I haven’t been in the business of helping people with their digital platform for 40 or 50 years, but I’ve been helping people long enough to notice some patterns. Apart from, “make the logo bigger,” one of the things I hear the most is, “I need a website.” or “Can you make me a website?” or some variation.
In 2017, having a website is obviously very important. We live in a time where we are not limited by brick and mortar shops with specific business hours. We can connect and serve people who are local or non-local, and depending on what our vision is, we may even serve people 24/7. So yes, absolutely, your website is crucial. However, when people tell me they need a website, my response is ALWAYS, “Ok, but it’s so much more than just a website.”
Since this is such a common comment I hear from people, I thought I would take a minute and talk about this in a little more detail. Maybe you have even been in that boat where you said, “I think I need a website.”
Ok, so what do I mean when I say, “it’s so much more than just a website?” Well, a website is only part of a larger picture. My father is a general contractor, so hearing talk about buildings and construction is not out of the ordinary for me. When you think about your vision for impacting lives, the digital strategy you need is sort of like a building.
In its simplest explanation, let’s break down a building. The first part of building anything starts with the design + plan. Once you’ve got the design + plan figured out, you need to build a solid foundation. Then, on the foundation you can frame out the building and get your main structure in place. After that, you work on the interior + exterior pieces. Next, you’ll do the finishing work, and lastly you’ll do any clean up and final touches before cutting the ribbon on your grand opening. So what does that have to do with anything in the digital world? Well, let’s take it stage by stage.
Design + Plan
This is your idea, your dream, your vision. It’s the way you see yourself impacting lives through your business, organization or passion project. A lot of times, when I meet people, this is the stage they are in. Sometimes their idea needs developed and fleshed out a bit, but generally speaking, before you even think you need a website, you’ve already got the great idea behind it all.
The common mistake I see people make is going from this stage, the stage of just having an idea, and wanting to jump right into creating a website. Your website is essentially the framing of your building. It’s absolutely crucial to your overall goal, but in order for your website to be effective, it needs to be supported by a foundation, aka your brand.
Your brand is your words, your logo, your images, your colors, your personality, your story. Your brand is the experiences you provide online, offline, and everywhere in between. Your brand is the perception of who you are to the people you know and the people you don’t know. Your brand is the foundation on which everything else needs to be built. If you just throw up a website without really knowing who you are and who you are trying to serve, you won’t have the solid foundation you need to continue building your cause. And like a building, if it’s built on a weak foundation or no foundation at all, you’re going to run into some major problems down the road.
Now that you’ve got your solid foundation in place, you can start to actually create the structure. For your digital strategy, this is your website, or as I like to refer to it, your digital hub. Your website is the central location that ties together all of the right technology you are using. Like the framing on a building holds the structure together, your website holds together your digital strategy.
Interior + Exterior Work
Depending on the type of building you’re creating, what you need on the inside and the outside will look a little different with each structure. This holds true for your digital strategy as well. The interior work, the stuff that’s inside of the structure, are the pieces that make up your website. There are key elements that will be the same no matter what your vision is, but the parts that make up your website and how you use it are what is unique to you and your cause/vision. Just as the layout of a building differs, and how the rooms are used will differ, this is how the content of your website works.
The exterior work is everything you need that is outside of your website, but still gets tied together for the digital strategy as a whole. Remember how I said your website is your digital hub? There are always, always, always things outside of your website that you will need in order to complete the project. In some cases, there may be a lot, and in some, not as much. Maybe it is as simple as a custom email address, but more often you will find yourself needing things like project management, automation, etc. to really bring together the right technology + the right way for your cause/vision.
The finishing work are things that might not be vital to the functionality of the building, but are important nonetheless — the crown molding, the doorframes, the paint, the flooring, etc. For your digital strategy, these are the components that are nice to have, but not necessarily vital. Perhaps it’s a feature that you think will make things more convenient for those you serve. Or perhaps it’s just something that makes your website or other digital tools look and feel a bit more like you. Regardless of where the “finishings” of your digital strategy fall, they are important and a stage of your project that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Cleanup + Final Touches
While a building is functional before you do the cleanup and any final touches, it’s always nice to go back, tie up any loose ends, and pretty it up a bit at the end. There will always be a piece of lint on the floor, a smudge on the window, or any number of small things you might notice to prevent the project from being “complete.” When it comes to a building, or your digital strategy, you have to know when to call it ready to go. Do one final sweep, touch up what you can, be proud of what you’ve done, and get it into the world. There will always be time to make adjustments later.
Even though your building (digital strategy) is complete and you’ve cut the ribbon, there’s one more piece that comes into play. Over time, buildings need to be repaired, you might outgrow the facility and need to build an addition, or maybe the space you’re in just doesn’t function well for what you need any longer. All of these things are true for your digital strategy as well. As you grow and continue to serve people with your cause/vision, you’re going to need to make adjustments along the way. You may need to fix aspects that simply didn’t work. You may need to add in new features or tactics. You may need to restructure your website, project management, automation or other tools to better function where your vision has grown to. This stage can take on many different forms, but the important thing is to recognize that this is completely normal. Your digital strategy will never be a “set it and forget it” type of project.
Yes, a website is crucial, but it’s so much more than just a website.