The Essential Questions to Ask
About Small Business Websites
There’s a lot to take in, isn’t there? You’re doing all this investigation into the world of websites, trying to extract what makes sense for your business — in your unique context. And the subject is… a lot to take in.
I humbly offer myself as your guide.
Settle in, look over the map, and tell me where you would like to go first…
Map of Content:
- The Beginning
- Does a small business need a website?
- What features matter most for my website?
- Which features should a website include first?
- Should I build my website myself, or go DIY?
- How do I find a good web designer?
- What questions should you ask?
- How do I get the most value from my website?
- The Conclusion
Cause we don’t skip intros in this house!
We’ve been waiting for you.
We built this whole place for you.
I’ll first give you an overview of where we’re going. Then, I’ll give you some ground-level data, in the form of several studies, to set the stage for our discussion.
What it takes to build a successful website is a nuanced topic, and there aren’t many comprehensive guides out there trying to make it clearer for you. We’ve checked.
Our research showed endless gurus talking about design trends, style, CTAs, and so on… with each completely neglecting the core business principles making a site valuable in the first place.
In this piece, we will reveal those principles while simultaneously reviewing 7 critical questions to ask as you’re moving through your website project. Through those critical questions, we are going to talk about:
- The real value of a website.
- The qualities a successful site requires.
- How to know which features to add, in what order.
- The truth about DIY versus professional design.
- How to find a professional you can trust.
- The essential questions to ask before hiring them.
- How to ensure it isn’t a waste of time and money.
You’ll find a semi-hidden conceptual thread running throughout what we’re saying here. It can fundamentally shift how you view web assets. Be on the lookout for it.
As a human in the world today, you have access to incredible amounts of information — meaning you’re also one Google search away from floating in an infinite sea of (suspiciously similar) keyword-targeted, seo-optimized listicles. They say a lot without saying much.
Maybe you know what I’m talking about already…
Sturgeon’s Law says: 90% of everything, is crap.
Seems true enough, doesn’t it?
And if it is true, the inverse is true as well.
10% is objectively not crap — and may even hold priceless discoveries.
The coveted secrets.
If we were over-the-top marketers, we might spin what we are about to say, like this…
The big companies don’t want you to know… a website won’t help your business generate more profit without the secret engine powering 91% of the most successful online businesses. BEWARE! If you read on you will learn this incredible secret, and you will want to throw out your current website strategy immediately.
We aren’t like that, but, you do need to know what the overwhelming majority of the internet isn’t telling you.
Grab a beverage. Take your time with this. Leave it open for a while and come back as you need to. There’s a lot of nuance in the conversation. It will take us some time to unravel. Right now, I’m going to ease us gently (with a big bold headline) into the conceptual river.
The thing you haven't been told...
As a resource for customers, and an asset for the small business owner, a website is virtually unmatched in the value it can bring to any business. BUT…
Your site is not magic.
You can’t wave a wand — abracadabra a website into existence — and have it generate customers out of nowhere. There’s a lot more going on in the story.
What many agencies and design firms aren’t telling people is: a business needs more than a website if it is going to thrive. We could say the same for social media. Which many might say seems like it would be obvious… but evidence suggests it may not be so clear.
Aspiring entrepreneurs are led to believe that paying customers will fall into their lap if they would just build a great web presence on a custom domain name.
It isn’t true.
The commercial you saw was a lie.
In our research, we’ve observed that entrepreneurs from all categories tend to misunderstand how a website should be used (once built) to grow their business.
In an overwhelming number of cases, a startup will focus on the details of finding a web developer, overlooking the simple power of a simple, focused, functional site.
They don’t see the interlocking nature of the asset within the rest of the business. How could they? There aren’t many trustworthy voices talking about it.
We don’t blame other firms for ignoring it, this is a tough topic to tackle in universally engaging ways. This article is our current best shot. You’ll tell us if we missed the mark.
Data for Days
Knowing these two facts is enough to expect most businesses to have an online presence of some kind to stand a chance of appearing in search results. Yet, that expectation, is not the reality.
Note: A small fraction of businesses don’t have a website at all. We will talk about them soon.
Others (maybe you) have a site, but they don’t see the point because the site isn’t performing as they’d hoped. So they neglect it, and sooner or later it leads to them being taken less seriously than their competitors.
(We call this optics, and we will talk about it later too…)
At the core of both perspectives is a fundamental misunderstanding about how websites fit into the larger systems of a healthy business.
Even is you already know this — even if you’re sitting in your chair, rolling your eyes at me, waiting for me to get to the point — I have to say it… a well-designed, focused website is an essential asset for any small business. Yet, the process of building one and making it an effective website (one which generates leads, or sales) can be overwhelming. This is especially for entrepreneurs who are new, and inexperienced at the craft of good design for the web.
No matter which camp you find yourself in — either no website, ugly website, or poorly performing website — Wabbits love to help our tribe so, we’ve written this guide to help you determine which critical elements you’ll need to consider when building, or rebuilding, your business’s website.
First, the data suggests that people are still asking “why I need a website,” so let’s answer that fundamental, foundational question.
(If you already know you need one, skim and I’ll meet you on the other side…)
Does a small businesses need a website?
There’s a big difference between a personal website, and a small business website — and there’s a lot more to the process than buying a professional domain name, using a website builder, and calling it a day.
To kick us off, I’ll answer the big question with some questions of my own…
What do you want prospective customers to think (and feel) about you?
Grab a pen and write out your answer.
In Wabbit’s field of expertise, the term we use is: optics. Meaning, what a given situation looks like through various lenses and perspectives.
- How are we perceived by those we aim to please with our products or services?
- What does the outside world think about when it comes to our company?
These are the views we want to take before we do anything else. And they are the first part of my answer to your question: Your small business needs a website because of the optics.
Let’s talk more about that…
1: Websites, the new business card.
I don’t know about you but, when I meet an entrepreneur, I inevitably ask these questions:
- Do you have a card?
- Do you have a website?
Call me judgmental but, if the answer to either of these questions is a “no,” I automatically assume they are just getting started or, aren’t serious or successful.
Similarly, if an entrepreneur calls themselves a CEO, and they have less than 5 employees — and a less than professional email address…
Many people will struggle to take them seriously.
Sure, it could be a true unicorn situation where the tiny team had a blockbuster success. They just haven’t had the time do make either of these two things because they’re too busy trying to find parking spots for the dump-trucks full of money.
If that’s you. Rest easy. You’re doing fine.
If you’re already making literal millions of whatever currency you use, and you don’t have business cards, consider this our official letter of congratulations. You can stop reading right now.
Everyone else, proceed.
2: A website makes you appear more professional to customers.
While writing this article, our research team discovered some pretty shocking data.
First, some context:
- There’s a firm called TDF. They specialize in connecting business owners with the best design firms in the world.
- The Small Business Administration (SBA) in the United States defines a small business as one having limited revenue, and between 1 and 500 employees.
- In late-2020, TDF surveyed 500 small business owners (and managers) in the United States.
The results of that survey suggested that 72% of all businesses have an online presence in the form of a website. This is up from 2018, which suggested only 50%.
Think about this for a second…
That’s a significant increase.
Also, doesn’t that number (72%) feel both surprisingly high, and surprisingly low?
Here’s what I mean:
In a given market (perhaps your market) this suggests nearly 3/4 of the competition has a website — which suggests that a website is necessary just to be able to compete in the marketplace. If we assume these owners are serious about their businesses, 72% is a surprisingly low number of companies who are seriously trying to compete in the market.
It also means that 28% is a surprisingly high number, if we assume these owners are serious about their business’s stability or growth.
If we are talking about that kind of competition in the marketplace (we are), then even a basic website with nothing more than contact information on it is better than nothing. Having a domain name to send people to is significantly better than the consequences of lacking one. Because the business owner needs to be taken seriously or, they won’t be a business owner for long.
