Let me start with some full disclosure…
…although I built this entire website (using a theme) and created most of the graphics, I would not call myself a web designer. (Aesthetics, in general, are not my strong suit, so I did solicit the help of my stylistically gifted consigliere during the final phase of this project.)
My particular skillset is probably most accurately described as a “web organizer.”
I am able to elevate a website that is cluttered and unfocused into one that reflects the owner’s true level of expertise, and I am able to simplify the multitude of decisions that this type of project requires. Then, when my clients have the means and inclination to do so, they can find individual experts (designers, writers, copywriters, branding/marketing consultants) who can make their site super fancy.
Some clients have booked a Clarity Session to get my feedback on their site and what changes could be made to help them reach their goals. Others have had me write or revise some (or all) of their web text (bio, sales copy, program descriptions, branding, etc.)
Quite often my Leap Year clients and I will tackle a website project as part of the personal and/or career recalibration process they are going through during our time together. I have worked with some wonderful professionals whose online presence did not reflect the talented and accomplished people they had become nor the directions in which they were headed.
Since I’ve been doing quite a bit of this type of work lately, I thought it would be helpful to collect all of my guidance and resources related to this topic in one place – so it would be handy for you and me both.
Keep in mind, all of what follows is geared towards creating a pleasing and functional website while spending the least amount of time, energy, and money possible. I’m merely offering you “my two cents” as a web organizer. Take what you like and ignore the rest.
First and foremost, I believe your website exists to prove to people that you aren’t nuts.
When people hear about you or meet you, they go to your website to find out if their first impression of you will be affirmed by what’s on your site.
Yet, regardless of how many fabulous testimonials or impressive credentials you have, if those accolades are displayed in a zillion different colors, or a bunch of different (or hard-to-read) fonts, or alongside bizarre (or lackluster) graphics/photos, or within a confusing layout, your visitor might leave your site before reading a single word.
Before. They. Read. A. Single. Word.
If a visitor likes what they see at first glance, then they might start skimming your text. But your copy can also deter them if it has lots of typos, or is too dense, vague, stiff, unhelpful, or narcissistic.
So, job #1 of a website upgrade is to remove any red flags.
Job #2 is to organize the site so visitors can easily self-navigate their way through it.
And job #3 is to craft your text so they feel like you are speaking directly to them about them – and so they have enough info about you and what you offer to help them self-identify as a potential client / customer / collaborator (or not).
HELP FOR YOU
There are plenty of folks out in the world with tech skills who can help you launch or upgrade a website – these are the folks I work with:
Loren Kling is my professional and affordable tech dude – my go-to whenever I have a question or problem with my sites. He has also worked with me on projects for several of my clients. Loren can do almost anything for your site: setting it up, troubleshooting, altering themes, general maintenance, plus making sure everything is backed up and running smoothly.
Rachel Stander is my assistant (in my mind I call her Wonder Woman). She has done all sorts of tasks for me (and for many of my clients), but in the web-sphere, she can help you make updates and design new graphics. One of the most time-consuming parts of making a new website can be migrating one’s blog archive from one site to the other. I put Rachel in charge of transferring my 85 Golden Nugget posts from my old site to my new one and she did a fantastic job.
(And if your website totally crashes and burns or get hacked or suffers some other major traumatic incident that reduces you to tears and requires an exorcism, get out your wallet and contact Steve Cunningham.)
I wish I knew of a wonderful, affordable web designer who can help you with the aesthetics and visual style of your site, but I don’t have anyone to refer at the moment. (If you know of someone, please, please, please let me know!)
The great thing about Loren, Rachel, and Steve (and hopefully any person you chose to help you) is that they can also teach you how to make changes to your own site (a wise investment of time and money).
The only reason I have become semi-skilled with website stuff (and thus able to change what I want when I want) is because I had three people over the years who taught me a lot and let me ask a lot of questions: my best friend from high school who built my first site (dragging me kicking and screaming onto the world wide web), the designer I hired when I did my first upgrade – I consider him my “web mentor,” and my first virtual assistant who was on my team for four years and who never got (overtly) irritated with me when I would poke around and change something on my site that then “broke” something that she had to then teach me how fix. Bless their incredibly patient hearts.
At the most basic level, you need to have a presence on the internet with content that you can control. When someone Googles you, they need to be able to find you – and they should find what you want them to find.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to have a Big Beautiful Website. Too many folks – artists especially – invest time and money on a website before they truly need one (mostly in a quest to feel productive and professional). Others get caught up in creating a website comparable to those of colleagues who have been in business a lot longer (or who have more money to spend).
But you only need a website when you actually need a website. And there are 3 levels of web presence you can take advantage of – and you’d be surprised how much you can advance your career by just using Level 1 or 2…
Level 1: redirect
Buy your name as a domain (yourname.com or yourbusiness.com) from a site like bluehost or GoDaddy (about $15 per year) and redirect it (get Loren to do this for you) to any other URL on which you already have relevant info.
That way, someone can type in the URL of “yourname.com” and they will automatically be sent to the place of your choice: to your LinkedIn profile, or your Facebook business page, or your YouTube channel, or your IMDB page, or your profile page on a professional networking site, etc.
Level 2: About.me
About.me is a free site on which you can create a page with one gorgeous photo, some text, and links to any other webpage and/or any or all of your social media pages.
You can then redirect “yourname.com” to take folks to your About.me page. This can be a terrific placeholder to have for your basic info while you are building your first site.
