So you need a new website? The Web consulting process for beginners

Having worked with a number of small business clients, I’ve found that many people don’t entirely understand the process of building a website anymore. To anyone seasoned in the Web marketing game, they know that we’re beyond simple brochure-ware sites, but many of the folks we’re working with have little to no experience with our current process.

Many small businesses have what amount to perfectly functional websites for exactly what they do. They’re just old, and they don’t look how they or many of their clients think they ought to look like. They also don’t understand how search engine optimization works, or the effort that goes into achieving high rankings. But they may not need everything that they want or understand how their chosen Web pro is going to try to get it for them. More than anything, what they need from their Web pro is guidance. Like it or not, the client often doesn’t understand the consulting process because they haven’t had to do this much, if at all.

So here’s some handy language for less-experienced folks looking to hire a Web professional to “do their website,” and for Web pros looking to help these businesses avoid the pitfalls of poor communication and process.

See if this sounds familiar:

  • You hire a Web dude to “do your website” for you.
  • He asks you a bunch of questions related to what your business does.
  • He shows you a wireframe — basically a content-less dummy — of how the site should look, and it has a bunch of spaces for “sliders” and “other ad space.”
  • You select a theme together that fits the wireframe.
  • You get him some photographs of yourself and your staff if you have one.
  • He puts together a site in a templated form that doesn’t quite look like what you saw in the theme you chose.
  • There’s a bunch of different details he seems to have missed, and parts of the theme that just aren’t there — like the cool slider! — and you wish he’d just “do your website” for you.
  • He asks you for more feedback on the “ad” and “slider” items he’s asking about but doesn’t just do it.

Now let me see if I can guess who “you” are in this scenario.

  1. You own/operate a business and don’t really care about the “marketing side of things” because you pay others to do it for you, or you’ve never really needed it.
  2. You’re the admin for the person mentioned above, and while you aren’t quite the “marketing side of things” you’ve been tasked with “just getting this done.”

Here’s the thing: No one just “does” your website for you anymore. It’s a content-driven experience that requires your participation beyond another person merely setting it up from some pre-approved content. To get the most out of your site, and to generate new business and be found through your site, you need to be prepared to respond to the questions and suggestions your chosen Web professional sends to you.

Hey! I get it — that’s not easy when you have 19 other things to handle during an average day of doing your job that doesn’t include responding to that additional flurry of emails from the Web dude.

Still, without the guidance of someone who can get the little details together for him, the Web dude can’t just make your site look exactly like the theme you bought. The content that fills those sliders and ad spaces has to come from somewhere. We have to have ifnormation for the forms that require input fields behind what users see on the site. And it’s on you — the client — to get us that information.

Some Advice

For Businesses:

  1. Set a deadline for completion, but also set milestones for your Web pro to meet with concrete dates.
  2. Ask him or her what they’ll require from you to meet those milestones.
  3. Respond to their requests for specific with the understanding that what they’re asking for may be holding up the process — they’re not bugging you, they’re trying to help you get it done.
  4. If you don’t understand what they need from you, ask them to clarify. Be humble; your Web pro isn’t trying to make you feel dumb, and he or she doesn’t speak a different language, she just speaks it from a different perspective than you do.
  5. Understand that many of the themes you will look at and love are built for businesses with a TON more content than you have or need. Don’t expect a reproduction of what you see when you’re selecting themes.

For Web Pros:

  1. MORE THAN ANYTHING — Set a schedule for the project in your mind before your client gives you one, and be ready to negotiate with them if it doesn’t work for you. Don’t tell them you can get it done if you can’t expecting to slide on deadlines.
  2. Be honest, and dig to find out what they expect — Think about who your client is. They don’t want to sound like they aren’t with it, and they want to relate to you, but a lot of small business clients can’t, and won’t. Be straight, and tell them that you’ll need things from them, and tell them when and why you will.
  3. PAD PAD PAD — You will run into trouble, and your client won’t get you things when you need them to meet deadlines. It’s the nature of the beast. They have other work to do, and if you’re doing this right, so do you. Padding the time on the deadlines will give you breathing room and will give the client appropriate ideas of what they ought to be doing.
  4. GIVE THE CLIENT MILESTONES — Just like they give you goals, give them milestones to meet as well. When you know what you need, ask them for it, but tell them when you need it. Whether it’s content, photography, or just simple info, attach a date of expected receipt, explain why you need it, and ask them if they can get it to you by that date.
  5. BILL THEM FOR BEING LATE, AND PAY THEM WHEN YOU ARE — I find that a good consultation agreement has a nice little clause that says you’ll charge them for failing to meet agreed upon milestones, and that you’ll discount the work if you fail to meet your own. If everyone has some skin in the game, they’re way more likely to hold up their ends of the bargain.

On both sides, remember that we all just want to get you what you need out of your website. Just like Vidal Sassoon said: If you don’t look good, we don’t look good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.