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Do you make this common web development mistake?

I’ll give it away now — the biggest small business website mistake is starting your website — or website makeover — too late.

Most of us way too long to realize it’s time for a change. I’ve been there too. You may recognize the warning signs like the ones I had:

— No longer excited about sharing my logo and website with the world.
— Clients said, “That website just isn’t you.”
— Doing a lot more than copywriting, yet all my materials said, “copywriting.”

Why do we wait so long?

It’s not because we’re lay or stupid. Given the realities of business, and the rapidly changing opportunities for website development, it’s hard to keep up. Every time I’ve done a website makeover I’ve had to learn new techniques. For instance, when I started out, home pages were simply coded like other web pages. Today, you’re more likely to see homepage widgets. They seem intimidating at first but they’re actually quite straightforward. Easier than Instagram, actually!

4 Excellent Reasons.

(1) We’re busy. (I certainly was.)

Website makeovers seem overwhelming. Sure, there’s some time commitment. I won’t lie about that. If nothing else, you need to schedule time to talk with your copywriter. You’ll review drafts and make suggestions. You may need to learn some new tech.

Some web developers and designers make this project seem like climbing Mount Everest. Once I was brought in as a copywriter on a 3-person team headed by the designer. We were all required to sign up on the team’s project management software. We had massive checklists and milestones. The client was also signed up on the software.

This approach makes sense if you’re putting together a 50-page website for a big company or government agency. But we were producing a simple 5-page website for a solo professional.

It’s a simple process. Write the copy. Add a Wordpress theme. With the selection of themes, you’ll almost always find one you can use off-the-shelf. Customizing a website causes the biggest headaches: unless you get it done just right, you’ll end up with a site that’s not responsive, i.e., a site that doesn’t work well on phones or tablets.

Tip: If you wonder why your website doesn’t look like the website’s demo photos, or like your favorite site online, chances are you need higher quality images. Rather than customizing a website, pay a photographer or visit online photo sources that don’t fall into the “stock photo” category.

Tip: Ask your copywriter if you can get copy delivered in a Wordpress theme — any theme — so you can see the content in context. I do this for my clients. Even if you want to change the theme, we’re off to a strong start. Just knowing what you don’t want will make the designer’s job easier.

(2) We have an emotional investment in our current website and brand.

Economists refer to “sunk costs” when they talk about investments we’ve made that won’t do much to help in the future. For instance, suppose you have invested heavily in the typewriter industry when the world changes and your products are replaced by computers.

You could say, “But I’ve put so much effort into learning about typewriters!” Or you could look forward to a brighter future and say, ‘OK, time to move on.”

It’s very hard to recognize sunk costs. Additionally, on the Internet, you may be widely known for your current online presence. There’s always a fear, “They won’t like me if I do something new.”

(3) We aren’t sure where to start. Do we call a web designer? A copywriter? Hire a coach?

This isn’t a bad question. The vast majority of business owners begin by calling a designer or developer. A scary number will respond to a cold call from a website development firm, and those sites usually turn out badly: high prices for what you get, slow delivery, mediocre copy and disappearing designers.
Click here for an article that presents the views of 17 experts — including designers and marketing coaches. They all say, “Start with the copy or you could break the website.”

One big bottleneck to website development involves choosing a theme. It’s easy to spend hours reviewing options and choosing just the right one. But you’ll be wasting a lot of time when you do this before you’ve written the copy.

For instance, if you decide you want to highlight 4 categories of service on your home page, you’ll need a theme that allows you to show 4 categories — not just 2 or 3. Otherwise you’ll have to modify your message to fit the them (well, sometimes you end up with a better product, but usually you’ll spend more time configuring your message than setting up the site.

If you want your opt-in box in the header, rather than under the header, you can choose a theme to allow this option with no extra coding. If you want your sign-up box on the left rather than the right … once again, choose your theme accordingly.

You can always add a home page with external coding, such as a LeadPages page. But you add more complexity and you can inadvertently mess up a theme’s settings. I’ve done this myself and I know!

(4) We aren’t sure what we want. ​We just know what we don’t want.

What will your new online presence look like?

Actually that’s a pretty straightforward challenge for a professional copywriter to solve. Good copywriters begin with a consultation. The more you can share about your market and your USP, the better your copy will be. Sometimes your copywriter’s questions will guide you to do more research; sometimes you hire your copywriter to help conduct or analyze the research.

If you’ve been in business awhile and achieved some success, you probably have all the background you need. As you answer questions, you’ll realize what you know. Then your copywriter can take your stories and go to work.

Awhile back I worked with a client who was feeling frustrated. She was getting lost in themes and platforms, nowhere close to consider headlines and copy. At a friend’s urging she booked a consultation with me, openly nervous about how much we could do.

She knew her market and knew exactly what they wanted. So it was just a matter of slotting her bits of knowledge into the relevant places on her website and finding some uplifting words to inspire her clients. Just a few weeks after the call, she was reviewing a draft, presented on a Wordpress theme…feeling deeply relieved and happily optimistic about her new future.

No magic, no flash of brilliance: just a solid combination of copywriting and storytelling.

If you’d like to get some momentum going for your website makeover (or other project), check out my consultation program here. So far clients have been surprised at how quickly we get to the heart of the matter … and they get to enjoy a new website and use their time more enjoyably (and more profitably).

If you want to create your own website, I also offer the 90 day program, where I work with you to implement your website or other project. This program will be most appropriate if you’ve been in business awhile: you’re determined to DIY but you don’t have time or inclination to handle the learning curves on your own. And if it’s been awhile since your first website, things have changed.

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