Five Essential Questions to Answer Before Launching Your Website

Posted on: 11.10.2020
Written by: Karen
File Under: websites

If you’ve been around awhile, you know I’m passionate about how important it is for a small business to have a website – it helps potential clients find you (and maybe even make that all-important purchase), it can help you clarify your mission, and it will help your business compete with the big guys. But I know it’s all well and good for me to say you need a website, but that’s basically meaningless if you don’t know where to start.

Before you take the plunge on your first website, you need to make some big choices about the goals of your site, how much work or time you’ll be able to devote to it, and the overall budget you can allocate both upfront and annually. Knowing the answers to these questions will help you narrow down the specifics of your new site.

The Big Questions

You may be surprised by how much you need to decide about your website that may have nothing to do with what your customer actually sees once it’s online.

Just like with any other large project, careful, thoughtful planning will make everything go smoothly down the line.

  1. What is the goal of my website?
  2. How much work am I willing to put into my website?
  3. Will my website need regular updates?
  4. What’s my initial budget?
  5. What’s my annual budget?

We’re going to break down each of these questions, the pros and cons of potential answers, and recommend your best bet.

What is the goal of my website?

The first thing you need to determine is what you actually want the site to accomplish.

  • Inform
  • Interact
  • Sell

My site will be a place where I can be found online.

Your website is a great place for potential customers to discover you, learn more about who you are and what you offer, and find out where they can visit you.

Pros: Static pages are helpful if you don’t have the time, knowledge, or budget to update your website regularly. They are also good if your customers are likely to be interested in or need information about your business before visiting your location.

Cons: Static pages are often designed without concern for how easy it may be to make updates later on. They are also not overly useful if you do not have a physical location.

Your Best Bet: Whether you plan on creating the website yourself, hiring a freelancer, or bringing in an agency, you don’t need a fancy custom CMS (Content Management System). WordPress, Squarespace, or even Wix will work well for you.

My site will be a place where I can share updates and new ideas with my customers.

Your website is a place customers can visit for regular updates about products, coupons or sale alerts, or even regular blog posts. You’re not just a business, you’re a trusted friend and collaborator!

Pros: Blog pages are relatively easy to add and maintain, and many design-it-yourself providers have done most of the work for you.

Cons: Regular updates usually require regular maintenance. Even if you’re doing all the content creation and basic updates yourself, you may need someone to help keep the finer details clean and up to date.

Your Best Bet: WordPress – spend a little bit extra on a great template with a solid update record and you won’t regret it!

My site will allow customers to place orders.

Your website is more than just the digital home of your business, it’s the heart and soul of it. Maybe you have a location, but you want to appeal to customers who aren’t able to visit in person. Maybe your business is a digital native and your website is your only way to reach and serve customers. 

Pros: Being able to make a purchase immediately is great for the customer experience – when it’s done well. Basically no matter what you spend, it’ll still be less expensive than having a storefront. 

Cons: When eCommerce goes wrong, it can go really wrong. Incorrect payments, lost orders, and unhappy customers are just a few of your potential worries. You’ll need to pay more upfront for an eCommerce site, and you may want to seriously consider hiring an expert to create and maintain it.

Your Best Bet: WordPress with WooCommerce or Shopify. If you have the budget, work with a trusted freelancer or agency to get your site set up.

How much work am I willing to put into my website?

Have you worked on a website before? Are you willing to put in some major time to learn how to build your website on the best content management platform for your business?

Don’t forget: even if you have the ability, you may not have the time. You’re starting a business, after all!

  • All of it
  • Most of it
  • Some of it
  • None of it

I’m an experienced do-it-yourselfer.

You know what you’re doing, and you’re willing to put in the time it’ll take to do this right. 

Pros: Just like any other big project, going it yourself can save loads of money. If you have the skills and the time, you can make your website look exactly like it does in your head without any of the trouble of explaining it to someone else first.

Cons: Depending on the goal of your website, you could end up spending a lot of time doing something someone else could be doing. You run the risk of getting in over your head and losing time and potentially money. If your website looks exactly like you want it to, you run the risk of appealing only to yourself and not to your customer.

Your Best Bet: The platform you know best (assuming it works for your business). 

I don’t have a lot of time, or I may need help putting the finishing touches on the site.

You have a basic to pretty good idea of how to create a website, but you need either input or assistance. 

Pros: Doing most of the work yourself is likely to be less expensive than hiring out the entire project. You’ll have more immediate control over the website’s direction and focus than you might otherwise. 