3: Your business needs more than social media platforms to succeed.
It is easy to convince ourselves that a respectable following on a social media platform is enough of an online presence. There are some tempting elements of that line of thinking too: You don’t have to pay for it, and it seems to be everywhere. Yet, the data paints a different picture — and among the many reasons this kind of presence isn’t enough, 2 stand out:
First, the customer expects more from you.
According to this Verisign study from 2015, 84% of customers today are more inclined to trust a business with a website than one with only social accounts.
92% of customers surveyed said they prefer to get information from a business’ website rather than their social media page.
In my opinion, that data alone is enough to sway just about anyone paying attention. No matter how good you are at social networking, it isn’t enough of a presence.
This data suggests an effective website is critical, simply because your customers not only prefer it, they expect it.
You and I exist in the modern world — we are people, and we are customers. Because of this, we can trust our intuition and make some pretty accurate guesses about why we might overwhelmingly report to prefer visiting a website instead of a Facebook page, or other social profile, when we want information. Remember that, we’ll come back to the preference later…
The second point that stands out is: your social media platform can be taken from you at any moment, without warning, and there may be nothing you can do about it.
After all it isn’t really yours. You don’t own it. The platform owns it (even the sensitive information you put on it) and they can delete you with or without cause.
When you take your business online with a website, rather than a social network, You own that website. It is an asset that generally (ie. unless you break the law) cannot be taken from you.
Don’t miss how significant that is.
Websites improve the optics of your company, and you own the asset outright. They improve how your customers perceive you, and the asset can’t be taken from you. Let’s call where we are right now, the middle of my answer to your larger question.
I know I keep saying the word asset, so let’s make that an official headline and continue our conversation. I’ll state it plainly for us…
4: A website is your most important, most valuable digital asset.
Consider it for a moment and you’ll realize… even massive companies would be crippled without the extensive value a quality website provides.
Web pages are the foundations of presence on the internet. The HTML document is a critical element of the internet’s infrastructure. They are one of two pillars which make the entire internet possible.
The asset you have in your website is your plot of land in an infinitely vast digital world. This plot of land is a kingdom, and you are its lord.
The dictionary tell us that an asset is a useful or valuable thing (or person, or quality).
We could argue that this online presence, for many entrepreneurs, is the single most valuable asset which they will ever possess. This is because of how perfect websites can be at their jobs. We’ll get to that in a moment. For now, know this…
When built correctly, websites are lead-generating, free-time creating monsters — whose potential can be harnessed to build whatever kind of relationship you want to have with your customers. Better still, you can give your best clients and customers the kind of relationship they crave having with you.
As an added bonus, having a website (on a domain you own) also allows you to use custom email addresses — email being the second sacred pillar of the internet — which will give you even more credibility when they ask for your contact information, or see that custom email address on your newly-minted business card.
This digital asset we are discussing is a haven where potential customers can get everything they need in just a few clicks. They can ask questions about the business, learn more information about it, contact you if needed, or make a purchase. Making a website the most convenient place for interacting with your company.
Suddenly, you are never more than one google search away from your current and potential customers.
From that same perspective of convenience, there’s the administrative benefit to you.
It deserves special recognition due to the potential for you to set up best practices, and automate the tasks that eat up the majority of your time. I’m not going to bother to measure the potential value of this because it is so incredibly high.
- It can be a content management system.
- It can be a customer relationship management system.
- It can power your entire marketing strategy.
- It can process and ship orders.
- It can book appointments for any consulting business.
- It can integrate with your existing calendar.
- It can help you attract, and pre-qualify your prospects allowing you to spend less time answering the same questions over and over again.
- It can run all day, every day, and it never needs sleep, which means it can out-perform the sales of you and any team you can think of, as long as it is built well.
- etc. etc. the list goes on…
Every bullet point up there should read as:
“Exponential potential ability to improve your personal quality of life as an entrepreneur.”
Now let’s get saintly and philosophical for a second…
Giving this haven to your customers is an act of kindness. Sure, you’re selling something (we can be honest about that, it’s just you and me) but, you’re also metaphorically opening your doors, holding our your hand in welcome, and saying to your audience:
“I made this all for you, because I care about you, and I can ease your burden.”
That compassionate mindset should not be overlooked. In a way, the website is like the entryway in your home, or the lobby of your office. It is the first thing a guest sees when they walk in your door.
So, if I’m your prospect and I’m headed over to meet with you — at least tidy up and put your unmentionables away. It shows you care about the relationship between us. Don’t invite me in, and then ask me to sit on old pizza, I guarantee I won’t be comfortable.
If you build a website for your small business (one which can connect with your customers on a personal level) you will inevitably build relationships that will encourage people to return to you in the future. Ideally, every experience will feel helpful, and comfortable, which makes it easier for them to want to come back.
A customer might think of it like this:
“If you don’t care enough about your business to have a nice website, how can I expect you to care enough about me to take care of my needs?”
Do you see the cause of their concern?
When you have a website, it shows your potential clients and customers a couple of critical things:
- That you have invested in your company and, you are a legitimate, serious business.
- That you care enough about them to take advantage of current technology — to at least make their lives a little more convenient — since they are doing you the favor of trying to buy something from you.
Which brings us to the money portion of the matter. Websites can be extremely expensive. We recognize that. We also believe that many businesses don’t need half of what they assume they want. More on that later…
When built with the right mindset, you might be surprised at the level of value one can squeeze from a tight budget, without being “cheap” about it.
5: Even a modest website can be intimidatingly effective at bringing new leads and customers to you.
I mentioned this point a little earlier and, I want to come back to it now. It would be foolish to overlook or dismiss how incredibly helpful this digital asset can be. Websites are not bound by hours of operation. Meaning, they are capable of doing their jobs non-stop.
We are talking about building an immensely productive machine — your website — and it can function perpetually.
You, human, cannot.
Your website will continue running — while cackling digitally while it laps you again, and again, and again… until the day the internet disappears.
And even then, it might come back.
A custom website, built on sound principles can be one of the most valuable members of your talented team. Among many reasons for this is, in part, because it can act as a virtual storefront, or concierge, open 24/7, for anyone who needs it.
Your online store. Available any day, any time.
If they need something from you (that isn’t immediately speaking to you, personally) the website has them covered and will even help make any necessary contact.
A good site allows customers to learn more about the company (and its products or services) whenever they choose. It can serve them. It can educate them.
It provides an avenue for them to get what they need from your business, when they need it, no matter what.
By approaching a website with the mindset of making it a resource for the customer, we are much more likely to stand out from the competition. The potential administrative benefits only add more value.
Which brings me to my final point…
6: Websites are an essential component of modern marketing systems.
A professional, high-quality site (even a simple website) allows you to build better relationships with your current customers, and simultaneously helps you reach a wider audience. But, they aren’t going to do any of that if we don’t understand we still have to find traffic.
If we think of the internet as a giant digital planet, and imagine a business as a plot of land on that planet. We could easily imagine an example like this:
Our business is a rustic storefront on a pleasant street in the middle of town. Generally, a steady stream of people pass by the window. Not many people stop to step inside as we would like, but we do get a few.
We might wonder how can we increase the number of people coming in our rustic little storefront?
My high-altitude, nuance-free answer is that we likely have two, very general options for our approach:
- Increase the volume of traffic passing by.
- Increase the percentage of people choosing to enter.
These two approaches are like twin pillars of marketing. And even with how fundamental they are — regardless of which tactic we try — we still have one element in the analogy which we completely take for granted…
We have a storefront for them to pass by.
What point is there in discussing how to get more customers to come in our door if we have no building?
I know, it probably isn’t a perfect analogy… yet.
We don’t need to talk about the numbers because a focused site can help enable your marketing efforts to generate whatever number of qualified leads you want.
