Why do you need a website, when there are so many options for showcasing your ideas – LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SlideShare and others?
You need a website because it’s YOURS. Something you own, have full control over, and can turn into what you want. Those other platforms are owned by someone else.
Consider Twitter, perpetually in financial difficulties – and unless it finds a viable revenue model soon, it may not survive. LinkedIn went through some major changes recently, ripping up what I thought were some of its best aspects, and replaced them with other features that are more likely to produce revenue. And platforms that were once hot – Google+ (well, maybe it never was “hot”), MySpace (I think I’ve spelled that right) … remember them?
That's one of the reasons you need a website – you control what it looks like, and it gives you a permanent footprint in the online world. The other major reason is that if you can pull current and prospective clients towards signing up for the content you produce that’s hosted on your website, you can continue to remind them that you exist and how you can add value for them.
So, how do you get a website that does you credit? For an answer, I turned to Andrea Dubravsky of ADWebcom, whose company developed the website for Thought Leadership Resources and maintains it. Here are some thoughts on that question, based on conversations with Andrea combined with some of my ideas, on how someone who wants to be seen as a thought-leader can develop a website that furthers that goal.
What options are there for developing a website?
There are three main options for developing a thought leadership website.
1. Do it yourself: There are plenty of content management programs available for people who want to do their own website – Wix, Squarespace and similar. Many people are able to achieve an acceptable result with these tools, for a basic website. The problem is that the do-it-yourself approach often involves more work than you thought, and it is not as easy as it looks on the sleek ads. This diverts time from your work, and adds to your frustration level. And if you want to expand past a basic website, the DIY system may not have all the functionality you need.
2. Hire a designer in a low-wage country: You can hire people through services like Upwork, who can build a website for you. But remember two things – one of them being that you get what you pay for, and a site built at “low cost” may turn out to be not so cheap after all if you factor in the amount of rework and frustration involved. The other is that, a thought leadership website requires frequent updates and changes – so your relationship with your web developer is not so much a one-off project as it is an ongoing partnership. For that, it helps to be able to develop a business relationship with a high level of trust on both sides.
3. Hire a skilled professional: Your third option is to work with someone you can meet in person to assess the chemistry between you. If you’re an independent professional yourself, it may be best to work with web developer who also works independently. One reason is that their overhead will be lower and therefore the amount of work you get for your money is greater. Another cause is that you’ll be working with someone whose worldview and commitment to their business that is similar to yours.
How do I begin the website development process?
At the outset, have a clear idea of your objectives for your website. Possibly:
- It could be that you just want a site that explains who you are and what you do for your clients.
- If you want to develop a position as a subject-matter expert or thought leader, you will need a site that demonstrates your grasp of your clients’ issues through articles you’ve written, and your blog.
- Going further, maybe you want to sell products and services from your site such as online courses (as is the case with Thought Leadership Resources), sell printed books or e-books, or give an opportunity to book coaching sessions with you and pay online, you will need more functionality.
Then, look through a range of websites, particularly the sites of organizations you consider to be in the same economic and functional space as you. Make notes on what you like about these sites, what functionality they have that you must also have, what you would like to have, and what you hate about those sites.
This guide will help the recommendations of the people you approach to develop your site, and will help them to indicate what it will cost to get you what you want.
Bear in mind that you don’t need to have all that you want, right from the start. You can begin with a site that meets your needs, but not necessarily all of the items on your wish-list. As your business grows and your financial resources expand, you may want to add more functionality to your site.
How do I find and select a website designer?
Your best way to find a good web designer is to ask your colleagues – people whose opinion you trust, and who understand the nature of your business. Just remember that sometimes people recommend vendors whose standards of work don’t meet your expectations.
Then, be sure to check out some of the websites they’ve worked on, as listed in their portfolio. See if the quality you need is evident in their previous and current work.
To determine quality, look for the overall look and feel – if it feels unprofessional or it’s hard to navigate/use, this could be a sign you should look elsewhere. Imagine yourself as the intended user of the site – is it easy for you to find the information you’d be looking for? See if the information flow is logical, and if the site is easy to navigate.
