Want To Build A Website? Learn From My £20,000 Mistake
28 August 2017
I created my first website in 2009.
It cost £20,000 and took 6 months to design and build.
3 months into the site’s launch and I scraped together less than £400.
It was pretty depressing to say the least.
The worst bit…
These sales were either from friends or family (F&F).
I didn’t want handouts, I wanted to build a thriving and sought after website.
After a few months and more disappointments the website was taken down.
£20,000 washed away.
An expensive, distressing but eye opening failure.
This experience was like taking an MBA in building websites.
If only I knew what I know now, I could’ve significantly increased my success online and saved a ton of money.
These real world lessons apply no matter what the cost of your website.
I’ll share these with you later on, but for now here’s the fundamental failure with my approach back then:
No Marketing Strategy
Mistake #1 – “Build It And They Will Come”
Unless you’re building the next Facebook , there’s a good chance you will build it, and they will NOT come.
I fell into this trap.
I thought traffic would just start flowing in once my website was ready.
I mean everyone wants to know about your new website, right?
I wish I could tell you that I tried doing Twitter, Facebook or even standing outside train stations in London wearing a teddy bear outfit to get attention.
At least there’s half a marketing strategy there. But I’d be lying.
I’m going to share a few things you can do to get your website out there further down.
Mistake #2 – “Designing the Best Looking Website”
I used to obsess about my new website.
That included design, social media features, funky user functionality and payment processing.
Months and months of working with designers and developers making neverending tweaks.
Honestly, I was stuck.
Reaching website perfection stopped me from thinking about anything else.
In the end I prioritised things that just didn’t matter, which ultimately delayed the launch.
Having the best looking website among our competitors (I’m not just saying that by the way!), didn’t matter.
Because no one knew about it, I could have made the greatest website known to man and had it sit in shadowy corners of the internet gathering cobwebs.
Mistake #3 – Building A Complete End To End Solution
This is one of the biggest mistakes I made.
While my competitors were speaking to potential customers, I was busy battling designers and developers with website issues.
I wish someone just pulled me out of the day-to-day and reminded me of the bigger picture.
I wish someone also reminded me of the concept of creating a MVP (minimum product viable) first.
I was essentially preparing to scale before I had my first customer.
In case you want to go deeper into the topic of MVP, I’d recommend reading The Lean Startup.
What Was My £20,000 Website About?
Heard of Groupon?
Groupon started off in the US and became very successful in a very short space of time. The viral nature of the business model helped to make this happen.
I essentially planned to start my own Groupon type business in London.
Without boring you with the technical details, I essentially arranged to have a full custom Ruby on Rails website designed and developed.
Little did I know, while I was doing that there were:
a) more than 10 other entrepreneurs all planning to start the same business in London
b) which meant all the same suppliers were getting called by everyone else
c) big companies investing big amounts into their own Groupon
Techcrunch even wrote an article of the situation. My website was called Scrum Buy.
The article does bring back some great memories.
It also reminds me about how risky getting into this business was in the first place.
The idea was flawed.
Even if it was a solid idea, I missed out some pretty big steps when it comes to building a website.
This is the focus of the article and these mistakes are not specific to this type of business.
If you want to create a website that ACTUALLY grows your business, the next section is paramount.
How To Create A Website That Attracts Customers And Sells Itself
Tip #1 – Know Your Audience
Answer this one question: Who is your product or service for?
If your answer is close to one of the following, then it’s time to STOP thinking about your new website:
- “Male or Female between ages of 25 – 40”
- “They live in X”
Because your answer is so general, it means you don’t actually know who your audience is.
Writing for everyone is writing for no one.
If you don’t know who your audience is, how do you know the type of website that will attract and engage them?
We’re not just talking colours by the way.
Imagine a dessert shop that was targeting children versus a dessert shop that was targeting professionals.
The decor, the staff uniforms, the menu and even the language staff uses will be completely different, right?
Well, it’s no different to building a new website.
Your audience should dictate your branding, colours, language, calls-to-action and the general look and feel.
So, what do you need to know about your target audience?
Ok, I know that wasn’t helpful, so let’s dive into a few specifics:
- What they’re interested in
- Sports they like
- Social media channels they use
- Websites they visit
- The language they use
Getting this step right can make or break your online campaign.
For instance, I worked with a client who was spending hundreds on Facebook Ads every week and making less than 10% back in sales.
That’s a pretty high negative ROI.
Guess what the problem was?
The client thought it was conversion rate optimisation.
They didn’t understand who their audience was. This meant they were targeting the wrong people with the wrong offer.
A recipe for losing money.
Tip #2 – How Are You Going To Get In Front Of Your Audience?
