Among the many dozens of websites I’ve built for clients over the years, the ones that have felt most successful are the ones where the clients themselves were the most engaged and contributed the most of their own passion and creativity. These clients are particularly fun to work with, because collaboration is fun. It’s fun to share a client’s delight with some new idea, and it’s fun to work together to solve an unforeseen problem.
But busy business owners will often make the leap from “I need a new website!” to “You’re hired!” without considering the legwork that needs to be done in between. When you engage a website developer and/or designer, you should look at the project as a collaboration, as opposed to something you just hand off completely. If you take the same energy and enthusiasm that you put into running your business and apply it to thinking through your goals and planning your content, then your website will succeed, no matter who’s building it.
Be in Control of Your Content
Sometimes clients engage my services without having really thought through what they want to say on their website or what their goals really are. I like to help them past this hurdle by asking them a critical kickoff question:
What would you like your site visitor to do before leaving the site?
This could be anything from “contact me by email” or “join my mailing list” to “sign up for my service,” or “buy my product.” But your site should really focus on this one thing, whatever it is, and all of the content should serve that goal. Your web developer will contribute a lot of creative ideas for making the flow work—chances are he or she has spent more time thinking about these things, but ultimately you set the goal and determine the message.
You are the best advocate for your product or service, and the time to work out an outline of your site’s content and actually start writing it is now, before you hire a web developer. If you don’t think you’re a great writer, then find someone you trust to work on it with you. Your own words will inform the structure and style of your site and your web developer will be able to understand what your goals are and who your audience is.
Collaboration comes later: your developer may have some ideas about how to make your content more successful on the web, whether in terms of readability or search engine optimization.
Collaboration Means Having Opinions
When it comes to design, sometimes one’s own personal taste isn’t necessarily the best criterion for every aspect — there are so many technical considerations and established conventions. But, in the spirit of collaboration, do have opinions. Think about your competitors’ sites. What’s good or bad about them? Outside your own field, what sites please you just in the way they look? Your designer will want to create something that you find pleasing and will keep you informed about technical reasons why some of your ideas might not work. Consider their ideas, because that’s how collaboration works, but start with what you like.
Budget Time to Manage the Project
It’s very hard to be successful in a vacuum. As problems and questions come up, or as new ideas occur, your developer will need to interact with you on a regular basis and will need your input and feedback. During the course of working with a web developer, by all means, set boundaries around how often and when it’s OK to seek your input, and be up front around how long it may take you to respond, but try to budget some of your time with this in mind.
If you run a larger business with a lot of interested parties, plan to hold meetings as needed, and designate one member of your team to be the point of contact with your developer. If you’ve engaged a team to build your site, expect the same practice from their side. This cuts down on miscommunication and confusion on both sides.
Ultimately both parties want the same thing: a website that you’re proud of and that measurably improves your business, whether by bringing in more customers or providing your customers with better service. Every project is different and each has its own set of difficulties, but in my experience, a collaborative attitude on both sides will result in a smooth process and a successful website.
Image credit: Wikipedia