19 November 2021
Lessons From Developing A New Website
Sometimes the most valuable insights for your business are the ones that people are reluctant to share with you – but when they do, they are a game changer.
In my case it came from a potential client. We were talking about a big and fascinating strategic review – a very challenging one. It was lockdown so we were working by phone. I had a call with the key decision maker – it was supposed to be 15 minutes long but more than an hour later we were still deep in conversation. We got on well and ideas were sparking about the best ways of addressing the project.
His colleague (who had recommended me) told me, he was really impressed by you, and excited at the idea of working with you – until he saw your website!
It wasn’t that my website wasn’t professional – it was. The problem was my positioning. The website had been created five years earlier very much positioning myself as a marketing consultant. But my potential client was planning a sensitive strategic project, and he didn’t want anyone to think it was being treated as a “marketing” or “communications” challenge.
My website, rather than positioning me as a strategic thinking partner, was selling me short. It positioned me where I had been five years ago – not where I was today or where I wanted to be in three years.
Websites matter. In particular what we say about ourselves and how we position ourselves matter. It’s not enough for us to sit on our laurels – we need to regularly think about what it is we stand for now, and what work we really want to be spending our valuable time on.
Developing a new website forces one to think deeply about this. Based on a (slightly random) poll of sole traders, owners of boutique consultancies and heads of small businesses, this is the unexpected dividend of developing a new website:
“It helped me to frame my proposition to clients in a way that addressed their needs.”
“I had to do some very deep thinking about what my business was about.”
“I discovered that while I thought I was clear about the sort of work I wanted to do – I wasn’t articulating it in a way that was clear to others.”
“It made me refocus my business, which led to me dropping the business that was least profitable.”
“It made me really think hard and clearly identify my target market.”
“I had to do a lot of soul searching.”
Based on my experience and the response of my ad hoc poll, here are 7 lessons which may help you in developing a new website.
1. Do your ground work
Before you start, give some serious thought to exactly why you want a website and what you want it to include. Writing down the headings for the pages on your website and doing a first draft of copy will help. I found looking at other websites really valuable, as much for showing me things I didn’t want, as those that I did. And yes, I did do some judicious stealing.
2. Find yourself a good web designer
I did lots of asking around (not just in Ireland) and looking at the websites that the designers whose names I heard had delivered. Finding someone who you can work well with is critical. They need to be able to take your brief… but also to help you to up your game and add significant value. Chemistry is important. After talking to several designers about how they might handle the project and the sort of costs involved, top of my list was Gerard Whelan, Creative Director at Brand Central. Still keen to make sure the chemistry was right, I asked him to agree to us running a workshop of a few hours on how my website might develop – and that I would pay for his time should I decide not to go ahead. This gave me the confidence to know I was choosing the best possible designer for me – and I wasn’t disappointed.
3. Give it the time it needs
Everyone I spoke to commented on how much longer it took than anticipated, and how it was more time consuming than expected.
4. There are lots of dividends along the way
As I have said already there is a massive dividend in the way developing a website makes you get really clear strategically about your business. And there are other dividends too. The process of engaging clients in getting testimonials, or in defining what they think you do best, is very valuable. Not only can it deliver a lot of insights, but several of my respondents also got new client projects resulting directly from their discussions about the shaping of their new website. (Don’t underestimate either the warm glow that comes from reading testimonials from satisfied clients.)
5. Don’t sell yourself short
Good enough is not good enough. My website designer Gerard Whelan constantly pushed me to up my game and to present myself in the best possible light. This may have frustrated me at times, but I have to admit he was right. Do take the time to get photos and videos that do you proud – in the words of the L’Oréal commercial, you are worth it! Some of those I interviewed also found engaging a professional copy writer helpful.
6. Find yourself a good thinking partner
Having a critical friend – someone who has your best interest at heart and who will ask honest (and at times perhaps tough) questions – is invaluable in this process. In my survey respondents felt this was particularly helpful in relation to framing propositions.
I was blessed with a thinking partner who cared enough to send the draft website to a few business leaders who use consultants with my skillset – people who did not know me – for feedback. Their comments were among the most insightful and helpful. Sometimes people who know us are too nice!
Do also be careful of asking too many people for their opinions (debates like whether the first person or the third person is more appropriate, or which photo is more flattering can become exhausting, and a bit like a ping pong match!).
7. It doesn’t need to cost a fortune!
Several respondents had put off the development or updating of a website because of fears of the level of investment involved. As one respondent put it, “It wasn’t as expensive as I feared to get a professional job done”. All felt that they got good value for their money. Only one of the Irish-based respondents had used the Local Enterprise Grant Trading Online Scheme (which will pay up to 50% of your web development – subject to eligibility criteria) but several had checked it out and found the mandatory information session got them thinking in a strategic way about how they might approach a new website – and in fact kickstarted their thinking.
You can explore my new website here. My thanks to Gerard Whelan, Creative Director at Brand Central for the great design, and for constantly challenging me to do better. (I also took the opportunity of the website development to redesign the Momenta Hub corporate identity – and am delighted at the result). To photographer Jason Clarke who over the years has helped me look good. To David Cantwell for his work on the video and to Michelle McGuire for handholding and mentoring me as I moved from one hosting platform to another and learnt the basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation).