Somewhere around 2015 I decided that I wanted to take the plunge and join B-School. Now B-School is an online training program by Marie Forleo that helps people who are interested in building an online business the resources to get started. So here I was young, excited, and super amped to get into this program. Well 2 weeks into the 8 week program I began obsessed with designing my website. In fact so obsessed that I never finished the program. I was convinced that if I didn’t have a good looking website, with all the bells and whistles, that my business was going to fail miserably and no one would take me seriously. It seemed like if I turned my head to the left, someone just launches a banging website. Then I’d turn my head to the right, and bam! Another dope website. Can you guess what happened next? I’ll spare you the guessing and get straight to the point: I never started that business.
If you’re just starting a business, then here’s an important thing that you need to know: the beginning of your business is not when anyone should care about creating a top of the line website. In fact, creating a website when you’re just getting started is not a priority at all. And I can tell you exactly why.
Why You Shouldn’t Create a Website at the Start of Your Business
Here are a few key reasons you don’t need it in the beginning:
First: You only have an idea of who your buyers are and what they need, but you’re not 100% sure.
Back to that story of me circa 2015 on my laptop trying to design a website for this business idea that I have. I don’t remember much about that first business, outside of the fact that it was a clothing delivery service sort of like Stitch Fix. I can distinctly remember this though: I had done absolutely no market research. I came up with an idea that had never been tested. Matter of fact, I came up with the idea because I thought it was something that would be really cool. So as I sat down in front of my laptop and prioritized getting the name, colors, and coming soon page just right. But the major piece of the puzzle was missing.
Here’s how bad it got. I had scheduled a photo shoot, where I scouted local talent in exchange for portfolio work. We took some amazing pictures! And I was so hyped to share this amazing idea with the world.
Then the day came where it was finally time to start sharing my idea with people. I first pitched the idea to a group of my friends and when I tell you the silence was deafening I kid you not. They didn’t get the idea at all. Or if they did, they had a funny way of showing they were impressed. Most of the time people would followed up with more questions until finally they gave me that nail to the coffin phrase “Good for you.” Side note: you don’t ever want people to say “good for you.” They’re basically treating you’re like a toddler who lost the soccer game, but telling you everyone’s a winner. It’s so shady!
Ughh. How could I have so naive? I mean here I was doing all this branding and leg work for the website without even knowing if this idea would fly with real people. I cringe just thinking about it!
Do not fool yourself into believing that building a website means that you know your people and know what they want. In the beginning you really need a plan and most importantly, you need to do a lot of research to make sure you’re creating something people want so when people ask you about your business, you’ll be getting a positive reaction—people anxious to learn more and possibly start buying from you immediately.
Second: You haven’t tried selling your product or service to confirm it’s exactly what people want.
If I asked you how many sales have you made before the website launches, would you be able to give me a number? I can honestly tell you 5 years ago my answer was a firm “hell no.” My first business idea flopped because as I mentioned before, I didn’t really ask anyone if it was something they wanted.
Tim Ferris said in the 4 Hour Work Week that you shouldn’t just ask people if they want it, you should ask if they will buy it. Danielle Leslie, founder of Course from Scratch, has a very similar philosophy saying that you need to get butts in the seat before you create anything . This simply means, if someone is READY to pay you now, you’ve got a business. Only when you’ve got people paying you can you then start thinking about how to enhance the experience through design.
When I figured out that the first idea was not going to work I moved onto the one thing that people kept asking me for: web design. Remember how I said I became obsessed with designing this amazing website? Well I learned so much about the benefits of multiple platforms, where to find the best resources, and how to design something appealing that it naturally made sense to turn it into a business.
But this time around I didn’t make the mistake of building the website first. I simply put out a message of Facebook (pre-algorithm days) and let people know I was offering a special for x dollars and was booking for the next month.
Without a website, I was able to get 3 inquiries and booked them right away. Now that I knew people could and would pay, I had a solid foundation for creating content for my website.
Finally: You haven’t outlined a process for the client experience.
Let’s say you did have a website first and started booking your services or selling your products. Then what? If you were anything like me, there was absolutely no plan after the sale. You just winged it.
Now this is the part where you’re probably expecting me to wag my finger and tell you “successful people don’t wing it” in my worst British accent. But alas, I’m not. As a matter of fact I am the master of winging it. There’s something immensely magical about the energy that comes with the unknown. So when it came to client experiences, no I had no clue what I was doing next but I learned along the way.