Sure, it will take time to achieve any goal, and the road will be complex — but, it will also be possible. Don’t ignore my use of that word here. The distinction between possible and impossible is important.
What do I mean? Check this out…
If I want to directly reach 1,000 people in the modern world, I can approach it in a few ways:
- I can text them
- I can call them
- I can email them
- I can send them physical mail
- I can visit them
Let’s go through the list. Right from the start, we can forget about visiting them. Not only would it be creepy to show up at their house unannounced, it would take a lot of time to meet with 1,000 people individually.
And it would be creepy.
So, from the top, we could spend the time sending individual texts or, we could mass-text them. Mass messaging rates might cost less than $200 in this case.
Still, affordability isn’t the critical thing to consider here. Believe it or not, this will be true for most of our possible tactics. We’ve started looking at solutions, without asking the important question:
What am I trying to accomplish by reaching them?
Answering becomes easier if we first define the goal. Am I texting them because I want them to set up an appointment? To buy something?
It is normal to answer, and move on. But we can’t stop with that question. We have to follow the trail…
Let’s say I’ve convinced them to take an action with my text message. How are they going to do that thing?
Do they keep texting me, or do I send them somewhere else to complete the deal?
(Note: I’m strongly implying that the customer would expect to be sent to a website)
If fifty people out of that thousand respond to my text, how am I going to manage that administrative volume?
Do you see where I’m taking us?
If you really wanted to juggle and process 50 text conversations — I’m sure you’re capable of it… I’m just saying that I don’t think it would be your favorite day.
And it won’t be the last time I refer to that bottleneck…
So text messages are an option, but they might not be the best of our options.
Calling 1,000 people is also an option. A lot of small businesses still default to this method for their interactions with customers. There’s nothing wrong with it — I mean, cold-calling isn’t the most fun but, it can still work if you’re good at it — and yet, there are two problems with calling directly…
- It is time-consuming.
- The rise of SPAM phone calls has made people hesitant to answer the phone.
Yes, we could call, and (like texting) it may not be the best option. As before, it doesn’t scale well — and again, people are hesitant to answer unfamiliar calls.
Then there’s email, which is actually a great option — and is another asset we strongly encourage developing.
We have other content here which talks about why email is really compelling for marketing, but (in the context of our current conversation) the efficiency of it still breaks down at scale. It breaks down at scale even when we consider all the incredible automations we can do with it.
Because of potential quantities of information.
Because of the average cost of processing — in time, or money — large quantities of information.
If a customer has questions and their only option is to ask you, via email. You might end up having to write some pretty lengthy emails. What happens when you’re having to do this for 50 people? 100? 1,000? Per day?
The answer is, after a certain level, personal communication doesn’t scale well.
In personal correspondence, like we saw with texts and calls, we are practically guaranteed to hit a threshold where we can no longer keep up. Responding to everyone will begin to feel impossible at some point.
Even a terrible site has marketing features which can handle a greater number of interactions than a single human ever could, and it can do so with laughable ease.
And it can serve everyone that comes to it, simultaneously. This translates into a practically immeasurable value in efficiency and time saved.
When done well, a website makes responding with high-quality content, and doing so at scale, possible. It gives us a consistent place to send our audience, with relevant, useful content, regardless of how we reach them.
Finally, because I can’t leave it out, there’s direct mail.
I’m not going to get into the details because the only one that matters here is cost. If you’re a small business sending 1,000 pieces of direct mail, it could easily cost $5,000 or more. After you consider printing costs and postage it’s just expensive.
It isn’t that direct mail won’t work, because it does work. The point in our context is, you’ll still run into issues when trying to scale any correspondence. For example: what happens when 100 prospects need answers from you at the same time?
A website allows you to build solutions to this problem.
Just look at the size of this article!
And yet, this content you’re reading right now is designed to answer some big, common questions that we would otherwise have to answer via email, or meetings, or some other venue.
And it serves anyone, any time, any where.
Rather than rewrite this stuff every time we’re asked, we make something permanent (which we can edit or add to any time) and put it online in a place you can easily find it. This piece — the one you’re reading right now — educates our audience, and filters our prospects all at the same time. Plus, when people have questions now, they are much more interesting, more nuanced questions.
It is a better experience for all involved.
Alright, let’s close out this topic, there’s a lot more to talk about. We’ve covered a lot of ground. You’ve taken in a lot of information. Let’s summarize it and keep going.
Your small business needs a website because:
- Having a website improves customer’s perceptions.
- It can handle interactions with more people than one person could ever do alone, making it an incredibly efficient administrative assistant.
- It is a resource which saves the small business owner time — since they’ve built a resource to answer common questions, they no longer lose their day in email and phone calls.
- They are an indispensable cornerstone in any modern digital marketing strategy.
- It can become a revenue-generating, lead-creating monster. An elite sales rep, working 24/7.
- Customers today expect you to have one.
So basically, I’ll conclude this section by saying…
If you don’t have a website yet, I want to hear why in the comments section. What are you waiting for?
While they go comment, the rest of us can talk about the critical components of a good site…
What features matter most for my website?
Nobody expects how deadly that headline question is. If we aren’t careful, it will derail our train before we can begin to leave the station.
Should I add this widget, or that widget?
We already know we need a website, now we have to decide what goes on it. But there’s a big trap lurking in the heart of what we mean by “website essentials.”
Something strange happens with entrepreneurs, especially startups, where the core idea of the website can quickly distort, and grow into a scope that isn’t practical, or wise. As we say in our philosophies on discovery and validation, scope creep is deadly.
It is too easy to build something that people don’t want. It’s too easy to convince yourself (without asking) that they want it. You’ll spend so much money making fancy video backgrounds or some other advanced function, and you’ll have sabotaged yourself from the start without even realizing it. Everyone is at risk. Nobody is exempt.
It is too easy to come up with cool features and fancy dressing — completely overlooking the goal of web design services in the first place. The fundamental question driving our chat about websites right now isn’t any one set of features over another, it is about the goal…
What’s the Goal?
I’m capitalizing Goal on purpose because I mean the big driver motivating what your small business does.
For us, Wabbit’s goal is to create happy customers. That’s the whole business plan. It doesn’t matter if we are doing logo design, or helping a new online school open from the ground up. The goal is always the same:
We want to create happy customers.
That big, beautiful goal is the engine driving what this website has become. We are an agency who listened closely to what our people needed from us, and pivoted to meet you. We added education, like what you’re reading right now, because we saw the problem clear as day when we looked at it through the lens of our tribe.
Design costs were never going to be the real root of the deeper issue. We suspected as much but, we needed the data to confirm it. As we engaged our audience, we eventually discovered the deeper fundamental pain.
A significant number of entrepreneurs have no idea what to do with a website once they’ve built it. Website creation is not the real pain point. The real problem is, the entrepreneurs don’t understand the asset, and how it fits into a given business model.
Which means there is virtually no chance of their website reaching its full potential within the overall engine of their business system.
We are going to talk about properly taking advantage of your website soon, but first, there are some universal elements we can get out of the way.
They are the first things we would think of as critical features, so let’s talk about them real quick. That way you know some talking points if you contact a developer.
At minimum, you need a page with contact information. We’ll start there…
1: Websites need a contact element
If prospective customers can’t find and contact us, and current customers can’t get in touch with us either, we won’t have customers for very long. We honestly believe it is as straight-forward as that.
If you read through the “why do I need a website” section, you’ll recall the points about optics. When Wabbits advise startups who are validating their first offer, we often recommend getting a basic contact page up, with a contact form on it, as fast as possible.
Note: Sometimes it is a single page with a coming soon graphic and an opt-in to subscribe for notifications of when the site launches.
We recommend this solely due to the bias and negative perception in society when you are a small business without a website. Entrepreneurs must get something up quickly, even if it is basic, just to improve their optics.
