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The 9 questions before building a website - inside our strategy sessions | FERNxDesign
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You need a website. You’re not sure how you’re going to create it, or what it’s going to look like, but the project is definitely in your mind. Before you go any further, start with a solid foundation by answering these 9 questions. We ask all our FERNxDesign clients to answer these during our preliminary strategy session to get a better sense of who they are and what their project is.

1. Who are you ?


Brand yourself. The secret to personal branding is to create a simpler you. Outline your core values, competencies and define your vision. Get in contact with people on the same path as you are, reach out to mentors and build momentum. You’re probably a very complicated person with a myriad of personal interests and often contradicting desires, but let your visitors discover those lovely quirks when they get to know you better. The first impression they should have when going to your website should be clear, direct and very simply you. To go more in depth, read Neil Patel and Aaron Agius’ “Complete Guide to Building your Personal Brand”, great for business as well as personal branding.



2. How is your website going to help you achieve your goals ?


What are you hoping to achieve with your website ? Hopefully something quite simple like advance your career, get more visibility for your art, or sell your craft online. It’s easy to forget what your goal is once you start dabbling in design, SEO, security etc. But the fact is that all your actions should be directed towards that goal.

Craft a mission statement that includes you, your audience, your goal, and the means to achieve this goal (this last item is subject to change). Even if you don’t share it, you will follow it as a lifeline throughout the creation of your website. Here’s ours :

FERNxDesign’s website fosters trust-based relationships with Canadian artists by providing unbiased and high value knowledge and tools to create their online presence.”

Logo FERNxDesign
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Gmail


3. Craft your main message


Start with the mission statement you just created. Now how are you going to translate that into a message that will appeal to your audience?  If your goal is to sell something on your website, then your main message should be “Buy such and such” and include the main point of differentiation of your product. If you’re an artist and are looking for funding for your next project, your main message should be “Participate in my new project” and why. Your main message may change periodically, but it should always be very clear and concise.



4. Do you have the content ?


Do you have the content for your website ? Have you taken the pictures of your art or of your products ? If you’re selling online, have you priced your work ? Decided on a shipping method ?

We often get artists who want to start creating a website but don’t have any pictures. We find that’s a major challenge for a couple of reasons. First of all the design of your website is based on your work, so unless we have visuals of what it is you’re woking on, it will be hard to create something that reflects your personality. Secondly, if you’re not good with a camera and don’t know anyone who can help you out, getting the right pictures can mean investing in a professional photographer. It’s uncomfortable to realize half way through your project that you need to include that fee in your overall budget. So our advice is to get your main content together beforehand so as to hit the ground running when we start creating your website. The same is true if you’re going to go the DIY route.



5. Who’s going to update your website?


A website needs to be relevant. You should have images of your latest work up there, not stuff from ten years ago. If your goal is to create new career opportunities, find potential partners or get feedback on your work from your peers, then not showing your most recent work is a major block.

Updating your website can take a bit of technical skills and time. At FERNxDesign, we create easily updatable websites and take the time to teach you exactly how to use them – no matter what your technical skills are. We’re very proud to say we’ve taught people from ages 27 to 67 to use our websites. Getting technology to work for everyone is one of our core values ! As a matter of fact, if you’re over 50, we’ll give you a free bonus gift with your website, and if you break our age record, we’ll make your website for free !

But if you think your time is better spent working on your art rather than learning tech skills, you can use our premium hosting offer. Just send us the content you want to add to your website and we’ll get it up there for you in 48 hours.



6. What’s your communication strategy ?


To meet your goal as defined in step 2, chances are you’ll need to broadcast your website. If you want to sell your art through your website then you need to get potential customers to your website. How are you going to achieve that ? There are many channels of communication available to you, including content marketing, social media advertising, or email marketing. To pick the one best suited to you, the first step is to identify where your targets go for information. If Instagram is the big thing in your activity, then that’s where your should concentrate your efforts. Do a little research, find out what are the most efficient channels and go for it.

