I recently met one of my sorority sisters in a coffee shop. She was new to the Charlotte area, and I had never met her before. In an effort to offer some comfort and familiarity, I met with her to tell her more about Charlotte and to get to know her better. Only five minutes after our conversation began, she received a phone call.
Apologizing for having to take it, she proceeded to hold a brief conversation, which ended with eyes full of tears.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her, concerned. She broke down again with renewed tears. She explained that she was in the process of redoing her website for a third time because both of the previous designers had failed to deliver a new website.
After months of working on the website, the first designer disappeared without a trace – they wouldn’t pick up the phone, answer emails, or even answer a knock on their front door. All the work of many months was gone. The second designer decided that anything other than minor changes to the existing website fell outside of the agreed scope – although the contract disagreed – and refused to make any changes to the existing design. In the end the result was the same; there was no redesign. Sadly, this story is more common than you would imagine.
So how can you avoid the many headaches of a redesign nightmare?
Here are 8 tips to help you master a website redesign:
Choose your redesign agency very carefully.
Choosing a redesign agency should be a process to which you devote time and consideration. Take a look at their reputation. How long has the company been around? What do their customers say about them? How much experience do the parties involved have? Please remember that if your website is going to be your best salesman – which it should be – the company you choose should have a marketing background. An aesthetically pleasing website is simply not enough in today’s changing marketing landscape. You need to have a strategy before focusing on looks. For a more in-depth look at this topic, check out this great resource: 13 Questions to Consider When Selecting a Marketing, Advertising or Design Agency.
Transparency of process is pivotal.
Your potential new partner in crime – the designer/agency – should be able to explain how they go about their web design process. What date will the project be completed? What are the exact deliverables? How often will you meet to make sure those deliverables are, well, being delivered? What are the consequences of failing to deliver? These are critical aspects of the process and should be outlined in the contract from the very beginning to avoid confusion.
Here’s an example of a timeline that I recommend:
Have the potential designers/agencies highlight some of the changes they would make and why.
It’s important to ensure that the team you hire has the expertise to do the job. Ask them about your existing website and how they would improve it – not only in terms of design but also how they would make it convert more visitors into leads for you. What are the specific advantages of working with this designer/agency and how well do they understand the business you are marketing? Remember a website has to be more than just pretty, it has to sell your product 24 hours a day and it has to get you leads. How is their design going to accomplish those things?
Website Redesigns are also your responsibility.
One of the biggest time lapses I’ve seen in the redesign business is getting the website owner to come up with the content they want for the website. Often, the designer is stuck waiting to receive pages and pages of content to complete a page or a design. On occasion, I’ve had the dreadful responsibility of coming up with copy myself! (No bueno, amigos.)
It’s pivotal to remember that the website redesign process is always going to be hard work for both parties involved. So be ready to do your part. Compiling and writing copy should be something you plot out in your own timeline and speak to the designer about your own deliverables of content.
If you are not sure you can come up with the content, choose an agency that has a proven record of writing good content. Often times it's worth paying a little extra for having an expert marketer write your content in a way that speaks to your customer and is likely to get you more results.
A website redesign process is akin to destroying a house and re-building it. While the builders will do a lot of the heavy lifting, it’s still your responsibility to remove the old furniture and purchase new stuff to put in for your new décor.
Be prepared to invest time and energy into creating good content and delivering it to your designer/agency on time, and did I mention ON TIME.
Have a built in agreement for your website review.
One of the most ignored aspects of a website redesign is the review process. It is very easy for the designer to “check out” once the website is finished and for the website owner to expect perfection based on previous discussions with the designer. Needless to say, both sides are often disappointed. In your action plan for building the website, include a review process with the number of iterations needed included. This way, before you get the last files for your website, you are satisfied with the results and avoid having to go back to the designer/agency asking for additional changes. (I’ve been on both ends of this spectrum and it’s annoying for the designer and frustrating for the website owner.)
Don’t be a crazy client.
As a freelancer, I had my share of crazy clients. They would sign a contract with clear specs and shortly after the project was completed with their review approval, they would call me at crazy hours, saying things like, “I know this wasn’t in the contract but I forgot to tell you about this awesome thing I also wanted to do, I don’t think it’ll take long, can you just do it?” The answer, unfortunately, is usually NO. Think thoroughly about the goals of the website redesign and every single functionality you want in your website before creating a contract (your agency should help you think through this). Once you have paid, approved, and accepted the final product, the designer/agency is officially done, in their eyes. Any additional work you want will come with an additional price tag and a contract of its own. Note that the relationship you are forging with your designer/agency is heavily dependent on mutual respect, and asking a designer/agency to perform work outside of scope without additional pay can be insulting and a source of anger. Therefore, have a clear vision of what you want (this may take some additional research), keep copious notes of the functionality, look, and goals for the website redesign and make sure you clearly establish all expectations before you begin the redesign. Once this is done, stick to it!
Never pay 100% up front.
If you pay 100% up front, you lose a lot of your leverage and will definitely see a decline in the speediness of work. Usually I recommend paying 50% up front and the rest once the project is completed – and you are satisfied. Other companies collect a percentage of the agreed upon amount as they hit different milestones. Whatever method you choose has to work well for both parties. However, you have to continue to hold them liable for the work that they are doing because as soon as all the money is paid, designers often feel the job is done and get a little lazier.
In my sorority sister’s case, this was exactly the problem. She paid everything up front and the first designer no longer had an incentive to work. (Not all designers/companies are this way, some have supreme professionalism, but playing it safe is never bad.)
Last tip ... GET A MARKETING STRATEGY.
Throw everything I just said out the window and remember that website designers are not marketers and your website redesign will not be successful unless you have a solid marketing strategy behind it. So step #1 before the redesign is GET A MARKETING STRATEGY.
There are great designers out in the world. They will make beautiful websites that are incredibly appealing and that you would not mind staring at all day. However, a beautiful website alone does not get you leads and most importantly it does not help you get found online. Design cannot take the place of marketing. As you go through this process, remember that before you begin, you have to have a good marketing strategy in place that the design caters to. WARNING: Do not begin a website redesign before you have a marketing plan. This is the most common way to throw ROI out the window.