This is not (should not be) a permanent solution.
A WordPress website, as well as sites built on other platforms, can easily evolve. Making new pages is a generally simple process. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Don’t fear making a “mistake.”
Anything you do can be easily undone.
Embrace it as a living asset and be comforted by the fact that we can revise and evolve it at a moments notice.
I would bet there’s a typo on this page, right now, and we have no idea. We’ve scoured this page for cohesiveness and errors countless times by now, and it’s still there…
And it feels a bit unnerving, but Eventually someone will point it out, and you know what? We’ll fix it, and then it won’t be there any more.
We are constantly refining the ideas on this site. Those in our community longest have witnessed our evolution first-hand. In fact, we would say they are the driving force behind it. Wabbit is living proof that the effort doesn’t have to be perfect to be successful — only nimble.
We can always iterate into a new approach.
Our maxim for start-ups is: Done is Better than Perfect.
If you’re just starting out, and you have zero-to-few customers, check your perfectionism and focus on getting something up fast. There is a fine line to walk between good enough, and too much. People will take you more seriously, even if it’s ugly. Take your best shot and get the thing made. You can change it later.
Prioritize claiming that digital presence.
The cool stuff happens after.
In the very beginning, remember, your website needs to prioritize the customer’s ability to contact you. The contact form (or page, or element) is non-negotiable.
For established businesses, it can be easy to take this element for granted. Make sure you don’t overlook your humble contact page. It can become engaging too.
2: Websites need simple navigation
Simple navigation might be one of the most overlooked golden rules in digital design work. People get too focused on making the project look cool, while ignoring the fact that everyone visiting your site will want to be able to find what they need — or explore — without getting lost. Making that possible is a combination of good content structure, and good design.
It is important to make your user interface simple, and straight-forward. The customer needs this from you.
As a general rule, people are used to the contact page being at the end of the navigation list, respect that and put it where they expect. Whatever link takes them back to the main page needs to go at the beginning of the list. Do that and you’ll be good your first few pages.
At first, when you only have a few web pages, the structure of it all won’t matter much. Yet, it will change as the site grows in scope — turning into chaos, if we aren’t constantly mindful of the user experience.
As general advice, if you need more structure, start nesting items within other items — but don’t go crazy. You want to keep everything accessible to the user within just a few clicks.
As it grows, the structure can get messy. The way you organize may make sense to you, but it needs to make sense to your customers too. You’re going to be in your system every day, so elements will make sense to you due to familiarity. But your prospects are seeing it for the first time. They won’t have the same familiarity.
Strong visual design — the skill of it — is not about making things pretty. It is that too, but it is also more. Good visual design helps us interpret information. The point of this kind of design is attractive order.
As you do your research, you’ll hear the terms UX design, or UI design. Both are driven by that same desire to present information in a pleasing way. Ease of use.
A good designer can improve ease of use.
If you are going to do it yourself, and you aren’t building from something like a pre-built WordPress theme — the general principle of UI design, (especially in web design work) is to keep it simple and put things where people expect them to be. Keep the convenience of the target audience in the front of your mind and you’ll be fine.
On to the next feature…
3: Websites need to be easy to administrate.
So much of what we discuss here centers around increasing the efficiency of our business system. After all, it is really difficult to be efficient an environment where we feel we are fighting against our technology.
Making updates or changes shouldn’t be a chore.
Whether you have a team working with the site, or even if it’s just you, the area where you do your relevant administrative work needs to be well thought out, and also well designed. You will want access to the critical functions, like updating availability, pricing, content, or contact information.
If you have a team, you will want to make sure they can only access the elements required for their job.
4: Business websites need at least a basic landing page.
Landing pages have the name “landing” because they are the first pages people see when they land on your website. In the beginning, this might be the only kind of page you have. And if you’ve been paying attention so far, it will have a contact form on it.
A good landing page will help customers learn who you are and, what you can do for them, while making the case that you are a good fit for their need.
When a company is just starting out, this page is usually the called the home page. I use that term, home page, with hesitation though because too many people think of it like an index. A better term is Front Page.
Newspapers and magazines are the masters of the strong front page. If we imagine that landing on your website from a search engine is like walking by a row of magazines and looking at one. We have to ask ourselves about the experience of glancing at your magazine:
- Is it interesting enough that you want to pick it up and investigate?
- If you investigate, does it same something engaging and interesting to you?
- Interesting enough to keep you reading?
Design thinking is a old, borderline ancient topic — and I don’t mean that to suggest irrelevance. Humans have discussed the qualities of good design for a very long time, and it is worth learning about what we’ve discovered. We’ll talk more about that in a moment…
Magazines and newspapers are some of the original masters of getting people’s attention.
If a front page is a house, theirs have the lights on, the door is wide open, there’s a “everyone is welcome” sign in the yard, and the smell of delicious food is on the breeze.
We’re compelled to investigate.
That’s what a landing page does.
If I’m the host of the house, and I’ve opened my door to the world. When people stop by to investigate, I’m going to get them what they need as efficiently and engagingly as possible, as soon as they arrive on my doorstep.
If our website is a hotel, the front page is like the lobby. It matters that you have one, that it looks nice, and that it says something relevant to the people visiting it. As your marketing system grow in complexity, you will have loads of various landing pages. Each will catch a different kind of person, from a different kind of source. Each may serve entirely different purposes.
In the beginning, you may only have one.
5: The more visually appealing a site, the better the perception.
We’ve talked about optics a few times now, and it is relevant again here. First impressions matter. If your website looks professional and trustworthy, potential customers will be more likely to do business with you. Meaning, although we might not consider design to be a feature, it is one whose value shouldn’t be ignored.
In 2018, Adobe conducted a survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers. The results of that survey suggest that the average consumer has very little patience for poor experiences. Bad design contributes to a poor experience. If your website looks outdated or unprofessional, they may question your credibility and begin to look elsewhere.
There is a lot more going on in this topic than color scheme so, the importance of skilled graphic design shouldn’t be overlooked. The research shows there is a strong correlation between quality of design in a website, and people’s opinions the business as a result.
Design thinking is a vast topic, so that’s all I’m going to say about it for now. Send us a message if you want us to make content about it.
6: Built to be conversion focused
Selling may or may not be the appropriate term for your situation, so a better phrasing might be: a page focused on conversions.
If you have a product or service, your website needs a page dedicated to purchasing that product or service.
If your product or service requires some pre-sale consultation before a transaction can happen, it wouldn’t be called a sales page, you would call this a lead-generation page. Either will apply to what I’m going to say.
Note: The key distinction between the two is: at the end of a lead-generation page you don’t ask for a sale, you ask for a point of contact. On a sales page, you ask the customer to buy something.
Conversion-focused pages can be a simple, single product page on a shop, or they can be multi-page assets that don’t ask for action from the customer until the end of the experience. Where your website ends up on the spectrum of possibilities will be context-dependent, and utterly unique.
These concepts can create huge “sales-funnel” systems spanning several pages, and, they are also simple enough to fit on a single landing page.
Which brings us to the next major question…
Which features should a business website include first?
Mastering lean principles is critical beyond this point in the conversation because, this is where we see most entrepreneurs shoot themselves in the foot before the race starts.
We’ve talked about growth-driven design and the application of a flywheel before, because these two concepts together completely reframe the inefficient way website design is often approached. Understanding lean principles will help keep you focused, while ensuring you get a good return on your efforts.
Depending on where you are in your business journey, you may need more features. We understand that, and we are going to discuss how to choose what to implement in a moment. Before we do, I want to reiterate how important it is for cash-strapped startups to start at the bare-minimum when it comes to website features. We want to let the audience tell us what they want before we build it. We make something, listen for their feedback, iterate, and come back with a new feature — and we say: “now you can…”
What can they do now because of your site?