Now, you know who you want to appeal to, it’s time to go find them.
Even if you’re not experienced with marketing, brainstorming a plan and actually sticking to it, is going to help you more than having no plan.
It’s the scatter gun approach to marketing which you need to avoid.
I’m talking about randomly messaging people you know on Facebook or LinkedIn and asking them to share your website or a blog post on social media.
I’m talking about logging into Google Analytics every so often and praying to see a surprise increase in traffic.
I’m talking about constantly checking to see if you have more subscribers.
I’ve been there myself, but I want more for you.
You don’t even need to accomplish all the things that digital marketing gurus talk about to start getting your website to the masses.
In fact, digital marketing may not even be the lowest hanging fruit when getting your website out there.
You may be thinking, “Wait, aren’t you meant to be teaching me how to market my business online?”
Yes, but that doesn’t mean I sit in front of my laptop all day. I’d be silly to ignore the offline opportunities to growing my business.
In fact, offline and online marketing can work very well together, especially if you offer a product or service that can be sold locally as well as nationally.
For example, to get your business off the ground you could first market locally, and then broaden the scope of your marketing nationally once business picks up.
How do you get your business off the ground locally?
Glad you asked, here’s a few ideas:
a) Networking Events
It does take time to find the right event for your audience, but please don’t spend hours looking through every single event.
Pick a few and just go.
This way you will learn where to prioritise and establish relationships faster.
Look at people who are connected to your connections.
An introduction is always better than going into a conversation cold.
By the way, please don’t be one of these people who just connects with everyone without even including a personal message.
c) Facebook Groups
There’s countless local groups online that you can engage in.
This is me doing a workshop for a local Facebook community.
Don’t make the mistake of going into groups trying to sell.
Look for conversations where you can jump in and help. As you get to know the group, the group gets to know you.
It takes time.
When you’re ready to share something valuable and relevant with the group, go ahead.
Pick one and do it. 🙂
Tip #3 – Start Building Your Email List.
It never occurred to me that marketing could’ve started before my website was even built.
It seems obvious now.
I was too busy hitting my head against designers and developers.
Instead, I could’ve used the tips in #2 to create a list of people interested in hearing about the launch.
All I needed was google sheets to capture names/emails and Gmail to send emails.
How many people should you aim to have on your list? I’d say…
100 – minimum
250 – nice
500 or more – incredible
These are likely to be your first customers, so give them a red carpet service.
This could include a pilot discount, a bonus and VIP customer service.
A few customers who have had a wonderful experience may be all you need to kick start online success.
Tip #4 – Deliver The Right Content At The Right Time
I’m going to use an example to help me explain this tip.
Sarah wants to buy a new TV, to go on her green feature wall.
The steps Sarah goes through to buy a TV might look like this:
- Sarah goes to TV review websites online or blogs to learn about the latest technologies and brands
- Sarah visits a few online or local retailers to see a range of products
- Sarah talks to friends and family for advice
- Sarah decides what she wants in terms of features and brands and her budget
- Sarah visits online retailers or local retailers again to look at a select few products, paying particular attention to the price
- Sarah narrows down on the products she wants and the online retailers she is considering to buy from
- Sarah decides what TV to buy and who from
- Sarah buys TV, takes it home and puts Gilmore Girls on Netflix!
Now, let’s say you own an online shop that sells TVs.
If Sarah visited your website in step 1 and 2, then you know she’s not ready to buy.
If Sarah visited your website in step 5, she’s just window shopping and therefore not ready to buy.
If Sarah visited your website in step 6 and 7, you have a potential buyer.
Welcome to the buyer’s journey.
There’s 3 stages to the buyer’s journey:
a) Awareness: Sarah knows she wants a TV (the problem) and is not sure which one to buy (solutions) (steps 1 – 3 above)
b) Consideration: Sarah has a better idea of the TV she wants and is now considering the options (steps 4 – 6)
c) Decision: Sarah knows exactly what TV she wants and is wondering who to buy it from (step 7)
A common mistake is to think of website traffic as potential customers, but as you can see in Sarah’s example it’s more than that.
You need to treat Sarah at step 1 very different to Sarah at step 6.
For instance, you can create blog posts that answer Sarah’s questions at Step 1.
Whereas customer testimonials or guarantees will encourage Sarah at step 6 to buy from you.
If you don’t want your new website to come across very clinical and salesy, don’t ignore this step.
Here’s an example of a wireframe I put together for a client before we developed a new website.
I’ve placed certain elements on the page so we can serve people who are at different stages of the buyer’s journey.
