We might now run a successful web design agency, but did you know our first website failed miserably? In fact, many years ago, our very first business failed due to us hiring a web designer.
The decision to have our first website professionally designed cost us our business. And we don’t want anyone else to make the mistakes we made!
Unfortunately, we’re not unique. Many business owners we speak to have had a bad experience with a web design agency.
So here’s what we did (or didn’t do) and what you should do instead.
Our first business
About 8-9 years ago, we both had full-time jobs and a dream to live the entrepreneurial lifestyle.
So we started a business on the side.
We spent all our spare time (mainly evenings and weekends) building our online business – selling cushions and home furnishing on eBay and at the odd local event. Yes, Martin was actually a pretty good cushion salesman.
It wasn’t easy, especially when we were both working full time, but we loved it. So when the time felt right, we decided to take things one step further and invest in a professionally-designed website.
We had big plans.
We wanted our own online shop that people could buy from, no matter where they were in the world.
Hiring a web designer
Decision made, we didn’t waste any time. Instead of asking around for recommendations from friends and family, we looked at a few local businesses and hired the web designer with the best-looking website.
We paid £1,400 for the job (which at the time was all the money we had in the world), and he built an all-singing-all-dancing online shop that would make us millionaires.
Financially, this was a real struggle for us. With money tied up in stock sitting idle in our spare room, we had put everything we had into this one investment.
It wasn’t a great position to be in. But we were young and excited and we had a vision!
Can you blame us?
But things went horribly wrong.
The mistakes we made with our first website
1. We didn’t do enough research before hiring a web designer
Hiring the web design agency with the glossiest website is a mistake we see a lot of people make.
Don’t get us wrong – we hired a nice guy, and we enjoyed the process of working with him. But had we done our homework, we probably would have gone with someone else.
Why? Because he wasn’t the right fit. We needed a cheap website that showed us
2. We chose the wrong platform (Content management system) for our needs
At the time, we didn’t even know you could build a website on different platforms!
And unsurprisingly, (considering we had skipped the research part of the process) we found ourselves with a website built on OpenCart – a platform we found really hard to get to grips with.
Little things, like organising postage, for example, felt really complicated. And we had to spend a lot of time and effort learning things to just get it to work for us.
Plus, we hadn’t realised we didn’t have the experience or expertise to be able to update our own website. And teaching us how to update and optimise our newly-built website wasn’t something our web designer offered.
But the real point is – we didn’t ask! And we didn’t ask because we didn’t know we’d need training and support!
Also, as we later found out (when we eventually heard about this thing called search engine optimisation) that OpenCart isn’t the best when it comes to SEO. (And that’s a big part of why we now only build websites on WordPress!).
So in hindsight, we would have definitely hired a different agency to build us a website on a platform that was right for us.
But we hadn’t done our homework, so we didn’t know!
3. We adopted a build-it-and-they-will-come mindset
We thought we had it all figured out.
We’d just need to throw money at this amazing web designer with the glossy-looking website, and people from all over the world would flock to our website.
We’d make lots of money.
Except that’s not how it works at all.
People didn’t come.
Because we didn’t realise that once your website is made, you need to start driving traffic to it.
And unfortunately, with our capital tied up in stock and our savings used up for the website, we had nothing left. We didn’t have another penny to invest.
When we eventually asked our web designer to help us with SEO, his monthly quote was completely out of our reach.
Plus, it’s only after our website was built that we realised our business was operating in a very competitive niche/.
We were selling products that were available on big websites, like Amazon and eBay (and probably thousands of others). And we had no way of differentiating ourselves – we hadn’t given our visitors any reason to buy from us!
Not to mention that competing on price against the biggest online giants on the market meant we had no profit margin. And that just wasn’t sustainable, especially when we had exposed ourselves financially in such a big way.
And that’s when the realisation hit us.
We were not going to be millionaires and live on a beach, sipping cocktails after all.
Not while selling cushions online anyway.
4. We thought building a website was the end goal
We hadn’t realised how much work it would take to build AND grow a website.
And we made the mistake of thinking that the website was everything – the end goal. Instead, we should have seen it as the beginning of our business.
Your website is the heart of your business.
But you’ve got to pump blood to it.
And that’s web traffic.
Once your website is live, how are you going to market yourself? Because your website is really just the starting point, and we didn’t know that!
5. We got too excited about our business
We loved our business so much that we put our heart and soul into it – we went to the extent of naming our cushions! To tell you the truth, we were so enthusiastic about our products that we wrongly assumed the whole world would be!
The bottom line is that we had fun with it, and we were really excited. But it meant we let our hearts rule our heads, even when it came to big business decisions like hiring a web designer!
6. We obsessed over the details
Instead of looking at the bigger picture, we focused on the details – literally down the colour and size of each button!
But with no website visitors, the details were pretty useless.
So what should you do instead?
1. Download our Website Buyer’s Guide
We learnt so much from this experience that we vowed we’d help other people avoid all the traps we fell into.
So we created our Website Buyer’s Guide, for anyone who is thinking of getting a new website or having their re-designed. You can download for free here. It’s our gift to you to help you avoid the costly mistakes we made.
2. Do your research before you buy
Find out what platform is right for your needs before you buy.
Consider things like:
- Is the platform easy to optimise for search? Will I need help with this or is it something I can do by myself?
- Will I be able to update and maintain my website once it’s live? Who will make changes and how?
- Will I need training and support? And if so, who will provide that help?
3. If you’re brand new in business, DIY your website
There are times when hiring a web designer is the right choice. But there are times and situations where it definitely isn’t.
If you’re brand new in business and haven’t tested the viability of your idea and model yet, you should DIY your own website. All you need at the start might be something like Shopify or a WordPress template.
And if you’re struggling, try to find someone who will help you move forward one step at the time, much like we do in our membership, Make Your Mark Online.
If you want to find out more about why you shouldn’t hire a web designer when you’re brand new in business, listen to our podcast episode: Should you DIY your website?
And when your business is established and you have regular customers and clients, by all means, consider hiring a web designer if that’s the right move for you.
4. Focus on driving traffic to your website
Once your website is live, that’s when the real work starts. Because even if your website looks amazing, you can’t convert traffic if you don’t have any!
So get the blood to the heart.
And you do this by:
- Creating and executing a content marketing strategy.
- Optimising your website for SEO.
- Engaging in social media marketing and/or email marketing.
If you want to convert traffic, you have to drive that traffic in first! And if you’re unsure about how to start, keep things simple. Think about what your buyers might want. Write helpful blog posts and promote the heck out of them.
5. Don’t invest in something you can’t afford
If you have to put your last pennies into something (a website or anything else), it’s probably not the right time to invest. We really struggled financially as a result of hiring a web designer at the wrong time for our business.
And eventually, this decision cost us our business.
So when making business decisions, and especially big buying decisions, try to use your head instead of your heart!
Would you like our help as you create your own website?
So there you have it – the honest mistakes we made on our first website. If you enjoyed this blog post, you can also listen to our podcast episode 9 – Why our website failed miserably.
We learnt a lot from the experience, and that’s what led us to where we are today. We understand what you’re going through at the very early stages of your business, and we can help you avoid the mistakes we made.
If you want to find out more about the ways we help, check out our membership Make Your Mark Online, where we can support you in creating a website you can be proud of.