Look, I know the barrier to entry is getting lower and easier than ever to have a flashy, "pretty" website that looks slick, and makes you feel good about yourself.
But really, is that what a website is for?
If you're a creative entrepreneur, the answer is a resounding "Aww HELL naw!"
To be blunt, your website needs to do an outstanding job of presenting your offer in a way that makes it very clear to your right audience that they need to cross your palm with some green. If it doesn't do that, you've got a crappy website.
One of the "ugliest" websites I've ever seen belongs to a company with over a half a BILLION dollars in assets. That would be Berkshire Hathaway. Go ahead and take a look. I'll be here when you get back.
See? Pretty Spartan, right? No images on the home page. Just a simple, some might say "boring" two-column layout that looks more like a book report than a website.
But if there's one thing Warren Buffett knows, it's how to get the most out of every penny (like a true Linear creative). They know that they don't need to woo investors with a flashy website. Their company stock trades at over a quarter-million dollars per share, yo! If anyone could plow tens of thousands of dollars into a pretty website it would be Berkshire Hathaway. But that's not where the money's at.
What about you, creative entrepreneur? I know you've seen those fancy wordpress themes, with their parallax designs, and funky multi-widget layouts that give you the power (ROAR!) to make your site just as flashy as any seven-figure lifestyle entrepreneur in your market.
Back up the truck, bucko!
Before you go spending thousands on a website - yes I said spend, not invest - let's see if your business should even consider it yet. I've mentioned in a previous episode the importance of being sure you're actually ready for an upgrade, but let's take a closer look at what needs to be in place before you plow a crap ton of money into a Stepford Website (looks pretty, but doesn't work).
Three questions to ask before investing in a new website
- What stage of business growth are you in? If you've got offer clarity and market clarity, then it makes sense to start updating your messaging and brand collateral to reflect that clarity. But it still might not be time for a major website overhaul. Updating the bones of what you've already got may be sufficient. Without offer clarity and market clarity, however, your flashy new website is just a vanity project. Take it from me.When I first launched my handmade candle business, we started at Early Struggle (like every business). To keep costs down, we set up shop on eBay, built a loyal following and launched our own online store - the giving candle - after we'd generated enough income for it to make sense. It was about a year into our development before we built our simple e-commerce site. It was just enough to get the job done: image pages with paypal buttons and a shopping cart. Then, about a year later, we upgraded to a full-fledged searchable online catalog - which was still a bit DIY. I remember plugging all those product codes in by hand and thinking how fancy we'd gotten. While the branding wasn't fantastic, that site served us for four years. Sure I got bored with it, but it worked. People were buying the product. It was doing its job!You can build an effective, basic website that sells your stuff. Good copy, pictures and a clear marketing strategy to get people to the site are all you really need. I still like the simplicity of a Paypal button on my WordPress site. You can also use a third party provider like eBay, Teachable, Redbubble, CDBaby, or Shopify if DIY isn't your jam. As long as you can reach enough of your right people to make it profitable and sustainable, you don't need anything more until your revenue and your messaging indicates a need to grow.Remember, the sole focus of Early Struggle is to find a profitable, sustainable market for your offer. Anything else - including investing in a fancy website - is a distraction. In fact, my pal RKA has a great post about 3 things you should seriously consider investing in BEFORE you plunk down big bucks on a website. All three of them move the needle on helping you reach (and sell to) more of your right customers.
- Do you have brand clarity? The early years of your business need to focus on creating resonance and revenue. As your income goes up and your audience grows, your message will organically develop. This informs your branding. You may love neon green, for example, but if you create a neon green website and offer serene, ocean side retreats, you'll probably have a branding disconnect on your hands. Brand clarity resolves that issue.I've been using WordPress for close to a decade and I only invested in a fully custom-built theme with my last iteration. And I didn't have brand clarity. I don't regret the investment, because it helped me get brand clarity, but I highly suggest you go for clarity first, and make it offer focused. The new site that I'm working on with my brilliant new designer and brand guardian, Tracy is a timely update based on the direction my company's been heading for the last 2 years! Creative Freedom is about to roll into season 4, so this is a tested message. My book's being released this fall, so it's a proven message. And people are enrolled in my programs and offerings. I have coaching clients, I have incubator clients. Creative Freedom is a message that resonates. It makes financial sense to invest in elevating the message to my audience through my branding. The colors, fonts, textures, and images all started coming together earlier this year - when I had my photo shoot. I made that investment first, and only after working on the copy, the content, the visuals did Tracy and I come together with brand clarity that would move the entire business forward as we get ready to launch all the goodies coming out in the next year.
- Do you have a designer who leads or follows? This is where I have to dish out some tough love. Sometimes you want something and it sounds good in theory, but in practice, it's nuts. My very first company - way back before video was a thing on the interwebs - sold reproductions of ancient artifacts, and exotic art. I thought it would be cool to create animated gifs of each object so you could get a 360-degree rotational view of each piece. I wanted it to feel like you were in the room with the piece. Great in theory, but each image took hours to cobble together using the technology of the time. What's worse, the images took forever to load, so people were dropping off the website before they were buying!Okay, you may say, but that was the 1990's and bandwidth and technology have improved since then. Yes, and it's only made matters worse. I have a client with a beautiful WordPress website that she can't update - and her VA has fits every time she needs to update or create a page because it's not drag and drop simple. She told a designer what she wanted and they complied - for a huge fee, of course. The result is a site that looks good but takes 3-5 times longer than it should - if you can figure out how to make a change in the first place! She's got dozens of plug-ins - some of which do the same thing, and others that conflict with one another, so it's hard to know what to keep and what to remove for fear of breaking the site. And the "instruction manual" her designer included with her fancy new site doesn't help. Now, she's stuck with a Stepford Website that gives even web design pros a headache. No one wants to touch this site with a ten-foot pole, and I cringe every time she says "could we change just one more thing?" She thinks it should be an easy fix, and it should be, but her site is such a mess that it isn't!Because she's a Chaotic creative, she doesn't know "how" things work, she just knows what she wants. Unscrupulous and eager-beaver designers love these kinds of clients because as long as they meet the deliverable demands, they can charge you through the nose for every tweak, fix, modification and customization, whether it makes financial sense or not. After all, it's what the client wants, and the client is always right, right?WRONG.Look, when it comes to webdesign, you don't know what you don't know. It's your designer's job to not just design, but also educate you on what works. Rather than just taking your money, a designer worth their salt will lead you through an interview process to determine the goals of your website and tell you point blank if what you're trying to accomplish is more about vanity than functionality. They'll show you the best use of your design budget, and tell you there are better ways to piss your money away than a jillion plug-ins that won't work by this time next year.
That's it, in a nutshell. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Did I miss something that you'd include in your check-list before you buy a new website? Share it in the comments. let's be a rising tide for everyone. Also, you can catch the live discussion about this dicey topic on my facebook page or catch the replay here.