Tip #5 – Stop Ignoring Google By SEOing Your Website
If you answer yes to any ONE of the following questions, I’d recommend optimising your website for SEO from the start.
Are you planning to blog on your new website?
Are you planning to promote your website online?
Are people locally interested in buying your products or services?
If you answered “Yes” to ALL questions, OMG, you need to do this. Even ONE “Yes” is reason enough.
I come across many bloggers and online entrepreneurs who have clearly spent hours and hours creating authentic content, but they struggle to get people reading it.
SEO can help get your content in front of more people who are actually looking for your content.
The best time to do SEO is before you build your website because it defines an optimal website architecture from the start.
It’s a bit like hiring an architect before you build a new house. The SEO is the architect.
By optimising your new website for SEO, you’re essentially starting your relationship with Google as early as possible.
And like any relationship, it takes time to break the ice, to get to know and like each other.
So, how does Google get to know and like you?
When you create and promote quality and ethical content that serves your customers, you build on your relationship.
As Google begins to trust you, the chances of your content being seen by people searching for your business online increases.
Even if you’re not planning to blog and promote your brand online now, I would still recommend doing SEO.
This is especially true if you have local customers.
Optimising your website for SEO could be enough to bring in a trickle of organic visitors and sales.
Knowing this, who wouldn’t want Google as their BFF?
How do you do SEO?
There’s 2 options:
- Hire an expert (cough cough me 😉 )
- Learn SEO yourself: I’ve put together a Free 3 day SEO challenge.
Tip #6 – Build Something Good Enough
Or as commonly referred to, create an MVP.
Once you’ve created something that is good enough, you can begin sharing it with customers and get early feedback.
As you learn what your customers like and dislike, you can make further improvements.
If you haven’t noticed already, the tips above should help shape what your MVP includes.
Before I share a few additional areas you should consider including in your MVP, I want to say one thing: a minimum viable product is meant to be a minimum viable product.
This is why having a business partner, a mentor or coach can really help.
They can help to challenge and keep you focused on launching your new website, while not getting carried away.
Here’s a few inexpensive areas you should include in your website’s MVP:
a) About Page
You need an About page.
The About page is prime real estate on your website, and you need to use it to build a relationships with your visitors.
But, your About page, should not just be about your business.
It’s like meeting someone at a networking event and all they do is talk about themselves.
Please don’t be that guy or girl!
I prefer to think of this page as ABOUT your customers problems and ABOUT how you can help them.
Take a look at my About page, you’ll see what I mean.
b) Home Page Hero Image
It takes around 50 milliseconds (that’s 0.05 seconds) for visitors to form an opinion about your website.
A good first impression can lead to visitors spending more time on your website.
The look and feel of your website’s hero image can be a major factor behind creating a good first impression.
It should send visitors a quick message of who you help and how you can help them.
Here’s a few websites with really cool hero images to inspire you:
I love the video of the sea at Blogging From Paradise.
Ryan does a great job of painting the idea of blogging while travelling with this image of the clear blue sea.
Who wouldn’t want to retire to a life of island hopping after seeing this. 🙂
Vegan Miam’s use of three different images together instead of one is very clever.
Not only do the images look really tasty, Vegan Miam also appeals to people who are looking for food across multiples locations.
The use of high quality foods images leaves you with a good impression of the quality of food recipes.
That’s why Vegan Miam would not appeal to someone looking for a cheap meal.
Nerd Fitness has totally nailed their positioning of being the go to place for fitness for nerds.
Notice how the images and headline all speak to their audience.
In particular, the use of the word, “misfits” is smart as it will appeal and attract their audience.
c) Email Opt In
In tip #4 I talked about the idea of visitors being at different stages of the buyer’s journey.
Remember, people who visit your website who are in the awareness and consideration stages are not ready to buy from you now.
But we can still answer their questions and help them to make the right decisions (i.e. your product or service).
By offering them something for free in return for their email address, which is also known as an email opt in.
Once they have entered their email address, you can then continue your relationship by communicating with them over email.
This way you’re helping them move towards the “Decision” stage of the buyer’s journey and you’re top of mind when they are ready to buy.
Here’s an amazing example of an email opt in. 🙂
When designing an opt in for your website, I’d suggest you ensure it fits the following criteria:
- Your audience actually WANTS it (sounds obvious, but I’ve seen some crazy opt ins)
- It’s easy to USE and ACTIONABLE
- It gives your audience a QUICK RESULT
I’m interested to hear what tip you found most useful and why. Also, if you have made any other mistakes building a website please share it below and let’s all learn.
Leave a comment below and let me know.
Here’s to creating a website that attracts your audience and builds relationships with them online.
Thank you for reading,