Websites should:

  1. provide customers with answers to their questions, and value to meet unmet needs
  2. reduce overhead
  3. streamline internal processes via automation
  4. increase profit margins

Work ON your business not IN your business.
Your website is the hub of your business. It is your sales funnel. It is completely integrated with as a cross-functional system within the center of your organization.

Flawless first impressions

Most people decide whether to take you seriously or not from the first impression they get from your website. Modern websites are the most valuable asset of an organization with growth goals in mind.
Some people will never return again because they weren’t happy with what you showed them the first time. Your mission in life is to make sure your e-commerce store, blog, or portfolio is flawless when you start asking people to visit or shop on it. Be strict with yourself in terms of setting a deadline. Sometimes, you need to be your strongest leader.
There’s no shame in a little web design outsourcing. Especially because it lets you focus on building your business. As Michael Gerber, author of the E-Myth says, “Work ON your business not IN your business.”

Websites for small businesses

If you have time and money to burn you can always try something like SquareSpaceor Strikingly.
Do you think the CEO of PEPSI is willing to burn four hours of his afternoon trying to learn how to use SquareSpace because their web designer is out sick? In the long run, it tends to be a better business decision to outsource anything you can’t do really well and with little effort.
You are the founder and CEO of your business. Treat yourself like that. Others will too. Just because your name is the only one on the incorporation papers doesn’t mean you need to think of yourself as a one-(wo)man-shop. It’s defeating to think that. You have millions of potential employees and partners and advisors at your fingertips. You just haven’t decided on who to reach out to first. Who will you collaborate with first?
Work out a payment plan with your designer if need be.
Design projects usually starts with a kick-off call. Maybe a discovery meeting in person if you’re both available and up to it. As the web designer, I use this meeting as my opportunity to extract all the information I think I may need to build your site.

Questions to build buyer personas

I like to start by asking about your current customers (if applicable). Define exactly who your customers are. Who exactly are the type of people that buy your products.
Start by answering each of the below questions for one single type of customer. For example, there might be a number of customers who are all in their 30s, have kids, are married, live in Florida, make about “this much” money, live in expensive neighborhoods, and are administrative assistants at their jobs.
The answers I just gave would be for one buyer persona. I’ll call her the “30 year old mom”. Then move on to the next common customer type. Answer each question for that specific customer type, etc, etc.

In a week or two revisit the personas to add more data as you discover it. Keep files on everyone. Not because you’re a stalker. Because you’re going to make sure everyone that finds out about you becomes a lifetime customer. Buying multiple products from your shop throughout the year.
Quick note about the above data you will provide: not only is that information important for the design of the website, but also for how you go about creating blog posts and social media content.
You would be shooting in the dark with a blindfold on if you didn’t have an organized outline of who exactly your customers are. Where they spend time on the weekends? Where they spend their time while they use the internet? What restaurants do they go to with their family? Do they have kids? All these questions produce answers that you want to use as secret intelligence to market the right products to the right customers. Don’t throw all the products at whoever walks in. Find out who everyone is so you can pinpoint what exactly you should sell to them.

Asset development

Asset development should not be outsourced. You can do it with a consultant, friends and family. Don’t leave this one completely in the hands of something else, though.
Assets are visual representations of your brand. Assets are an extension of you. They should come from your creative mind or at least have your spin on whoever else’s ideas they were.
Assets are the content your customers and prospects come in contact with in between shopping at your store. Assets can be anything from shareable photos on Facebook to your Pins on your business Pinterest account. Could be a Youtube video of yourself thanking your customers for their patronage or it could be a blog post you wrote about fall fashion.
Assets are good for your business. Well, good assets are good for your business. Assets can contribute to rapid growth of companies because they have virality built in. If you have the right asset, on the right day, it gets shown to the right person at the right time you may get 5 million website views in one day. Hopefully one of the 5 million buy something.

Prepare for the designer

Before you hire the designer, spend a little time every day on asset development. Make a list of all the assets you want included in the site: your picture, contact info, large banner pictures for home pages, product pictures, etc. The designer shouldn’t have to email you midway through the project asking for an asset. It throws a wrench in the designer’s flow, but it’s also a huge waste of time. Not having assets prepared for your designer will extend the length of time it takes to complete the project.
Side note: I’m excited to expand on asset development in future posts. My friend Owen Hemsath opened my eyes to the value of asset development. Really taught me the importance of treating asset dev as it’s own service and piece to the marketing puzzle.

