Before you ask the designer to design, have your content ready.

Once upon a time, decades ago, a marine product importer and distributor took a chance and hired me to help them int he marketing department to assist with ads, public relations, tradeshows, build mailings, and dealer events. I’m a marketer first, designer second and developer third. Somewhere between first and second is the place for strategic and compelling content development, and social media setup/plan of attack.

Let’s only talk about the design/development process. There is a process to creating a successful website. The paths can vary a bit, but a truly successful site – especially one from scratch – has to start with the CONTENT, NOT the DESIGN. How can a designer possibly know what to focus on without the content that will fill the structure? This doesn’t mean that you have to write it all yourself, but you should at the very least provide an outline that can be developed into your initial site content. Professional copywriters and editors can help you look better, convey your passion and expertise.  This service is outside the budget for site design and development. Content is copy writing, research, reviews, interviews. This is a big, important thing to learn. I’ll say it again:

YOUR WEBSITE CONTENT is not part of the WEB DESIGN and WEB DEVELOPMENT budget. They are separate line items.

Content – depending how much you need – can FAR exceed the cost of your site design and build. It should. It is the MOST important part of your website. It is what builds your credibility, positions you as the expert and makes people want to contact you.It can also be used in your printed materials, for advertising – if you invest properly, you will have great content to use in many venues.

A site is designed to demonstrate that you and your company are THE EXPERTS in whatever you do. You are PASSIONATE, you are CREDIBLE, you are KNOWLEDGEABLE beyond compare to your competition. Leave them in the dust with your combination of these three factors. 

Once you have your content, THEN you can have discussions with your designer about turning that content into a complete picture of what you want your online message to be. They may suggest changes, additions, but they still need YOUR content to start the design process. Recently I wavered from this mantra for a client and it bit me in the fanny. The client was unhappy because they didn’t know that I wouldn’t just magically have it all done for them when the design was done. I asked for content and they kept delaying and I kept working on the design – bad idea. Back to what I know:

  1. Have SOME idea of what you want your site to do. 
  2. Have SOME idea of how much time you can invest in updates, new content and reviewing your site regularly.
  3. KNOW what your competitor is doing.
  4. Know WHAT SETS YOU APART from your competitor – what do you do BETTER than anyone?
  5. Make an outline of the content you want on the site.
  6. Share that outline with your designer (assuming you have already selected one).
  7. Ask for feedback from them as an outside person – sometimes we get too immersed in our own fields and forget to think like a potential searcher/client.
  8. Share some sites you like and don’t like with your designer. This helps them understand you and your company better and allows you both to have a conversation without fewer misunderstandings. Yellow may mean lemon to you but it means taxi to them. 
  9. Both sides need to define expectations and tasks and set a timeline.
  10. Take responsibility for your tasks, reviews, and approval. No one knows your business like you do.

This post was inspired by MaAnna Stephenson‘s article that was a bit more….blunt; yet spoke what is in my head quite frequently. I’m sure my fellow designers feel the same way. Be strong all, and set those boundaries. 🙂

Here is an excerpt from her article. Thank you, MaAnna.

All site designers belong to a secret club. We talk about our headache site owners. Some of you reading this today are those clients. We don’t call out names in our club, but we do dish the dirt. We have to, otherwise we would run screaming down the street, pulling our hair out. Why? Because you make us crazy. We have a club because misery loves company and we feel better knowing we’re not the only ones with clients that drive us nuts. 

I’m going to spill the beans and tell you what your designer won’t so you can avoid being that client we talk about.

1. You have no idea what you’re doing.

You contact a designer to create a theme for you. You’ve never run a successful site. You have no idea why sites are structured the way they are. You have a vague idea for a logo and nothing else. You haven’t even looked at any of your competition to see what kind of designs work best for them and even if you did, you didn’t know why it was working.

In other words, you have no idea what you want or need, and yet you feel completely qualified to tell an experienced designer how this is going to go.

2. You don’t listen.

First, you hire a pro and then you don’t follow any of their advice. Why? This is the one that designers hate most. It’s what drives them bat shit. That’s when you prove that you’re in the #1 crowd above. Let’s put it this way. You want to design and build your own house. You hire a general contractor. When he/she starts telling you about loads and codes, you don’t want to hear it. Not only do you not know what you’re doing, you won’t listen to why your choices are going to lead to a miserable failure because nothing is going to function properly. Obviously you didn’t really want an experienced, professional designer. You wanted someone who would just do what you said and take your money and not care about your success.

3. You have no content.

This is the top stumbling block to site creation and completion. You’ve spent hours and days, even weeks, pouring over themes to the point that you’ve passed dazzled and gone straight to dazed. But you have not spent a minute writing any content. None. Ultimately, content is what drives your success. 

I’ve seen six-figure marketers have some of the crappiest sites on the web. I’ve also seen $7000 sites that didn’t bring in a dime. Respectable designers, especially those who understand the importance of marketing, have a clause in their contract that states you will deliver your completed content before any work begins on the theme.

4. You don’t know where to place what and why.

That’s because you don’t know what your conversion goals are and how online marketing works. Even if you do, you don’t know why one theme will out-perform another to accomplish that goal. And, you think your designer will help you with that. Nope. Most designers are not great marketers themselves. Developers are even worse at it.

A designer is going to count on you to tell them what goes “above the fold” to accomplish the goal you’ve chosen.

5. You don’t know the difference in structure and style.

That means that you don’t know what’s cheap to change and what’s expensive.

Websites are like houses. They have an underlying structure. Painting a house and changing up the façade is cheap. Same with a site. Changing the colors and fonts is a fairly easy and inexpensive thing to do. But, picking up rooms and moving them around involves structural changes. And that’s expensive. Your content is like your furniture. You choose it first, then find the site, or house, that fits it. Most folks shopping for a theme choose on pretty alone, not knowing that it’s easily changed. Instead, they rule out a theme that would work perfectly for them with a few minor tweaks.

Making a bunch of structural changes really drives up the design costs in a hurry. Of course, you think it only fair for your designer to absorb that cost and stick to the original quote. It also severely impacts completion dates. But then, you expect your designer to just keep working day and night and stay on schedule, right?

Read her full article here >