Little tip : pretty much everyone uses Facebook, so if you don’t know where to start, start there.

Little tip #2 : email marketing is a very strong option, may say stronger (and less expensive) than social media. To get a comparison of email vs. social, read this great in-depth article by MailMunch.



7. What is your website’s lifespan ?


This is a simple but very useful question. If you’re creating a website that will last you a year, you might want to look at how you can get the cheapest, fastest approach to building it. If you’re going to be using your website for the rest of your career, then it’s probably worth investing a bit more, taking the time to identify the strengths and weaknesses of potential partners, and evaluating  how they’ll fare in different scenario. Here’s the major ones we’ve come across :

How will my website react if it experiences high traffic ? There’s a lot of things that need to be streamlined and managed if you start getting high traffic to your website (read more about this here), including how you manage your server and how you display your site’s content. Unfortunately, you don’t have a handle over any of those when you’re using a DIY website builder, so if it’s your case then we would recommend transferring to a self hosted website. If you need a hand to do this, just ask us how we’ll be happy to help.

Can I easily change some of my site’s key design components (e.g. my landing page picture) or will I have to reinvest every time I need an update ? Ask this question straight away when you’re talking to a designer or developer about your website. Point out the things that need to be updatable to make sure it’s all covered.

Do you won your website (content and design) or does the provider have ownership of that? The short answer to this question is : if you’re using a DIY provider (Wix, SquareSpace, Weebly etc.) you don’t have full ownership of your website. Most of the time you can leave with your images and page text, sometimes with your blog posts, but never with your design. So if you switch from Wix to Weebly for example, you’ll have to go through the whole on-boarding and creation process all over again. If you’re working with a designer / developer, it can go both ways. In our opinion, you should ask them and proof read your contract to make sure you DO own all of your website. Because if they suddenly decide to hitch up the hosting prices and you want to bring your business elsewhere, it will suck to realize that all you own is the text, and that you have to pay for a whole new website design and development. At FERNxDesign, our logic is : if you paid for it, you own it. No conditions, no small print.



8. Do you know someone that could help if something goes wrong ?


It’s always good to have an ally handy in case of emergency, like a hacking attempt (or success), or a “screen of death” situation (your website is no longer working and you don’t know why). If you have a designer / developer, you can rely on them. But if you went the DIY route then we recommend asking your family and friends, or scoping out a developer in your area and price range that could give you a hand when the time comes. That way you’ll have the peace of mind of having a trusted ally as a backup, and you won’t be running for help and getting the first and most expensive developer there is in your time of crisis.



9. Are you going to be selling products online ?


If you sell products online, then there’s a host of new things you need to care about : security, flexibility, packaging, shipping etc.

Because it’s quite complicated, a lot of people just run to the easiest solution, and get an “all-in-one” e-commerce website like Shopify, and find out only too late about the restrictions on shipping solutions, product definitions, etc. For example, showing third party shipping rates on Shopify (e.g. Fedex) is only available with the highest plan ($299/month).

So before you jump into anything, define your needs : what products will you sell ? How and where do you need to ship them ? How will you define your product shipping methods (by weight ? price ? size ?) ? How many products will you be selling ?

Once all that is clear, choose the provider/system that best suits your needs.

Hint : We almost always recommend setting up your website with WordPress, and adding WooCommerce if you need an online store. It’s the best flexibility and value for money you’ll find out there, especially if you want your store to be around for a while. However if you’re looking for an online store with a short lifespan (see step 7), then a Shopify store could well be your best bet.




That’s it ! You’re well on your way to creating a website with this in-depth strategy session. If you need more help for this first step, just contact us or write a comment below, we’d love to hear from you.

Otherwise we’ll see you on our next post “The 3 pillars for building a website : tech skills, time and budget”, where you’ll learn how to balance these three resources to find what method is best for you when creating a website !

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