You don’t need huge interlocking systems, you need simple solutions which get the job done.
We’re talking about a high-level view right now, and there’s some nuance I’m skipping over for the sake of being brief. You just need to know, it’s easy to get carried away when you understand some concepts and begin to see what is really possible.
If I had to say it in one sentence: You need to stay as simple as is honestly possible.
Which brings us to the more ground-level view, and 4 maxims to direct your efforts…
Let the Data Guide You
The reason we start our students off with Discovery and Validation lessons is, the data generated by the exercises in those lessons is absolutely critical to the ability to make informed decisions. Because we can then make those decision based on deep observational research of a specific audience, not just hunches.
Features like blog posts and latest news sections can be added to the site when usuers express a srtong desire for them. There’s no need to add them in the early stages of a site.
If a web developer is good, they can give you the ability to see how your visitors are interacting with your site. And we’re talking everything down to recordings of how a user scrolled through a page and where their cursor was. Over time, you can begin to use insights like these to inform future changes.
But that might be too much for where you’re at in your journey. Right now, maybe it makes more sense to get something basic up so, when you go to your next networking event, you have something to send people to.
There is a process we can follow to help us along the way, all we have to remember is…
A Great Website
Is a Balancing Act.
The balancing act is giving both parties (the customer and the business owner) what they want. The customer want to solve whatever their pain point is, and the business owner wants to generate profit, or at least make a living. To balance these two goals well, we can imagine it as a dance happening in which we need to find a rhythm between three elements:
- A building phase — where we create something for an audience.
- A measuring phase — where we take in the results of our effort.
- A learning phase — where we process those results into something actionable, and then build an iteration based on what we learned.
Throughout this process, we need to prioritize the exchange of the audience’s currency, and your goods or services. That’s what commerce is. If we are merchants or service providers, commerce is what we are doing. It would be wise not to lose sight of that fact.
We look at the decisions facing you about your website, and we process them through a few distinct lenses:
- What does the customer want from this site?
- What does the entrepreneur want from it?
- Where is the overlap in these two perspectives?
Those three questions are our guiding star. When we are asking what is essential, the points of intersection we discover lead us to our most valuable features. But, we have to lean on audience research. We can rarely trust intuition blindly. We don’t want to rest on the word of the few friends we asked either.
We need feedback from the people we aim to engage with in our target audience.
A Great Website Iterates Toward Success
You’ll never start, day one, with your company grabbing the first listing on a search engine result page. We shouldn’t expect to hit the ground at full speed. Things need time to accelerate.
When the business owner begins to apply the concepts we are discussing, they will begin to experience a new kind of momentum — like an irresistible flow. This feeling is a result of the Flywheel effect of the three phases mentioned in the last section. Over time, after several iterations, the site will hit our target ranking.
The point isn’t to launch with something perfect. The point is to launch. Not careless. Just fast.
Balance that momentum with the impression you need to make. If you just built your new website yesterday, you’re a local business, and your audience is 10 people — you’re going to get a lot of grace. Don’t sweat too much about the visual design. Grab a website template and tweak it to your needs. As your audience grows you will want to raise the quality of your launches, but remember even massive companies have errors on their sites. It isn’t the end of the world.
If you find an error, fix it quickly and move on. But don’t let errors slow you down. Focus on getting something made. You can always revise. Keep your business goals in mind every step of the way.
The entrepreneur who understands lean principles can quickly and consistently find compelling ways to improve and grow. A great website should serve as a means to that end.
All Features Come From Audience Feedback
At Wabbit, everything we do is data-driven. We don’t like to waste valuable energy. So when we are looking for ways to improve, the first thing we do is ask our audience. We don’t always do this by contacting them directly. Sometimes, we learn from looking at our web traffic, open rates on marketing campaigns, other behavioral clues from seeing how people interact with our content, etc.
Yet, we are always asking.
If I owned a big building and I wanted to know what areas people enjoyed the most, I would look at where they spent the most time, if roaming freely during their visit. Maybe I begin to ask myself questions, like:
- What do they enjoy so much about that area?
- Why do they enjoy it over other areas?
- How can I improve other areas?
Eventually, if I did this process enough, I would likely end up with a building where people enjoy spending a lot of their time.
If, instead, I own a building and only make improvements as I dream them up, it is way more likely that I’ll end up with something that doesn’t resonate with the people in the building.
If a business owner wants to remain efficient with their website, and they want to get the most out of their budget, improvements must come from actual user feedback.
Now we have to consider who will build the website. You and your team, or a design professional. Let’s discuss…
Should I Build My Website Myself, Hire a Design Firm, or Find a Freelance Web Designer
For small business owners, website design is one of the most important investments one can make. It can also be incredibly confusing and difficult. It is important to be sure if you want to bear that burden yourself, hire a freelance designer, or hire a design agency. Plenty to consider, for sure. We will revisit the topic in depth in a moment…
First, let’s just say the quiet part, out loud. The truth is, you should probably hire a professional designer — but, we recognize that option isn’t always possible. If you must, build the thing yourself. You are almost certainly capable, but it may take some time.
Commit to reinvesting most of your profits into evolving the site by hiring a professional once you’ve gained some momentum. You’re going to end up paying for this site in either time, or money, so you need to determine what balance of those elements works best for you. It will likely be some blend of both.
The Real Cost of Building a Website
For many people, building a website is truly uncharted territory, and the feeling is often overwhelming. As you’ve probably learned in your research so far, a novice will have a lot of information to take in. If you’re trying to build a website yourself, especially if you have no experience in website design. It can be hard to know where to start or what direction to go in first.
You have to ask yourself which two assets (time or money) you can afford to spend more of for your website building efforts. Do you have time in your day to devote to chipping away at the mountain of knowledge you’ll need to learn? Are you too busy to build it yourself if you have to invest 20+ hours a week into the effort until you finish? If so, it may make more sense to outsource that work to a pro. Not only can they probably get it done faster, you get to free up that time.
If you’re moving at a casual pace and want to build something up slowly as you learn — you can do that too. Find what works for you.
Maybe you use a service like Toptal, or Fiverr to get something done quick. That’s ok!
No matter who builds it, the guiding principles behind good web design are the same:
- It must provide a way to contact you.
- It must be conversion focused.
- It must be easy to navigate and not get lost.
- It must be visually appealing (on mobile too).
- It must be constantly tailored to the needs of the audience.
- It must be easy to keep up to date.
- It must be fast.
If a small business owner has a website that meets those standards, they are in a great position to leverage it for their goals.
Let’s talk about item #7 a little bit more…
Speed, Speed, Speed!
We’ve talked about most of those points in some capacity already, but we haven’t discussed speed in the context I mean it here.
When we talk website speed we are either referring to the accessibility of information (ie. how many clicks it takes to get where we want to go), or we are talking about the time it takes to load any given page of the website.
Accessibility of information is that part I mentioned earlier (when we talked about navigation) related to structure of content. I said, structure needs to make sense to the user. As in, is there ease of use?
So there’s fast in that context — how quickly they can locate something?
And then there’s load times…
Recent research from Google paints a bleak picture for slow sites. According to a sample audience of 10,000 users, they discovered that 53% of visits are likely to be abandoned if pages take longer than 3 seconds to load
The real trouble with novice designers (which is you if you’ve never made a serious website before), is that they don’t know how to build a website for lightning fast load times. Just about everything else, they can do a passable job at.
You can build your design, set up your tracking data, make an email address, and all sorts of stuff, it’s only going to take you time. But, a novice designer will still lack the in-the-trenches experience that a professional web designer has. And load speed is something you get better at with experience. The same goes for ease of use. Experienced professionals know what to optimize, and how to do it best. We build with speed in mind from the very beginning.