Cons: You’ll need to find someone to finish the project who shares your vision for the website. If you know what you’re doing but don’t have the time to complete it, you might find it frustrating to have someone else working on your website in a way that you wouldn’t.

Your Best Bet: Find a freelancer before you start and make sure you’re both on the same page before starting, and then again before handing the website off.

I want to have a say in the design, but I don’t want to do it.

You’re internet savvy and know what you want your website to look like, but you know that you’re not the right person to make it happen, either because of time or ability.

Pros: You know what you want, and that goes a long way when working with someone. You’re prepared to be involved, even if you’re not hands-on.

Cons: There’s always a risk of knowing what you know, but not knowing what you don’t know. (You know you want your website to look like Apple’s; you don’t know Apple’s website may look simple, but costs insane amounts of money and has a whole team working on it daily. Plus they have nearly unparalleled brand recognition and loyalty.) You will need to hire carefully to ensure that you find someone who can make your specific vision come to life.

Your Best Bet: Hire a freelancer or an agency. With a freelancer, you’re more likely to need to have all the information ready up front; with an agency, you will most likely work with an account manager to develop a vision and experience for your website before the design gets underway.

I want a website. Take my money.

You know you need a website, but you also know you don’t know how to make it happen. You’re a doctor, not a webmaster, Jim! 

Pros: Find a decent developer and you’re likely to be very happy with the results.

Cons: You may be disappointed to learn that you can’t supply a web designer (freelance or agency) with a logo and a brochure and get a website in return. You will need to provide important information, website copy (or pay extra for that service), and be available to approve the website design at least a few times along the way.

Your Best Bet: Hire a freelancer or an agency. With a freelancer, you’re more likely to need to have all the information ready up front; with an agency, you will work most likely with an account manager to develop a vision and experience for your website before the design gets underway.

Will my website need regular updates?

Once your website is live, it will almost certainly require some form of maintenance or updates. This could include closing alerts, blog posts, new item postings, sales, and more.

  • No
  • Yes – Several times a year
  • Yes – Monthly
  • Yes – Weekly or daily

Once it’s done, it’s done.

Your website is there for customers who need it, but it’s not where you do your business. Barring a major, unexpected change, you don’t expect that you’ll need to make any changes once it’s live.

Pros: Static websites are the least expensive to maintain since nothing is likely to break or require maintenance if there are no changes being made.

Cons: If you fall behind on updates, you may open yourself up to security breaches.

Your Best Bet: Since adaptability isn’t a major concern, you should choose a stable platform that isn’t likely to be making huge changes: Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress (especially with a well-chosen template) are all excellent choices.

I want to be able to make basic changes seasonally or alert customers about holiday hours.

Your website doesn’t need to be updated regularly, but you don’t want it to look out of date either. You may also want to make sure that customers are aware of any changes in business hours because of holidays, inclement weather, or your own (much needed) vacation.

Pros: Minimal edits require minimal payments. If you really are as low maintenance as you expect, you may be able to work out a deal with your designer for a discounted rate in exchange for predictable work.

Cons: Unless you’re able to make the changes yourself, you’ll want to make sure you have a standing agreement with your freelancer or agency for when updates are required.

Your Best Bet: Be upfront with your freelancer or design agency, but don’t get stuck on the idea of only making a few changes a year. Depending on retainer versus a la carte rates, you may be better off finding a little extra for them to do (it’s not always web either – sometimes the retainer will include all design work).

I will need to make semi-regular updates, at least once a month.

Whether your shop introduces new products on a monthly cycle, or you want to be able to introduce regular promotions, you plan on making predictable, regular updates to your website.

Pros: Familiarity makes the update process faster and more efficient, so working with the same person each time will save you money in the long run. Most freelancers or agencies will give discounts for retainer contracts.

Cons: This is definitely one where you are better off spending the money on a recurring contract if you aren’t sure you have the time and skill to do it yourself.

Your Best Bet: Find a freelancer or agency that you trust and make a deal. Most retainer contracts are done on an annual basis, so you may want to do the first few months as a test run to make sure you find the right person before signing on.

My website is a living thing and must be fed regularly.

Your website is the true home of your business, even if you have a storefront. It’s where you interact with your customers, and you know that they think of you as more than just a purveyor of widgets.

Pros: Hiring a freelancer or agency to do regular work is sort of like contracting out a job instead of bringing someone in house – you’re paying a regular wage for the work, but you don’t need to worry about the taxes, finding them a desk, or insurance, or trying to fill out a full work week.

Cons: Freelancer hourly wages can seem high at first.