Level 3: your own site
The components of a website are:
• a platform (like WordPress or Weebly)
• a domain name (yourname.com)
• a site host (“the company that actually connects your site to the web”)
• a web theme (the “design” of your site)
There are several companies (Weebly, Wix, Squarespace) that make building websites pretty painless and provide you with all 4 of those components under one roof. Their templates are beautiful, the interface is simple, and their hosting costs are moderate.
This is perfect for a non-techie because it allows you to make changes and updates without having to pay (and then wait) for someone else to do it for you. Were I starting from scratch today, that’s the route I would have gone.
I, however, needed a website before companies like Weebly and Squarespace existed. Back then, the main option I had was to build my site using WordPress as my platform.
In many respects, that actually worked in my favor because a WordPress site offers unparalleled flexibility and almost unlimited expansion options. It is compatible with almost every plug-in, contact management system, and payment processing system out there so it can grow with you as your business grows.
The components I currently use are:
• a platform = WordPress
• a domain name provider= bluehost
• a site host = bluehost
• a web theme = Avada
Your theme gives you the overall “look” of your website. Make sure it’s “mobile friendly” so it will automatically adjust itself to look good on all mobile devices.
When you look at a web theme you have to keep in mind that almost everything about it can usually be changed around.
Don’t like that one thing on the sidebar? Chances are you don’t have to have it there. Don’t want to have a slider? You don’t have to have one just because it’s on the demo.
Themes are meant to be pretty flexible (within reason) and give you options. So don’t look at the sample and think “oh, I don’t like it cuz of THAT thing” because chances are “THAT thing” can be changed. Not all of the time, but most of the time. Thus, when you are selecting a theme, you want to focus on the bigger picture feel of it.
To find great themes, I suggest Googling the phrase “best _____ WordPress themes” using any of the following words to fill in the blank:
free / minimalist / one page / responsive / blog / photography / creative
My personal recommendation for WordPress is the Avada theme.
1) It is so flexible that you can pretty much make it look and function like any other theme out there.
2) It does everything the very popular Divi theme does at a fraction of the cost of Divi. I originally wanted to use Divi for my site – but I found Avada looking around for more affordable options.
3) It is drag-and-drop user friendly once you get the hang of it. Learn a teeny tiny bit of HTML and it’s even better.
4) It can grow and change with you and your business. There’s no need to change themes when you decide it’s time for an entirely new look.
The downside of Avada (or any very powerful, flexible theme) is that you have a ton of options which means a lot of decisions.
But that’s where someone like me or Arianna comes in handy. We help our clients by narrowing down the options and keeping them focused on using design to support the message they want their site to communicate to visitors.
The truth is, you don’t want to use a bunch of different bells and whistles on your site or it will smell a bit crazy. As you can see by looking through my site, uniformity and repetition of a few select design elements creates a calm, clear, pleasant atmosphere.
I suggest using no more than 3 fonts throughout your entire site: use 1 font for all of your text, and 1-2 accent fonts for the graphics and design elements.
On this site I use a font for the text, I use an accent font for my name/logo (and in a few other locations), and I use another accent font in most of the graphics I created for the site.
If you want a logo for your business, the simplest, cheapest way to create one is to choose an accent font to use for the actual name of the biz. That’s what I did for this site.
Places that provide free fonts:
The cool thing about each of those sites is there is a place to type in the text you will be using (like your name) and then all the fonts will display with that text – this allows you to visualize the end product.
If you want to have a graphic logo (or any additional graphics for your site) you can find professional, quick designers here:
I recommend that you build your site using no more than 5-6 colors that are complementary in shade and complementary in tone. That breaks down to:
• 1 signature color
• 2-3 accent colors (for subtitles titles, links, etc.)
• 2-3 neutral colors (white, black, light grey, dark grey) for background, text and some accents
For this site I’ve chosen:
signature = navy
accents = berry + sky blue
neutrals = white + light grey + dark grey
A few text guidelines for your consideration…
1) Write about the person visiting your site and what they need BEFORE you write about you and what you do.
Do you understand my issues/desires?
Do you help people like me?
are very different questions than these questions:
Who are you?
What do you do?
People are not interested in your answers to the second batch until you have addressed the first batch. In that same vein, visitors to your website will respond better if they encounter the pronoun “you” before (and much more often than) the pronoun “I.”
2) As much as possible, write like you are having a conversation with one person.
Your style can be certainly be formal if you want it to be, but formal is different than being stiff or stuffy. You want readers to feel like you truly “get” them, care about them, and understand where they are coming from.
3) Make your text easy to skim.
On websites, people usually skim first, then (maybe) go back and read. So break up the text on your webpages and make them skimmable with strategic use of graphics, subheadings, and color. Short paragraphs, bullet point lists, and white space are your friends.
4) Get help writing your bio.
This suggestion is less about your ability to write than it is about your ability to fully comprehend and willingly articulate the strengths of your strengths and the uniqueness of your accomplishments – and your ability to share them with the right amount of levity, gravitas, and/or pizazz.
The narrative of your bio does not have to be linear. Nor does it have to include every last detail. And you might need to have a few different versions, each crafted for a particular audience.
The fabulous Claire Winters can help you write your bio, LinkedIn profile, or mission statement. (And she can help you craft and deliver speeches, presentations, and killer interviews.)
KEEP IN MIND…
…websites are always works-in-progress. And, with an endless variety of “beautiful” out there, it is easy to find one that looks beyond your current reach in terms of form and/or function. (And easy to get down about that fact.)
For those days when you have the comparison blues, keep in mind that everyone (and I mean everyone) started somewhere – and you can go to the Wayback Machine to find the proof. Type in the name of your favorite online powerhouse and take a look at earlier iterations of their websites. Sometimes a bit of perspective is all it takes to restore your marketing mojo.
Keep betting on yourself – I believe in you,