When you work with creatives, as I do, designing a website from scratch is like being entrusted with the portrait that will hang over the mantel in someone’s home. Getting it right means the client feels seen—and by extension, truly happy.
My love of the work sometimes causes me to forget about the pieces that can be… a struggle. I don’t mean my clients are a struggle; I mean that there are aspects of pulling together and debuting a website that, no matter how simple or elaborate the website, tend to feel more tedious than fun, and these steps can sometimes bottleneck the overall process.
But they can be made easier! I pulled together 10 things I think every person (or business) should know when hiring a web designer so they can mentally and practically prepare for the hard parts of building a website. These things will make the process faster, and easier, and in the end should result in a website you love… without caveats.
1: Your site should have a clear goal.
Whether you want your website traffic to join your mailing list, place an order for pickup, make a donation, or show up to your next live event, you should know how you want your website to work for your business. This usually means your site has one primary job, and if it can do a few other lesser tasks while it’s at it, then that’s great.
So think about what you want your website’s role to be—and it’s not “let people know who I am so they can get to know me.” It has to encourage your site visitors to do something; so what is that thing?
2: Before you sign a contract, make sure you’ve identified every element you absolutely need for your website (and communicated it to your designer).
Some sites need a calendar of events that can be easily updated. Others need to be able to house affiliate ads. Still others need a specific scheduling software integrated so that visitors can make appointments with the business without ever having to pick up the phone.
It can cost extra sometimes to add in specific “plugins” or “widgets” like these. Both you and your designer should know what those costs are going to be as early as possible. Additionally, your designer may not be a developer, which could impact his or her capacity to even integrate the elements you need without hiring outside help… which can really slow down the web-building process.
3: Your designer needs passwords to everything.
No one I’m aware of has ever felt skittish about sharing password information with me, but a good number of my clients haven’t gotten me the information as fast as I could have started using it to make their websites complete. For most sites, I need access to the domain registrar login and password; the email collection software or CRM login info; social media access; DropBox folder access; photo gallery access; and sometimes even administrative access to the hosting platform. The faster you can supply this sort of information, the faster your site will come together!
4: The faster you respond to emails, the faster your site gets done.
If you just wanted to get the website job off your plate, you’re in good company. Many people are intimidated by either the technical or the aesthetic aspects of pulling together a website and feel relieved beyond belief to find someone else who can “do it all.”
However, a good designer really wants your website to be what you envision. And your taste might not be his or her taste. So if your designer asks you to create a Pinterest board and you agree to it, you should create a Pinterest board and load it up with content. If your designer sends you three mockups and asks you to pick the one that’s the closest, get back with your feedback. Websites require constant communication. If your designers’ other clients get back faster, their sites get done before yours!
5: Wait until you have a sitemap in hand to hire a photographer.
I’ll be honest: I’ve never met another web designer who does All The Things like I do. I’ll happily draw your sitemap, take your photos, write your copy, and set you a solid foundation of SEO best practices all in one tidy package. But most designers don’t work this way.
Most designers want to know what your site needs to do for you, and then they will suggest which pages you absolutely need and what photos you’re going to want in order to make these pages dynamic. But if you hired a photographer first, your designer now has to “work in” those photos, even if they don’t tell the story you’re trying to tell on your site… and that can result in you spending hundreds or thousands on web work that doesn’t actually work as functionally as it should. It can be even more expensive if you have to bring the photographer back in to get shots you need but missed.
6: Your website is going to change eventually.
Many of my clients worry that their site’s visual elements (colors, fonts, other stylistic choices, mostly) will “limit them” down the road. They also fret that their site might not work for the business model they’re hoping to have 3 or 5 years from now.
I do applaud this forward-thinking; after all, in some ways, a website is a modern way of “dressing for the job you want.” However, with how fast technology and business changes, even if your designer took into account every possibility for your business’s future, you’d still end up doing a website refresh in a couple years. Websites aren’t like they were in 1999, when companies would just throw them online and then forget about them for a decade. Now websites evolve as fast as the businesses they’re attached to. They’re also more affordable than ever. So don’t worry that your colors might not be so “you” down the line, or that you may want to add a membership area in 2 or 3 years. You’ll cross that bridge when you come to it.
7: Launch day is going to be rough. Plan for it.
Unless you just purchased your domain for the very first time, and you got it from GoDaddy, Google Domains, or Bluehost, connecting your domain to your new website is going to pose its challenges. Especially now that businesses can buy a domain in one place (like Wix or Google), but that domain could actually be controlled by an outside registrar (like Dreamhost or GoDaddy), finding the right support team to unlock the DNS information could take several hours. Then it usually takes about 2 hours for the domain to lock in on the exact location you want for it, during which time any previous site you had at that domain may go offline. So be available to communicate with your designer on launch day, and order pizza and watch a movie and try not to stress while your designer makes the magic happen.
*Your domain is your web address; such as yourname.com.
8: Invariably, something gets missed.
Although most designers (including ATG) have a list of items to double-check before a site goes live, something—usually something small—always gets missed. A button won’t link where it’s supposed to. Your customer service phone number will be one digit off and people will keep accidentally calling someone else’s hotline. An automation won’t send its promised contents, or your PayPal-for-business account won’t be connected.
Breathe. If Obama’s healthcare website can crash, and Marie Forleo’s B-School forum can crash, then these things can happen to anybody. Just let your designer know, and ask what next steps are needed to make the error right.
9: In order for your site to work, you’ve got to send traffic to it… just wait a couple days after it’s live.
Because there are always a couple of things that don’t work the way they’re supposed to, wait a couple days before you start announcing that your new site is up and running. This will give you a chance to communicate with your designer and make any necessary changes before you get a deluge of messages from customers who are frustrated or “just trying to be helpful,” letting you know that your site isn’t working properly. Once the glitches are fixed, announce the new site with trumpets on all your platforms!
A couple other tips? Don’t wait to launch a membership site until the day before a course is live. And never launch anything on a Sunday (it’s probably your designer’s day off, anyway, but if it isn’t, it is your registrar’s day off, your hosting platform’s support staff’s day off, and all your customers’ day off, so it should be your day off, too).
10: Have someone with you to celebrate the day (or day after) your site goes online.
I remember reading once about how Anne Lamott sat by the phone the day her first book hit the shelves, and no one called.
It wasn’t because no one cared. It was because people have full-blown, all-consuming lives, and they don’t know all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into something like a book or a website.
So have a friend or business partner with you, someone who can appreciate that you’ve hit the finish line, and take your laptop someplace with WiFi, and treat yourselves to drinks or tiramisu or whatever you love to have when you’re celebrating, and just talk about everything about the site that makes it special, and really enjoy the moment. Launching a website is a really big deal. So make the day count, because it does!
What do you think? Are you ready to launch a website? Let’s talk! If you’re not quite there yet, just make sure you pin this article so you never lose it. Launching a website is a big deal! I hope you’ll consider Alexis The Greek to be your partner on the journey…
Hello! My name is Alexis.
Coffee lover, day dreamer, foodie, and creative. Currently working and living in New Hampshire, I’m an eclectic mix of forward-looking and completely old-fashioned.