Your Best Bet: Find a freelancer or agency that you trust and make a deal. Most retainer contracts are done on an annual basis, so you may want to do the first few months as a test run to make sure you find the right person before signing on.

What’s my initial budget?

The amount of resources you can put into your website can save you time and money in the long run, but there’s no shame in starting small. Your initial site should be functional, not flashy.

  • Less than $200
  • $200-$1000
  • $1000+

I don’t have a lot of money to put into my website right now.

You know you need a website, but you don’t have the money to pay a reputable freelancer to do it for you.

Pros: If you’re not looking to go fancy, there are lots of great website builders out there that offer helpful templates and full packages that are usually an excellent deal for the first year.

Cons: With your budget, you’re probably going to end up doing the work yourself. If you expand your business or website down the line, you may need to start over entirely on a different platform which can be a whole headache of timing, transfers, and cancelations.

Your Best Bet: Do your research and choose the platform that fits your skill set. Examine the content of the templates provided and choose one based on what information works best for your business. Customize your website with images and copy, but don’t fall into the temptation of trying to “jazz it up” if you’ve never done a website before.

I know I need to invest in my website, but I have limited funds.

You know how important it is to start strong and you have some cash to help you find help on your website, but your budget isn’t huge.

Pros: Starting with a professionally designed and executed website can set you off on the right foot from the beginning, saving you money down the road.

Cons: You’ll probably need to wade through a lot of people who promise great returns for a low budget, but don’t forget – you get what you pay for.

Your Best Bet: Figure out exactly what you need and then get bids from freelancers and agencies. You’ll probably end up needing to do some serious work upfront, but it’ll be worth it!

I know how important a great website is to my business and I have budgeted accordingly.

Your website is how you present your business to the world and you’ve set aside the budget to ensure that it stands out.

Pros: With your budget, you can get someone who does more than basic design and execution. Your website will benefit greatly from the planning, user experience analysis, and website funneling that an experienced freelancer or agency can provide.

Cons: Given the initial outlay, you need to be sure that your end-user profile is on point and that your copy is clear and appealing. A pretty website won’t get you far if your content isn’t up to par.

Your Best Bet: Spend some time talking to potential freelancers and agencies and make sure you choose the one that has the best grasp of your business, your customers, and your goals.

What’s my annual budget?

A big mistake website owners make is assuming that once the site is live, they don’t have to worry about it ever again.

Update and maintenance costs aside, annual renewals can often come as a shock. Did you know that the great deal you got when you started your website was a loss leader? You’ll be paying full price going forward.

  • Less than $200
  • $200-$1000
  • $1000+

My website isn’t my top priority and I don’t want to spend more than I have to.

If you’re doing your own updates, then the only thing you really need to worry about is your renewal expense. Make sure you know everything that you’re responsible for recurring payments on – hosting, domain name, any separate email accounts, and even any subscription templates or plug-ins you may have used.

Pros: Barring your site crashing (knock on wood) or any major changes at your platform, your website expenses will be both relatively low and predictable.

Cons: You’ll be doing most of the work yourself. If you decide to change platforms.

Your Best Bet: Long-term renewals tend to come with a discount when you pay upfront. Consider your long-term plans and current cash flow, and choose the longest option that works for you.

I know I’ll need help with my website, but I don’t have a huge budget.

When figuring out your maintenance budget, make sure you subtract the required annual renewal cost first.

Let’s say you need $150 of your $750 annual website budget just to keep your site live, that means you’ve got $150 per quarter for freelancer work. Generously, that’s about one hour a month, or just enough time for basic updates, plus routine backups and general maintenance. $750 sounded like a lot two sentences ago, didn’t it?

Pros: Even an hour a month can go a long way toward ensuring your website stays updated on both the front and back ends.

Cons: You may still end up doing some of the work yourself.

Your Best Bet: Most freelancers and agencies offer a discount when you sign on for an annual retainer contract, even if it’s for a very limited number of hours.

I need regular updates and someone to do them for me.

You need ongoing support, either for your eCommerce products, your blog, or both. Even if you can’t find one person who can do both, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding people who can help you keep your site updated.

Pros: You can bring on someone to do either the mundane work (posting new products, site updates) or the time-consuming work (SEO research, writing blog posts, etc) so you can focus on the parts of your business that need you.

Cons: Hiring multiple people to help keep your site updated and maintained can become time-consuming and you could end up spending as much time giving out projects, checking them, and following up as you would just doing it yourself.

Your Best Bet: Work with an agency you trust. You’ll most likely end up with a single point of contact whose job is to understand the specific needs and goals of your business and then communicate it to the rest of the team.

Think you might like to work with someone?

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