If at all possible, take the effort needed to meet the designer face to face, to see if there is chemistry enough to continue. This matters because in today’s world, a website isn’t a one-off project. It needs to evolve as your business changes, as the needs of your users change and the available technology changes. For example, video – a medium that demands high bandwidth and storage space – is increasingly important as a way to build relationships with potential clients. It’s easier for you to incorporate room to display videos if you design the website that way right from the start (to learn more about how to get good results from a video producer, see blog post #37)
Even if you plan to do some or all of the updating and maintenance yourself, you will need professional help to make major changes.
For instance, it could be that you started the site with the full intention of maintaining a regular blog, so you put the blog front and center in your design. Subsequently you find that the task of frequent updates is more than you’re realistically able to continue, afterwards you regret building your site’s front page around your blog. Worse, the blog becomes a liability to your business, as the most recent post is from maybe two years ago. This can require some major changes to your site, if you need to have another focus to your home page. So, you need to be brutally realistic with yourself regarding whether you will actually commit to updating your blog frequently.
One way to tell if a particular web designer is right for you is whether they ask the questions needed to get a clear idea of your business purpose and plans.
Some of the questions will be about factors you may think are unrelated to your website, such as products and services you intend to develop. But they are important because your website must be designed in a way that supports your business objectives. Other questions are important because they help build a picture of your intended customer or client – providing guidance to the design of the site, color choice, and overall appearance.
The answers to these starting-up questions influence a wide range of factors, including the content management system chosen for the site. If your plan is to start offering products for sale – books, online courses, coaching packages and the like – providing this functionality right from the start will help your website to grow along with your business.
How do I work with my website designer?
Be sure to supply your web developer with the right materials – text, images, links to social media platforms, your logo, and the other bits and pieces that make up the site.
Meet your part of the production schedule by having those materials ready when needed. Otherwise, your web developer may not be able to meet the launch date you’ve agreed upon. Leaving your delivery of materials to the last minute is inconsiderate, and it means that there may not be time to check through the work thoroughly before the launch.
Be sure to provide the materials in a manner that your website developer can use. If you want to build a business in interior design, for example, dramatic and eye-catching images will be important. Ensure that you supply these images in high enough resolution that they will look good on the website. If you want your site to have an impactful banner, it is up to you to supply the images needed to create that impact – either providing your own graphics, or buying them from a designer or stock image provider.
You need to develop a relationship with your developer that is more than a client-vendor transaction. Work towards a partnership, even a business friendship.
Be sure you understand your role in the process, and your website developer’s role. You can expect your web developer to stay current with the technology behind your website, and to advise you of any opportunities for improvements.
For instance, when Carl was considering development of an online course, I discussed with him the idea of hosting the course on a third-party platform such as Thinkific. However, I was able to suggest an option that would allow him to host the site on his own platform. This meant that he could keep more of the course revenue, while also ensuring that the site was professionally hosted and supplied with the functionality his students would need.
But as regards keeping your site relevant, you need to take some responsibility for validating that your site meets your users’ needs. For example, you may find that info-graphics that explain ideas in diagrams and other visuals are being used by many of your colleagues and competitors. Therefore, it might be good to have some of these developed by a graphic designer (for more on that, see post #31, “Why having a great graphic designer matters now more than ever”) and displayed under a prominent tab on your own website.
What’s an appropriate fee?
A simple brochure-ware site, one that just describes who you are and what value you offer your clients, does not need to be expensive – but you still need to have a site that will impress prospective clients with your professionalism.
But if you need to add greater functionality – downloadable white papers, previous posts on your blog, maybe a page selling copies of your book – you will need to pay more.
Simply put, if your website is a key success factor in your business, you need to be prepared to invest in that success. You won’t get that for a few hundred dollars; your website is an essential aspect for the overall success of your business. It’s your main footprint online.
Anyone who is considering working with you will want to do some research ahead of time, and they will come to your website eventually. You need to impress them. And, you need to show that there is enough value on your website, frequently renewed, to make it worth frequent return visits.
They’ll also be more willing to sign up for regular content you produce, such as a blog or video channel. When they come to see you as a good source of insights they can use, they’ll be more willing to work with you on a paid basis.
Do you have any website advice to share?
I know at least one consultant who’s avoided creating a website for decades. Just too high a hill to climb, apparently. Do you have any ideas to share about how to build a thought leadership website?
- What are the elements of a successful website – like, do you really need a blog? I think so, but you may prefer a different platform, like video.
- How do you keep the content fresh, while still getting the rest of your work done?
- Can you incorporate ideas from colleagues, with attribution of course, to make your site more useful to users?