A novice might be able to make it pretty, and give it all sorts of cool features, but the site will load like a glacier. A slow site will sabotage your efforts.
Some people, especially those who know you, will be a bit more patient with a slow site. But we don’t want them to have to be patient. When the world is moving fast, it can be rude to force someone to wait. They are doing us a favor when they visit. The relationship is a huge factor keeping them from leaving, and never coming back to, a slow website. We are in the digital age. The internet is a landscape of immediacy and we have to meet that standard.
Which do you choose?
If you can make a fast website, with attractive design… If you can write clear and relevant content… If you can ensure your content is compelling, conversion-generating content… Then there is no reason to pay someone to do it.
Unless time is more important to you than the potential cash expense.
If you know what you’re doing, you can produce a basic site in a few hours. If that’s you, then doing it yourself might just be an excellent choice. But… if you don’t know what you’re doing, well… be prepared for it to take longer than you expect.
If you’re using a website builder service like Shopify, Squarespace, or whatever other similar services pop up, you will get something up faster. A website builder is not a perfect solution, and you’ll still have to do a lot yourself, but they certainly have the potential to be a quick solution.
At Wabbit, we like to do our website development on WordPress, due to the benefits for our clients.
Regardless of the path you choose, remember the principles and concepts we’ve discussed. Let our growth-driven design philosophy be the guiding star for you, or your design team. No matter how you get a site built, neither you nor your creatives are allowed to forget that the site is part of a much larger business system. If you forget that fact, you are sabotaging yourself.
The do-it-yourself route is, naturally, very self-directed — so we won’t talk too much more about it. If you’re going to build your site, on your own, we will cheer you on the whole way. Remember the principles. Do the work. You have a lot to learn.
The rest of our conversation focuses on what to consider when having a expert build (or rebuild) your site…
How do I find a Good Web Designer?
We aren’t going to tell you to open a search engine and search for local web designers. You know that already. But there is way more to the process than that, and we want to set you up for success! If you’ve made the decision to hire someone to design a website for you, regardless of how you arrived at that decision, you have some new questions to consider…
- How much will it cost to hire a website designer?
- How long does it take to build a website?
- How do I find a good web designer?
- What questions should you ask a website designer?
- How do you know what website designer is right for you?
Let’s look at the cost first…
How much does it cost to hire a professional web designer?
If you’re following lean principles, you could honestly get a basic website built for a few hundred dollars, and maybe even less depending on the level of quality you will accept. If I’m asking “how can I create my own website for free,” I might consider if this is actually the most reasonable approach I could take.
Maybe you’ve started your research with a Google search for “how to find a web designer” or the ever reliable “web designers near me” search strings, that’s a great start. You might get lucky and stumble onto someone inexpensive, and good — but you should know upfront, that combo isn’t the standard. As with everything, you get what you pay for.
Generally, the more skilled the craftsman is, the more they get paid. That’s the trade. We can practically guarantee that the process will be smoother, faster, and more comfortable, if you hire an experienced pro. They will be better able to address your specific needs. The trade is that they will be more expensive than someone on a bottom-dollar freelance marketplace.
Where is your line in the sand?
On average, you can expect to spend somewhere between $5,000-$10,000 for an experienced professional to build a modest (1-10 page) business website. If you’re trying to build an online store, or other ecommerce website — those technologies can add some money to the bill. If you’re building in the WordPress ecosystem, Woocommerce (free) and Bigcommerce (not free) are solid options for software to build the shop with. The best designers will be able to guide you through your choices.
If you’re hiring a rookie, you can expect to pay anywhere from $0-$3,000 for a complete site. There will be no guarantee of quality.
There are other costs too, even if you get a free domain. We’ll talk more about those soon. For now, it is important that you understand more costs exist for the average small business site than simply paying for the designer.
You’ll have to find your best balance here, but if you’re thinking lean (as we recommend that you do), then you’ll discover that more can be done with an objectively basic site than most people think — if you’re using it properly.
One more point, before we move on…
A complex website for a large organization can cost significantly more than $10,000, which is why you need to develop a healthy relationship between your expectations and your budget. You will pay a premium for the technical knowledge of the seasoned expert. It takes a lot of know-how to build a fast site which ranks well on search engine result pages.
Figure out what you are comfortable spending. When you eventually begin interviewing prospective designers, be honest with them about the number. They will need an honest assessment of the budget you have available for the project. This will give the designer better direction when choosing which platforms to recommend to you. You’ll be able to sniff out the ones padding their prices. Trust your instincts.
We are going to talk about how to find good candidates for the job before we talk about the questions you should ask — and before we do that, we (meaning you) need to look in the mirror and ask a question…
What do I want from my website?
It is important to have a clear understanding of the goal before we begin researching or interviewing. This applies even if you intend to outsource the web design project to a freelance marketplace like Fiverr. Get clear on your goal for the site, and then start your search.
To better set realistic expectations. It would be helpful to have a clear idea of how long it takes to build a site…
How long does it take to build a website from start to finish?
We will talk about the designer’s timeline soon. But first, the obvious truth. The length of time it takes to build a strong website can be weeks, or it can be months — it really depends on what you’re asking the developers to build, and how long it takes you to get your content together. Experience often equals speed. If you hire a professional web designer, they will likely work quickly.
Speaking as an agency, we can safely say that the bottleneck happens with content. Any time spent waiting on approvals from the client is going to delay the project. A good agency will plan for client delays, and work them into the timeline. Still, the fact remains, if the designer is perpetually waiting for the small business owner to provide content, or approve something, the project will inevitably delay into the grave.
On average, a modest website will take 4-6 weeks to create. Use that as your baseline, but recognize and appreciate that the time estimate increases as complexity is added to the project. If you need a site with several complex features, maybe it takes 6-12 weeks. A good web designer can help set proper expectations for delivery if they understand the scope of your project.
How do you find good web designers?
We will operate under the assumption that you know how to use a search engine. It’s almost guaranteed that you used one to find this article. So you know where to start. If you’re stuck, “web designer + [location]” is a reliable search string to get you started.
You will find freelancers, small 3-4 person firms, larger agencies, and freelance marketplaces like Fiverr, UpWork, and Dribbble.
Some options will have clear, easy to understand pricing information. Some won’t. If you can’t find pricing, don’t let that discourage you. If you like their work enough, feel free to contact them. You’ll likely learn something. Yes, you may hear higher numbers than you would like but, you may not. Either way, the call isn’t likely to be a waste.
Of course, we understand that price matters a great deal. It makes sense that we might start our research there — but right now, price is not actually the most important consideration, no matter how limited the budget is.
So if we don’t start with price, where do we start?
First, we get an understanding of direction. As you research, your first goal is to get a sense for what style and aesthetic qualities you like in what you’re what you’re looking at. Not how much any of it costs.
You’re going to need to do this homework anyway, especially if you’re the owner of the business.
Right now, imagine yourself as a sponge, and you’re absorbing what you’re seeing. Not making any choices, just taking it all in. After you do this for a while, you’ll begin to notice preferences forming. You’ll notice a theme. A signal appearing in the noise.
- Which characteristics do you like?
- Which repel you?
Take note and keep a short list of any web designers whose work stands out from the rest.
When it comes to design services, we know it can be difficult to articulate what one does or doesn’t like. We understand that. This task may not come naturally, and that is ok. As you browse portfolio sites, try to describe your likes and dislikes anyway. When trying to get to the root of a preference, we like the 5 Whys exercise. This should be less about content, and more about feeling.
If all you can come up with is “bright” and a happy face, that’s fine too. Also, try to elaborate. Why does bright get a happy face? What gets an unhappy face?
Grab a pen and paper. Use it to write down your reactions as you look through portfolios. There is no need to try for perfection, just respond, on the paper.
- Website #1: I like ____, I dislike _____.
- Website #2: I like ____, I dislike _____.
