Sharpen your focus. The beginning isn’t always what you think it will be.
I would never suggest devaluing or sidestepping effective marketing practices. They’re proven. Embracing the importance of sharp website organization and content is essential.
Information leads to making solid choices and decisions and we want as much in our toolbox as possible. And yet, it’s still important to continue to give close attention to certain fundamental questions that may be overlooked. Often in our effort to be smart as developers and designers, the meaty, beginning steps of the process get passed over. They may feel too slow or tedious.
But a good project, no matter what the entity, shape or size, has not only numbers and dollars at its core but humanity and heart. Thorough investigation.
If your clients are solopreneurs, micro-businesses, small to medium size companies, corporations or non-profits, in other words pretty much anyone, chances are you’ll be working directly with folks who come to the project with pre-conceived notions that may or may not be accurate or useful.
They may have that famous little bit of dangerous knowledge. Their preparation may be lacking on a variety of levels. Or it could be that they’re inexperienced with the process so their expectations are skewed.
Perhaps they’ve had a bad web design experience, are gun-shy and possibly even suspicious or distrusting. It’s possible they haven’t yet worked with a seasoned team who knows how to lead them through a project constructively with a good result that matches the value of the monetary cost in a reasonable time-frame. One way or the other, you may be faced with clients whose biases are pushing a momentum you’ll need to be aware of and may need to counter.
Regardless, they’ll be hungry to be listened to and understood even if they think they’re in a hurry.
Not only that, they’ll need some educating and it’s in our hands to be generous with them. We need to deliver not only a successful end-product that will foster their success, but also be willing and able to walk them through the process to get to that successful end-product. We want to guide them in a way that leads to healthy collaboration internally and with us. And eventually to output genuine communication about them and from them directly to their customers as the project takes shape. And we need to be efficient with everyone’s time – including our own.
That’s a lot of requirements – but it can be done.
Regardless of who’s pushing for it or not, it’s imperative that we focus on the creative act of listening for any investigative clues with an open mind. That transports us to places as a developer/designer that we likely haven’t encountered in other projects, since each client is unique. There will almost always be something new.
Being able to listen and actually hear widens our perspective to what the true issues are and how we might arrive at varying solutions. We can use what we hear constructively.
The Value of Entity-Self-Knowledge
The company’s “why”, its purpose as well as its character and personality or essence and style of operation need to be uncovered and defined early in order to relate meaningfully, accurately and productively to their web customers. It’s the only way to establish how to truly connect and connect the dots with their customer. The project will fail if that isn’t accomplished – ideally, as early as possible. Interaction during the process on all sides, at each step of the way, contributes to their self-knowledge. It’s critical to their success. Introspection is how to get there. Collaborative introspection works too.
If you understand that a website is an extension of the business or organization it belongs to then it’s easy to realize how everything about them informs the website and that the website then also in return informs them. There’s a pattern, a loop of educational potential that germinates with the start of the project and will continue to blossom more and more over time as they live and work with the site.
Internal value remains and continues to build within the organization long after the site is launched.
Think about meeting your clients for the first time. You don’t know them yet. They’ve come to you for the task of creating what could arguably be their most critical marketing and communication tool; their website. They may have given some thought to wanting more traffic and increased revenue and have come armed with both necessary and desired functionality.
They still may not have stopped to think in any detail about how they’ll actually communicate their value without being overly self-referential, and in turn be able to improve their service and relationships with customers or clients.
The content has to be written. It has to be organized. This means that first, it has to be conceived and planned.
Where To Start
It’s good to start in the most obvious place. It seems so simple.
- Who are they?
- What do they do?
- Why do they do it?
- What are they like to do business with? Tone, style, character.
- Do they know their customers’ needs and their questions? What are they?
- Are they aware of how those needs and questions weave into their own identity and help to solidify it?
And then, culling out the necessities.
- What are we actually communicating?
- How do we say the things that need to be said?
- Where is that precarious perfect balance between the site’s ability to illuminate the business or organization identity and their customer/client/subscriber/supporter/donor base’s needs and questions?
- How are you going to design in the information that will allow the customer to know what it’s like to do business with them?
How will the organization build and maintain the “you” and the “we” instead of the “me” and the “I”?
This can be tricky stuff. Tipping to one side or the other too heavily can make it topple. Addressing these concepts and issues with a strong sense of humanity from the start and weaving them into the discovery of the organization or business will make for a consistency and clarity that will help guide the project.