Getting Past The Theoretical
In the 15 years I’ve been building websites, I’ve seen a pattern or two emerge. One that persists in pretty much every project I’ve worked on is what I call “the theoretical.” Every client (and me too, really) has lots of thoughts and ideas and it’s easy to spend hours talking about all of the possibilities for a website: what the design could look like, how many pages it should have, the types of site content that would work best. While every project requires some of this, it’s far too easy to stay focused at this level. Instead, I use the following steps to move from the conceptual to the more concrete:
Build ASAP – Moving from the theoretical into the actual process of building a website is where the rubber really meets the road and I like to progress to this phase as quickly as possible in a project. Seeing a website start to take shape is usually pretty exciting – suddenly what had only been an idea shifts into something more tangible. This phase often provides new energy and focus for the project, just when you were probably starting to hit overwhelm with a seemingly unending task. It also gives a helpful framework and context for additional ideas and brainstorming - you can now see directly how an idea might or might not work with the site.
Start working in the content management system ASAP – Because many of us learn by doing, I like to get clients started working in the new website’s content management system (CMS) from the get-go. Having me create some perfect version of your site (psst, there’s no such thing!) and handing it over to you before you’ve had the chance to interact with the CMS would, from my perspective, be doing you a huge disservice. Since you (or someone in your team) will probably be the person responsible for making updates to the site once it’s live, it’s much better for you to learn the basics of how the CMS works and get started creating site content right away. A good website should be updated regularly and having the tools to make those updates from the beginning empowers you to manage the website effectively going forward.
Fail faster – It’s natural to want your hard work in building the site to immediately start paying off and achieving results for you. Unfortunately, that’s pretty uncommon – it’s much more likely that there will be bumps along the way before your new website starts meeting your goals. Having a positive attitude about failure is key to building a successful website in the long run. Rather than viewing the website as a finished product, it’s good to think of it instead as a dynamic, changing process that will need regular tweaks and updates, based on what analytics data is telling you. By experimenting, learning quickly from the data (whether positive or negative) and not being afraid to make changes, you’ll be on track to build a website that’s aligned with your goals.
Concepts and ideas are essential to any web development work and they definitely help carry a project from beginning to end. But by moving from the conceptual to the concrete early on and learning as you go, you’ll be in a better position to create a site that achieves the results you’re looking for.