Hire the best designer

Good designers don’t pitch you on the first meeting or send you a proposal without first speaking with you about goals, customers, and product.
Good designers wait until they have a solid grasp on a problem before they try to create anything. There’s actually no work to be done if there’s no problem identified. For this reason, I don’t recommend listing your specific problem, job specs, details about your buyer personas, or any other personal information like that.
Use your first meeting or phone call to determine their experience by listening to the questions they do and do not ask.

Design for your customers, not yourself

Good designers will build your website on behalf of your customers, not on your behalf. If you ask the site be designed in a certain way that’s bad for user experience I will fight to protect your visitors from a bad experience. I am your customers advocate. The top priority is to build great products for your customers.
Before you demand your designer to make alterations, try asking her if there was any reason behind that feature. A good designer will have a purpose for every line, color and image they use on your site.

Well-rounded designer = marketing expert

Unless you’re working with a top designer in the world, be cautious of hiring a designer if her only skill set is graphic design or web design. There is a great deal of attention and focus the designer should have that comes from the marketing side of the brain. Your website should be designed by a professional designer who knows how to market products on the internet to encourage people to purchase.
If you end up deciding on a larger agency or service provider there are two things I would make a fuss about:

  1. You’re looking for a custom website. You don’t want a template they just used last week for someone else. You need to have a unique, one-of-a-kind presence on the internet in order differentiate yourself from the crowd. Especially competitors.
  2. Your website needs to be tailored to your specific buyer personas. If your customers are generally in their 60s, your designer should be aware of that. She may want to increase the font-size or rearrange the pages and calls-to-action to make sure the user is only one click away from important information.

If you request this type of personalization and customization for your website they’re going to charge you at least a few thousand dollars. I see it often with larger companies because they try to turn the creative process into assembly lines. They usually just take one of their templates, duplicate it, and fill it in with your information, pictures, and logo. Sure, they will tweak the colors and fonts and layout, but that template was not built specifically for your customers. It was built for a completely different business.
Your website should be molded around you. Find a designer who cares as much as you do.

Provide the designer with everything she needs to get started. Reduce your designers workload to save money.

There are a few things you can do that will reduce the workload for your web designer and/or front-end developer.
Eliminate a 2 hour meeting from your website design process. Prepare the information I’ll need to design your custom, personalized, and targeted website. I can d\o all the heavy lifting so you can get back to your work.
Here is a quick list with a few things I would get ready to send your designer:

Do your own buyer personas.

I usually like to run through a customer interview questionnaire with my clients. I outline a comprehensive list of questions I would ask you about your specific business and your specific customers. It’s probably easier if I just show you an example so you can actually see what I’m referring to.
Below is a link to a questionnaire I asked one of our clients to fill out when he had the time. He really did a great job. The information about his practice and his customers is priceless. We’re going to have that information to continuously improve his account.
Customer development questionnaire
As you can see, there are in depth answers in the questionnaire. I was able to extract five different five different buyer personas from his questionnaire.
Lawyer Buyer Personas
All the thoughts about your customers are in your head, but you have a million other thoughts going on at the same time. Once you put it down on paper it becomes much easier to make connections between different customers and products. You’ll notice new opportunities arise.
A quick definition of buyer personas – a semi-fictional character who represents a subset of your customer base. Use buyer personas to determine content strategy and what type of overall experience the customer should have based on their individualized characteristics. If you can develop a page on your site that speaks directly to one of these buyer personas, that buyer persona is more likely to commit on the spot because you have built in trust to their experience.
Know your audience before you start yelling at them.

Social Proof

If a stranger walked up to you on the street and asked you to buy a book from him, would you buy it?
If a shopper sees a website they dont trust it’s possible they will walk away from the purchase simply because the e-commerce features looked shady and unfamiliar. I’m the same way.
Why is social proof important? Social proof helps you sell more products or services by building trust between website visitor (customer) and website (business owner).
How do you use social proof to build trust?

I will continue to add to this post, but hopefully this is a good start for now.