- Website #3: I like ____, I dislike _____.
Later on, a good designer can help articulate your preferences. Right now, you’re working off of your personal instincts. Trust your instincts, make some notes.
Review at least 10-20 portfolios. Write down your reactions to the work you’re reviewing.
Ideally, this exercise will show you a design theme you naturally gravitate toward. Some people love bright colors, others enjoy minimalism, some want dark and moody, and so on. If you do this review process enough, you can eventually notice a theme in the options you consistently react positively to. Knowing that, is good.
Make note of designs you love, and be specific about what qualities attract you to them so strongly.
Write down qualities you like, and qualities you don’t. Is there a style of website content you like more than another? The precise terms describing things will take shape later, don’t over-focus on finding the right words to explain your preference. The point is to capture the preference — not to have it read like poetry.
Your notes will also help you generate a good short list of people to seriously consider, and to possibly follow up with as you begin your research.
Keep browsing through portfolios until you’ve made a list of 5-10 candidates who stand out from the crowd.
If any of them have listed pricing which is beyond your budget, note what you liked about them, and then take them off the list.
Contact any remaining designers and set up a meeting. You have a lot of questions to ask them.
What questions should you ask a web designer before hiring them?
You’ve reviewed their portfolios, and have decided to begin interviewing. What, exactly, do you need to know from them in your initial conversation?
Ideally, the designer will lead your customer experience in this meeting, and they will generally start the conversation with probing questions about your project. They will want to know what you have in mind. The more prepared you are, the better. A good designer will be curious about what you’re working on, and why you opted to contact them for it.
If they ask you what you’re wanting to build, but you’re stuck for an answer… telling them “a responsive website with a handful of pages, for my small business” will probably work for your situation. If you need help determining number and types of pages, they can offer some insights for you. Don’t shy away from explaining what your business does. It will help the designer understand the scope of what you need.
When the time comes, we suggest your first question be about their process.
Question 1: What can they tell you about their design process?
You want to know how they build things. If you asked them to build you a single business page, starting today, what would the process look like?
As they respond, you’re looking for some key information. The clarity and confidence of the designer (as they answer) will tell you a lot about their experience level. Here are some points we want you to listen for:
- Do they begin their process by clearly understanding the full scope of what you need?
- How much do they involve their clients in the steps of the design process?
- Who provides the imagery and graphics?
- Who provides the written content?
- How many rounds of revision are there?
- On average, how long does their process take, from start-to-finish?
You will likely meet a number of designers who specialize in the ever reliable WordPress site, it is a great platform and you shouldn’t feel surprised to hear it. It is generally better to build on an existing ecosystem. It is faster, and it costs less than custom development.
Question 2: What Content will they need from you?
I want you to know that a web designer does not generally provide custom photography. Some will help you find relevant stock photography. Yet, stock photos won’t work in every situation. They can be an imperfect answer and sometimes (often) you will need to have custom images created, or consider if it is possible to avoid photography in your new website. It probably isn’t.
If you cannot produce the images yourself, and there is no adequate stock imagery — you need a professional, nothing else will do. You cannot simply take what you find on Google. You will need to consider hiring a professional photographer.
From a purely practical standpoint, it will be less expensive to hire someone than it will be to buy a camera, some lights, and spend a bunch of time learning how to take the images yourself. Find your own balance between time and money.
Some agencies have photographers on staff. Others can help find one to hire. Either way, if you need them, you’re going to have to pay to get custom images made.
The same goes for copywriting. Except, it is much more difficult to quickly become a good copywriter. A person can learn to take product photos on a white background in less than a single weekend, for less than a few hundred dollars (camera included). Copywriting is different. It takes a different kind of skill to write a good sales letter. It can’t be learned in a weekend.
Web designers are generally not copywriters. Don’t expect them to write your landing page for you and have it convert. You will need to provide all of the verbiage for your site’s pages. They will work to structure it visually. They don’t usually write it.
Some agencies have copywriters on staff. Others can help you find one to hire. Either way, you’re going to have to pay to get the copy written.
If it happens that you’ve found a web designer who is also adept at either photography, or copywriting, or both, expect to pay them for that service as well, if you ask them to provide it.
No matter who is involved, it is critical that everyone involved understand your goal, and produce work focused on it.
Question 2: How do they determine pricing?
You will want to know if they have a set pricing list. If they do, you want to know what is included in each tier. If they don’t have a set pricing structure, find out what they can tell you about how they estimate projects. Are there any transaction fees?
Ask about what an average project costs.
Listen for any distinctions they make about why something would be more or less expensive.
Wabbits charge substantially less for a single page contact form than we would for modest site. Which puts that option well within reach of most early-stage startups. Find out if they do the same.
Question 3: Do they charge a recurring fee for maintenance or support?
Websites can generally go a little while without updates. Not unlike the oil in a car. It is certainly true that a car can run with old oil. But the odds of a problem happening rise the longer we go.
A website which is not regularly updated becomes a security risk. It may not be a dramatic problem if you’re a small consulting firm — but if you’re running a store, it can be a disaster. There are bots that roam the internet, probing for sites with common security flaws — which is what you get when a site isn’t updated — and then they can potentially access any information stored on the site. That is obviously bad.
So you need to understand if, and how the web designer will help the site stay current. Find out how they handle website maintenance.
Question 4: Who provides the web hosting?
Web hosting is a big topic, and there’s too much to cover for the scope of this question. What you need to know going in is, a professional website has to be hosted somewhere. Like it or not, you will need to buy some kind of hosting plan. Even if it’s the most basic of all basic plans, you need it. Without a hosting service, people can’t see your website — that’s how it works..
Determine if you will have to set up your hosting, or if the designer will.
Determine who will provide the SSL certificate.
Pricing for hosting can be fluid, and it depends heavily on traffic volume. If you have a site getting millions of visitors a day, hosting on a premium plan can cost thousands per month. That said, the average hosting account (for the average site) costs less that $50 a month. Some companies will even offer an unlimited plan to small startups.
Question 5: What can they do for clients operating with your budget?
At some point in your epic “I need a website” quest, you will need to talk about your budget. Don’t allow yourself to feel weird or uneasy about discussing this topic. Too many people shy away from having honest conversation about budget, and the results aren’t good.
Think of it as a collaborative effort on your project, where they bring a specific skill, and you provide the resources which allow them to get the project done, and done well. Be willing to pay the expert what they deserve, and trust your instincts to help you avoid getting cheated. If you have an uneasy feeling about a bid, be willing to discard it.
Question 6: Can you contact any of their previous clients as a reference?
One particularly unfortunate truth of the internet is that reviews can be faked. You want to know if other clients have enjoyed both the process and the results of working with this web designer.
It may not be possible to contact everyone in their portfolio anymore. People do go out of business. But, if you are able, speaking to their other clients can be an asset when determining if you want to hire one designer, or another.
This is a normal question, and one which an experienced professional will be able to provide with near immediacy.
If the testimonials on their websites are enough reference for you, then feel free to put less importance on this question.
Question 7: Can They Show an example of Their average contract?
Every agreement you make together, related to this project, will need to be in writing. We want to ensure both the owner, and the designer, are clear on what is expected of each. Make sure the agreement at least addresses each of the following three questions:
- How much will it cost?
- How long do we expect it to take?
- Who does what?
And any other critical details.
The point is to make sure everything is captured in writing, that way — if there is any confusion during the project — each person has a ruling document to refer back to. They’ve both agreed and signed it.
It is safer this way, for everyone involved.
Don’t skip it.
How do you know which website designer is right for you?
If you’ve done the work outlined in the previous sections, and spent time talking with prospective web designers. You’re likely approaching a critical mass of information. You don’t need to take in anymore. You have talked about SEO tools until you’re blue in the face. Time to make a decision.
