Building a better website
Your site is your front door for many of your customers. If old-school web design is holding yours back, follow these tips to make it inviting again
the Los Angeles restaurant Neighbor, had a website for his business. But he realized it wasn’t enough. He wanted something unique, something that better mimicked his carefully thought-out brick-andmortar operation and offered more freedom to showcase images. So he hired design firm Original Thought to come up with a new one. “We built the brand, the restaurant, the interior, the kitchen, the staff,” Rubin says. “We had to build an original site, too.”
His experience is familiar to many founders. By now, if you have a business, you have a website. But as your company grows, you may find that the do-it-yourself site that you built for little or no cost on a platform like Wix or Squarespace no longer meets your needs. Maybe you’re in the market for a signature look that stands out from your competitors’, or maybe you need more than you once did—a more sophisticated system of cataloging products, or the ability to process simultaneous transactions, or an inventorytracking system that can scale. If so, it may be time to hire a developer, a designer, or a consultant— or some combination of the three.
First, says Melanie Spring, founder of the marketing strategy firm Branded Confidence, decide what you’ll need from a new site. Do you need a calendar that communicates with a backoffice reservation system, or an online catalog of products that’s tied to a back-office warehouse? Both require an API—an application protocol interface, which is how web-based systems talk to one another—and typically a developer who can enable that communication.
Be prepared to take a hard look at your budget. Brent Lightner, founder of the digital agency Taoti Creative, has a simple rule: “If you have less than $10,000 to invest in your website, figure out how to make Squarespace or Wix work. When your budget is closer to $25,000, think about hiring a developer to build a more customized site.” A consultant, while an additional expense, can help you sort through the options if you have complex needs. Mukesh Vidyasagar, a founder of Cappsure It, which sells software that allows landscapers to track field crews’ activities in real time, hired a marketing consultant with online design experience to map out an upgraded version of his company’s site, which had been built with Wix. “He laid it all out using Elementor,” says Vidyasagar, referring to a website building tool that works with the popular WordPress platform. The new version “is way more sophisticated” than his original site, which had limitations with load speeds and integrating other kinds of marketing software.
You should also keep in mind that more users now access websites from mobile devices than from computers. That means your new site should be designed to shine on smartphones. “Don’t worry so much about the desktop version of the site,” says Spring. “Design backward. Think about the mobile users and what they can see.”
Originality is key, but avoid the temptation to layer on too many bells and whistles. What can you do without? Video with sound and “too many moving things,” Spring says, can put off potential customers and make websites take longer to load. And remember that Flash, Adobe’s software for viewing multimedia, may have been all the rage in the aughts, but now it’s out. “Kill it,” says Spring. “Your phone doesn’t process Flash,” which, given current web-browsing trends, makes it all but irrelevant. If no one sees your beautiful new site, does it exist at all?