- Writing About Us copy
- Testing the site - journey
- Sharing and providing links
- Proofing the site
- Keeping the project on track, meeting milestones
- Answering immediate questions from web supplier, to keep the ball rolling when you are busy
About Virtual Executive Services MK
Virtual Executive Services MK is a Virtual Assistant service based in Milton Keynes, supporting clients across the UK. Specialising in admin, marketing and social media support for small businesses, start ups and entrepreneurs. Find out more.