Are you ready to start building your website? First step - stop!
Before you commit to any one website platform, you need to ask yourself these 5 critical questions to avoid frustration and the headaches that happen when you choose the wrong platform for your business.
#1 - Are you hiring a website designer or are you DIY’ing it?
If you’re planning on hiring a designer, typically they’ll have a recommendation on which website builders they work with, and recommend for a business like yours. If you’re DIY’ing it - you’re going to need to go through all the questions on this list - so keep reading! :) And… even if you're hiring your website designer, you want to make sure that they have asked you all these questions or something similar so that they can really assess your needs and make sure that you're getting a platform that's gonna work for what you need it to work for.
One major pitfall that I see business owners fall into is blindly signing up for your web designer’s proprietary builder or content management system - for freelancers, sometimes it's a whitelabelled version of a popular builder, and with agencies, sometimes it’s something they’ve built in-house.
I never recommend that you sign up to have your website built on these types of proprietary systems. Why? If you ever decide that you don't want to work with that agency or you want to move your website to a different platform (cost, new designer, etc.) -- the likelihood of being able to transfer it to wherever you’d like is next to zero. Which means until you’re ready to completely redesign your website and start from scratch, you’re stuck in a cycle of paying whatever the agency asks for. It’s just not a great idea. Signing up for a well-known website platform with good documentation (Wordpress, Squarespace, Webflow, Shopify, etc.) is the way to go.
If you're DIY’ing your website, you're gonna want to assess how easy it is to actually DIY. I can’t give you an answer on which one is 100% correct for you - you’ll want to explore the options. Some use Wix or Squarespace, others use a builder like Divi or Elementor installed on Wordpress - there’s lots of options to explore, and ultimately this is a personal preference based on your style and your business needs.
Biased opinion as a website designer? I usually don’t recommend DIY’ing your site beyond your initial, concept website. Good website designers are well-educated in design and development, and have learned a lot from years of experience, which helps you avoid common mistakes and the endless googling that most business owners experience when they build and maintain their own website :) You can save a lot of time by hiring a qualified designer (key word: qualified).
#2 - How important is uniqueness to you?
I play a game whenever I’m checking out consultant and small business sites called “how quickly can I guess what website builder they used?” Sometimes I can even guess which theme it was built on.
Here’s my point - SO many websites (especially small businesses, startups, and soloprenuer sites!) look exactly the same, which means there's no way to differentiate between your website and the other counseling website down the street. When you use a theme, you just never know who is using the exact same one.
So here’s the question - do you want a website that looks unique to you, or are you okay with settling for something that might be a really commonly used design?
What many website designers will do is even if you don't want (or can’t afford) a fully custom website, we’ll take a template and customize it to make it uniquely yours. A trained eye (read: someone like me who spends too much time on the interwebs) may still be able to identify which builder it was made on, but it will be a lot harder to guess because it will be customized to look like YOUR business, and reflect your brand’s identity.
#3 - What is your comfort level with technology and figuring sh*t out?
This is an important one. You have to ask yourself the question because there's some people that are THRILLED to dig around in Wordpress and figure out all the ways your post or homepage or theme can be customized or reorganized (this would be me 😂)
Then there's other people — and I would argue that this is most people in the business world. They do not have the time or energy or will to figure everything out, and just want to find something that works well, that allows them to change things quickly without fighting with a system or touch code.
So before you choose a website builder, have an honest conversation with yourself: what’s your comfort level with technology, and how much time to do you want to invest in figuring out the system?
Bonus Question: Also consider what kind of functionality you need on your website, and what kind of customized integration you need - a signup form for your email list, a built-in scheduling calendar or an Instagram feed on your homepage. Does your website builder have all of your needs accommodated? If not, you need to be prepared to spend a decent amount of time figuring things out, or enlist a professional to help.
#4 - What’s your primary purpose of your website?
Typically, businesses fit into either a service based business model or a product based business model.
For service-based businesses, you're going to want to choose a builder like WordPress with a plugin like BeaverBuilder or Divi, Webflow, or Squarespace (friendliestfor DIY). If you are a product based business, you're gonna want to go toward Shopify (friendliest for DIY), WooCommerce or BigCommerce.
If you have a hybrid business model, more often than not that means you’re primarily a service-based business who sells a few products. For this type of business, you’ll want to go towards the service-side of the website builder spectrum, but choose something that also has e-commerce module that works for whatever you do. If you’re like most hybrid businesses, you don’t necessarily need the most robust e-commerce platform that can handle wholesale pricing or dropshipping, you just need a simple solution that takes an order so you can ship it. Something like Squarespace or Wix will work fine for simple e-commerce.
#5 - How quickly do you think you’ll need to expand?
This is a question I don’t think that most business owners think about -- how quickly do you want to expand your business and how will that affect your website?
Well-built websites should last you between 2-5 years, obviously varying based on your industry and market needs. If you’re aiming for the 5 year year, you will more than likely need a slight refresh in the middle of that to keep things running and marketing well, but generally you should be able to easily get 2-3 years out of your website, which means that you need to build on a platform that scales easily with your business.
For instance, if you need to add...
- A new service offering
- A membership portal
- Hundreds of new products 100’s of products
- A new vertical or industry to market to
- A wholesale login
… will your website builder help you or hinder you?
So think about it… where will your business be in 24 to 36 months? Make sure that as you grow, your website can grow with you. If it doesn't, you’ll have to redo your website faster than you should, and your time and financial investment into your current website build will be lost.