The problem comes when you start putting down your hard earn money on a fancy website, but you’ve created something that doesn’t anticipate the next step for your buyer. Can you image shopping online at Sephora and not receiving a confirmation? Or clicking a buy button that doesn’t take you to the shopping cart? Yeah a nightmare. If you thought you could get away without a plan with a website, you’re wrong!
Turns out, the best thing I ever did was sat down and came up with a plan on how the client experience would look like on the website in the eyes of the person who was visiting my site anxious to learn more. So that meant everything from strategically placing the menu, to prioritizing the most visited pages. Now whenever I look at my analytics, I can see that people are navigating the site exactly how I anticipated they would.
When You Know You Need to Create a Website
After a while, you can’t rely on word of mouth to do all the work for you. Now granted there are a ton of businesses that can and continue to use word of mouth as a selling tool, but why not leverage the internet when it has an incredible return on investment?
For me, after a while of telling people I had this business designing websites, one question that kept coming up again and again was: “can I see your portfolio?” It was then I realized that I couldn’t rely on a facebook album to tell my story. I needed a central location to collect the stories of all my projects. Not only that, I needed it to go a step further and pitch my service to perfect strangers so that I’d be able to secure a sale or meeting right then and there. Which is exactly where a website comes in. You’ll know you need a website when…
First: You’ve made a few sales in your business and notice a pattern with your buyers.
Once I started seeing that most of clients where start ups, who had no branding, and a small budget, creating a message on my website that said just that was so freaking easy! I can honestly say after years and years of listening to Marie Forleo rant about how important it is to understand your buyer, it finally clicked. Now when people cam to my website, I understood their problem and could talk about it so clear that they immediately were more interested in learning how they could work with me. AND don’t forget, people wanted to see my work. Finally I could send them to a place where I showcase all my latest projects and give them of glimpse of what I could also do for them.
Second: When You’ve save Enough Money to Get Something That Works
Trust me when I say I’ve learned the hard way. I’ve tried most platforms, and had done a fair amount of research on others. All of that research cost me a lot of money honey! It doesn’t matter if you’re buying a template, or getting your website custom designed, the best websites–meaning a website that operates as a money machine while you sleep– will be the one you invested in, not the one that was cheap.
Sure you can get free templates, or find someone who can hook you up for $500. It’s definitely possible. Problem is, those things don’t last long, because they need support which means you’ll be shelving out more money anyway. For instance, when I started, I was designing websites for about $500. Those websites took almost 3 months to design and develop (mostly because I was figuring out how to do stuff while I was designing). Then when they were complete, clients would had additional questions with regards to operations, or tech support. Now as an experienced designer, I can design websites much faster, and have priced my packages so that they can get some tech support after launch. Now which experience sounds more appealing: the one where you put in a little money upfront and pay more and more for extra work? or the one where you have enough money to get a website that doesn’t come with hidden fees? For most people, it’s way less headache to just pay extra and get it done right the first time.
Also, I think it’s important to point out, when you have generated and continue to generate enough money in your business, than investing in a website will help to automate, and double your production so that you can get better results from your sales effort.
Finally: You’ve mapped out the marketing and client experience.
Now granted these two things can be separate tasks, but I’ll lump them together for the sake of simplicity. I remember first hearing the word marketing and straight up thinking Mad Men style advertising. You know what I mean…cheesy pictures with that catchy one liner that supposed to emotionally grip you. Yeah, like that. But my oh my did I have so much to learn.
Listen to your sister girl Shirl, when you figure out these two things, your website will be a money making machine. Why because marketing let’s people know where to go to make a purchase (aka your website). From there you can create an experience where you not only inform your potential buyer, but you can create a funnel where you can provide additional service, or provide an affordable option for people who need it.
While some people may want to believe a website is all about pretty branding, it’s most important role is to help you market and sell your existing product or service to people who are already demanding it. PEOPLE WHO ARE ALREADY DEMANDING IT. I just had to emphasize this again because the demand part is where I got lost in the beginning. Yes, if you build it they will come, but honey child…they have to be asking for it otherwise, you would be spending money on a dead website. Money that could have likely been better spent on ads or research.
You’ll know for certain that you need a website when
- You have actually started selling to people and know exactly how to sell to them
- You have saved up some money to get a website customized for your business needs.