You’re not selling anything these days. No one is hiring you. Business is crummy, and you start to think about what you can do differently. What is it that differentiates your successful competitors? Why are they winning while you’re losing? I’d better check their web sites, you think. Then, you call me.
I need a better web site! you tell me. I need it to do The Twitter and to have an app and I need it to have a blog. Can you make a blog? Can you make my web site be first on Google?
On the other end, I can hear the face you’re making. You’re comparing what you have to what you think you need, and you want an expert to come in and install it all for you. If I were a different kind of consultant, I’d sell you everything you mention and a side of gouge-em, but I’m not that kind of consultant. I’m the kind that gently tells you this:
Your web site is not going to fix your business.
If my client’s goal is amorphous and his plan is based on either website envy or a magazine article he read, I tug hard on the reins. My goal is to slow down the Big Plan and dig a little deeper into the whys and the hows of what I’m being asked to build. I want to step back into a basic consulting role and find out the answer to the most important question I can ask: What business problem do you want this web site to solve? If I build someone a site — or upgrade their existing one — based purely on envy and articles, we will inevitably head for disaster.
Following Every Trend Is Bad for Both of Us
It would seem that I should take full advantage of these really stressed-out clients who think that a web site will solve their problems. After all, a project that will take me 90 hours will bring in more money for me than a project that will take 30 hours. There are two issues here:
- My clients might not be able to afford a 90 hour project. I don’t work with billion-dollar corporations; I work with accountants and fitness studios and preschools and life coaches and churches. Some of them have a substantial budget, but many of them do not. If one of my smaller-budget clients gets a quote for more than they can afford, especially after a really nice conversation with me, it leaves them dejected and deflated. These are nice people. I hate to disappoint them, especially because:
- Huge overhauls of site functionality and ambitious online marketing campaigns don’t always pay out. Disappointment is basically proportionate to the amount of money and time spent. If my client undertakes the expense and puts in the time to build something for their site based on the fantastic thing they saw elsewhere, and then it doesn’t solve their problem, then not only do they have the original problem but also a new one called “My web consultant didn’t build me what I needed.” That becomes my problem the moment it enters the air, and it’s not an easy one to fix.
Not Every Cool Thing Is Cool for Everyone
This could also be explained by handing your five year old daughter this gorgeous, state-of-the-art corkscrew from Wine Enthusiast. It’s magnificent — it removes the cork, aerates the wine, has an attached pourer, and when it’s plugged in to charge, it glows blue. It’s perfect…
…but not for a five year old. She has no use for it. Someday, when she turns twenty-one, she might like it — but by then, maybe something else would have come out. Why on earth get this for her now?
The same could be said for rash decisions about online technology. It’s great that you want to use Twitter, but what will you do with it? Will you be there five times a day, interacting with the tweets other people write, or responding to their comments on yours? Do you have a strategy for following back other people, for keeping your Twitter presence going when you’re on vacation, for weekend Tweeting? I can set up your account and add a feed from it to your web site, but if the last thing you shared there is from 17 days ago, that’s worse than not having a Twitter account at all. Whatever the tech du jour is, make sure it has a real place in your business plan and your weekly workflow — and make sure it makes some sense in your actual business.
Le Blog Juste
My high school English teacher taught me the phrase le mot juste, which means “the perfect word.” Online, it’s more than a word; it’s hitting the exact right tone and audience connection and finding the right way to get those words out there. This comes up in particular when businesses or organizations talk to me about building a blog, but it applies to anywhere online that they’re planning to fill with original content. I say this with deep affection and respect for that which makes us all special, but I still have to say it: what will be special about your content? I am one of thousands of people who write about web design and consulting, and when I sit down to do it, I always try to think about what it is that I could write that would be different from the scores of articles online about the topic I’m covering.
- do I have another angle on the same topic?
- do I have a special perspective on that topic because of my own experiences?
- do my clients need to learn about this topic in a way that is specific to them?
- are there myths about this topic which I could debunk?
- can I approach this topic in a more approachable way than has been attempted before?
If you can’t yet answer “yes” to any of these questions, then your blog (or tweets, or Facebook posts, or anything wordy you share online) is not likely to return much value to your business. If you are a fashion blogger and write a post about the importance of having a little black dress in your closet, that article had better be incredibly creative, because your topic has been visited and revisited and worn out (pun intended) ten thousand times.
My point here is that my building you a facility to write a blog does not mean that your blog will gain traction, have traffic, and create any kind of revenue for you. You must be prepared to write well or to outsource the writing to someone who knows how to do it masterfully. You’ll either spend time or money on this project even after you pay your web developer for the functionality required to put those as-yet-unwritten words onto the web.
There are lots of business problems that web sites and redesigns really can help solve, so I don’t mean to be saying that it’s not something to examine when things seem to be slowing down for your business or nonprofit. It’s the knee-jerk reaction to popular online tech that makes me worry for my clients and, in the end, for myself, installing and customizing software and tools that may or may not really add value. Ethically, the whole idea makes me uncomfortable. If you’re working with a consultant, you should share every idea you’ve had alongside all the problems you’re looking to solve, and let that expert help you weed out trend from real value, customized to your needs and resources. Otherwise, your web site won’t be fixing anything.
Do you need a hand separating the latest-and-greatest from the totally-crucial? I’d be happy to talk with you about it. Send me an email or reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter, and we can set up a free fifteen-minute consultation.