We find it best to consider which designer you could see yourself working well with. Projects like these are collaborative efforts, and you’ll likely be working together on this site for several weeks. If the price is within your budget, and you are satisfied with the answers to your questions, the only thing left to evaluate is the working relationship. You need to work well together.
The level of mutual rapport in the relationship will matter because the small business owner needs to be involved in the project too. It would be unrealistic to expect to assign the work, disappear, and then come back to a perfect, finished website. Building websites rarely works like that.
Which means, you need to have a pleasant working relationship with whomever you hire. That is the key consideration driving you now. We can think about the money in a moment. Right now, think about your answers to these questions:
- Do you share good rapport?
- Does the web designer exhibit enough experience that you feel comfortable having them as your guide through the process?
- Do they ask observant, relevant questions?
- Do they listen?
- Do they have good customer service?
- Do you believe they can do the job well?
Some people opt to make decisions like this with a pros and cons list. Some people use spreadsheets. The point isn’t the method. Consider those 6 elements in whatever way helps you most.
Naturally, if the price is near the upper limits of the budget, any small business owner would start looking for ways to save a little money. Nobody looks down it, not if they’ve ever owned a business. Still, you have to be honest about what expense you can actually afford. Begin with the honest expectation that you’ll spend the entire budget.
If spending the whole thing feels uncomfortable, you might want to lower your budget.
Here’s the situation:
You have a finite budget, and you have an important project that needs completed. Of the designers you can choose to complete this project, which one feels like like an ally who will use their skills to support you in achieving this goal? Who is going to make sure you get across the finish line?
Let those questions guide you. Keep a realistic view of what is possible within a given time and budget. Be honest about what you can reasonably afford. Be willing to spend the entire amount. And hire the person you trust will take care of you best.
How Do I Get the Most Value From My Website?
In order to reap the benefits of having a property with a custom domain name (one which you own) you’ll want to keep a few guidelines in mind.
Follow the principles of growth-driven design
The ability to adopt and maintain a lean mindset is the critical factor stopping businesses from leveraging their websites well. Over-focusing on look and feel, leads entrepreneurs astray. The driving force behind the growth is making every phase into a “now you can” moment for the customer. You’ve built something. Gotten feedback. Built another version…
What can they do now?
Growth-driven design is about much more than the addressing the look and feel of the website. It is about how the asset evolves over time.
- What does it grow into?
- What could it allow our customers to do?
- What could it help us do?
Better yet, how do we create the asset so that it funds it’s own evolution?
You’ll often hear Wabbits refer to something as a minimum viable product. We are looking for a way to get meaningful feedback as quickly as possible. The more we can keep iteration small and simple, the faster we can move through cycles of testing.
User-focused research is where the magic is when growing a web asset. When you don’t have an audience yet, you’re defining a target audience and researching that audience might want. We find them. Seeking them out and ask them. This process is called discovery, and it is the day-one, fundamental work required to understand the people we aim to engage.
The iterative validation process we discussed earlier… that is the feedback loop we are trying to move through. We build something for an audience. We give it to them and watch our data. We learn from raw data, and from direct feedback . We then make a revised version, and do it all again. Repeat this three-step process constantly.
Produce relevant, and useful content. Aim it at your audience.
At its best, the website will become a cornerstone of your company. And one of the ways we facilitate that, is creating content that helps our audience. We can always improve our products. We often forget that we can improve our customers too.
As you business grows and changes, so do the questions customers will ask. A website can hold all of this information and become a customer’s trusted resource when they need to know something. Highly-valued content can come in all kinds of forms, and a wide range of lengths. Again, we cite the length of content here at Wabbit.
Don’t forget to consider how you intend to make your content rank in search engines. Plenty of people think they do SEO well, very few of them actually do. You need to create content, from the ground up, focused on appearing in search results.
Depending on the nature of your business, long-form edutainment can be a remarkably rewarding effort — but it always has to be grounded in what the user desires most. What can your website offer them? What can they do now, because of the site?
Integrate with the other sub-systems of the business.
The truly amazing benefit of a good site is the ability to integrate with other services across the internet to connect and automate wildly complex components of your business system. This unique, chaotic mash of tools, flows, procedures, and interactions, is what we affectionately call the “messy middle.”
And although its appearance will be completely unique to your business, we guarantee there is a way to connect to something which has the potential to be profoundly useful to your company.
Most immediately, you’ll want to spend time with your analytics data. Pay attention to the traffic coming to your site. Get a sense for where people are visiting from and how long they stay.
- How did they find you?
- What information do they linger on?
An email list is another critical slice of the business-system pie. You will want to connect to an email marketing system. Choose one which allows you to begin building a list of contact information and, segment those who have shown interest in hearing from you.
If you’re running an e-commerce site (like a shop powered by WooCommerce), there are all sorts of ways to enhance a shopping experience for the customer. Pay attention to what your website platform can do. If something seems compellingly useful, it might make an excellent choice to test. If you find something, you and your designer can make a plan to test it in a controlled, measurable way. Everything we do is deliberate. If the customer responds positively, that’s a green light to make it a permanent feature.
With good research, lean strategy, and proper testing, your site will evolve into something which handles an unfathomably large number of tasks for you. One of the ways we get there, is strong, useful integrations.
Time-consuming tasks can be automated.
Integrating with the right systems allows the site to automate just about any task we can give it. The kinds of tasks that become possible when we link a website, a customer relationship management system, and an email marketing system all together are mind-blowingly cool:
- Automatic appointment scheduling
- Automatic post-appointment follow up emails
- Post-sale thank you emails
- Timed outreach to customers we haven’t seen in a while
- Reports that help us better understand the behaviors and desires of our audience relative to any given metric
- Automated analysis of traffic and sales data
If there is a task needing done, and it involves something digital, the combined powers of your website, and the various systems it can integrate with, can likely handle it.
Bringing us back, like a flywheel, to the concept powering the whole journey…
Build, Measure, Learn
I’m cheating a little because I called this Growth-Driven Design earlier, but , the truth is they are essentially the same idea. We are just using different terms to explain the relevance of the concept. I have to reiterate the point, because this is the key takeaway of the whole article.
You want to approach a website with a phase mindset. Start with the minimum necessary. Only add things (features, etc) in intentional, focused phases. Eventually you’re going to need to focus your efforts on getting website visitors. You can apply this same conceptual framework to that effort.
Elsewhere on this site, you’ve heard Wabbits talk about Flywheels. You could also call them feedback loops. This is a priceless concept. When you see how feedback loops apply to the rest of the business system we’re talking about, the realization of possibilities will blow your mind.
Let’s wrap up this leg of our journey together…
What Are the Key Elements to Remember in All This?
It’s been a long road, and I applaud you for taking in as much content as you have. Let’s recap…
- You know modern customers expect you to have a professional website.
- You know a website can streamline critical business processes, giving you more time.
- You know you should probably hire a professional web designer to build it.
- When interviewing web designers, you now have a list of questions to be sure to ask them.
- When building a website, you understand there are few critical features, but those few features matter an awful lot.
- No matter what, a website needs to stay focused on its goal.
- You want to keep the process lean, and growth-driven.
You are beginning to understand how a site can become an incredibly valuable asset to your company. If you haven’t built one yet, you probably should if you plan to be competitive in the market.
Above all else, we want you to remember this:
A website, on it’s own, is not likely to be a significant source of revenue for your business, no matter who builds it, or what it looks like. There will be more work to do before it can truly begin to shine.
Even after you build the site, the process isn’t done. This is a living thing, it grows and changes over time. It feeds on traffic, so you will eventually need to send traffic to it. There are all sorts of ways to do so. We’ve talked about paid traffic at length all over this site. Yet, that is only one tactic out of dozens upon dozens.
Building awareness for your company will take time. Don’t fool yourself into blindly believing that if you build it, they will come.