Kudos to all those entrepreneurs out there—you’re energetic, inspirational and essential to a healthy business ecosystem. But for fledgling organizations, enthusiasm can backfire when it lacks perception, resulting in a dramatic failure to launch.
Agencies are approached regularly by aspiring business owners who jump into a custom web design project too quickly. While a website is unquestionably a critical component of an organization’s business, it’s important that your startup is on a firm foundation before you shell out the cash for a website. Consider the following fictional examples drawn from true life situations:
Mistake #1 – Failing to research your market before engaging a web designer
Once upon a time, there was an e-commerce website project that went horribly wrong. Here’s what happened: a web designer was approached by a woman –let’s call her Angela– with a solepreneur business making custom t-shirts. She’d made the rounds at the appropriate venues: farmers markets, street fairs and music festivals, but she had little success in selling her wares.
Rather than research the possibilities for failure (Product problem? Mistaken market?) she jumped to the conclusion that if she could just sell her tees online, the orders would roll in.
Now, think about this for a minute. If you’re talking face-to-face with the right customer about the right product and they still don’t buy, why would you possibly have more success selling online?
Unfortunately, Angela found a web designer who disregarded the glaring fact of a flawed business premise and took a hefty chunk of her savings (more than she could really afford) to build an e-commerce site. Despite an attractive and functional website, the e-commerce business was an abject failure and shut down 12 months after launch.
Truth #1: A stellar website can’t fix a flawed business idea.
Mistake #2: Thinking you don’t need a plan because your startup idea is so very awesome
There’s a certain mythology about the start of startups: HP and Apple were born in a garage. Dell started in a dorm room. YouTube was a sudden inspiration. The truth is something completely different. So legendary entrepreneurs be damned, preparation is not a bad thing if you’re launching a new business.
To illustrate, here’s another story. A middle-aged couple had a life-changing experience after stumbling across an obscure health supplement while on vacation in India. It gave them vitality and sharpness of mind they hadn’t felt in decades, perhaps ever.
Eager to share their find with the western world — and retire fabulously — they contracted a creative agency that produced a lovely brand identity and e-commerce site, and the couple paid the bill with money pulled from their retirement fund, early withdrawal penalties and all.
On website launch day, the couple called their project manager and said something to the effect of, “Uh, gee, we won’t be able to do the business after all.” Turns out they hadn’t figured out how to get the proper approvals to import and sell the supplement in the US. They tried to modify their offering with little success and 18 months later, but still haven’t begun to recoup their investment.
Truth #2 You really should figure out if your business idea is even possible before robbing your nest egg to pay for a custom website.
Mistake #3 Disregarding the need for a unified internal team
Another frustrating situation for a web designer is when a project becomes paralyzed because the client has major internal issues. We’ll call our third scenario Pelosi & Ashcroft Partners, LLC (P&A). Intelligent, successful professionals, the principals of P&A had abandoned corporate employ to join forces and launch their own consultancy. They wanted a polished, professional website to reinforce their credentials and they wanted it fast. Having started the web designer selection process in late fall, they were eager to expense it in the same fiscal year, so they went ahead and paid the entire cost up front (which is atypical).
The project was headed for trouble early on when it became clear that the two partners had wildly different visions for the website (and probably the partnership, too). One wanted a custom-designed website, the other thought a cheap template was good enough. One wanted an ultra-modern look, the other skewed conservative. One wanted to pursue content marketing to generate leads, the other saw that tactic as useless for their largely word-of-mouth industry.
Website meetings quickly morphed into therapy sessions as the project manager sought common ground between the two partners to keep the project moving forward. Ultimately, it took nearly a year, but the web designer was finally able to create a website with a design and functionality that the two partners agreed on.
However, to this day (18+ months later) the new website still has not launched because P&A can’t agree on content–since it has a content management system, in theory, they will be able to finish the project on their own. Whether they will actually do so remains unclear, since there’s no longer a “therapist” to facilitate.
Truth #3 A web designer isn’t a business consultant—they can’t solve your internal problems.
How to avoid making these types of mistakes
If you’re starting up a business, do your homework. While you probably don’t need a massive, Harvard MBA-worthy business plan, you do need to put some thought into your enterprise before sinking money into it.
With just a little forethought, you’ll be well-prepared to collaborate with a web designer who will deliver a website that’s a powerful business and marketing tool.