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The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Website

Last week I found myself back in Belize on a mission trip with my family. We’ve been there several times over the years to help families by building them a home or by adding a roof or walls to an existing structure. With a trip like this, despite the fact that I’ve traveled to Belize five times in the past, I still take the time to sit down and plan out the trip. I write out a list of what we’ll be doing and what I need to plan on taking. I also discuss with my family what they’re bringing, so that we can conserve space.

 

Having a plan always makes packing easier and ensures that I’m fairly prepared for whatever may come my way during the course of my trip. And it got me thinking that it’s REALLY good to have a plan. Planning makes for a solid foundation.

 

 Planning your website can also make the whole process easier for you and even for your designer. You don’t have to have it all figured out, especially if you’re going to hire an expert. But the more you know before you start, the stronger the foundation will be.

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Here are some steps I take when planning for a trip, and even when creating a website for a client:

Step 1 – Brainstorm

  • Mind Map– A mind map can be a great visual way to organize your thoughts and to come up with new ideas. Start with one word circled in the center, like “website”, “goals” or “customer experience”. Then draw lines and write words stemming out from the main idea you have in the center of the paper. You can do this as many times as you need to in order to get clear on what it is that you want for your site.

 

  • Sitemap– A sitemap is how your audience will navigate through your website. You start at the top with the main links of your navigation, and then think about whether or not each page leads to something else on your site. This is a great way to figure out what pages you will need on your site, and can help your designer when quoting you how much your project will cost.

 

  • Sketching– This can be a fun, creative way to think through what you’d like your site to look like. You can sketch each page, or you can sketch out certain elements like your sidebar. If you’re not really great at drawing, you could try sketching out what are called wireframes. These are basically boxes where you’d like the content to go on your site. Think of them like a blueprint.

 

  • Answering Some Simple Questions– What pages do you need on your site? Do you need a photo slider on the home page? What kinds of questions would you like your potential customers to answer when they fill out the form on your contact page? By thinking about the experience your customers will go through when they land on your website and asking questions as if you were in their shoes, you can create a great plan for your site.

 

  • Searching for ideas via Pinterest– Use Pinterest to search different terms and like the photos that directly jump out to you. The photos don’t HAVE to be of websites but can be a combination of things like patterns, illustrations, colors, even fashion. You can go back later and pin the pins you’ve liked, but for now just like them quickly so it’s based on a quick first impression. After you’ve liked several pins, go back to your likes and look through all those that you’ve selected. Look at them by clicking on the pin and really thinking about whether or not it reflects your vision. If it doesn’t line up with what you are thinking and feeling, then unlike it. But if it’s a great fit for your site and brand, then pin it to a board. One thing I love to do is scroll down after I’ve selected a pin and look at the related pins. I can always find several more pins that also spark something in me, by looking at the related pins and it’s a quick way to add to your collection. Here’s a board that I created to show you all what a finished board may look like: Feminine Tea Party Branding. I will use these pins to create a Brand Style Guide, which typically includes patterns, images, colors, and illustrations that will help me later determine what my site will look like.

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Step 2 – Make Lists

  • A list of what you need– What platform are you going to use (WordPress, Squarespace, Blogger, etc.)? Who do you plan to host your website with? Do you still need a domain name? Make a list of the things you already have for your website, then make a list of the things you know you’ll need in order to complete the site.

 

  • A list of brand words that evoke feelings– Write down a list of words that are directly related to how you want people to feel when they land on your site. These words can lead to decisions about colors, images used, and even how you layout the site.

 

  • What you hope to accomplish– I’m a HUGE fan of writing out your goals. What do you want people to do when they arrive on your site? How do you want them to feel? Writing a list of the things you hope to accomplish through your website can really set the course for the decisions made when creating and designing the site.

 

  • Blog Categories– This one is sort of a given, but it’s always wise to write out the things you plan to write about. Perhaps it can even help you discover a few hidden gems that you didn’t originally set out to write about on your blog, or even help you eliminate the ones that don’t make sense.

Step 3 – Find Resources

Resources will help you plan better and inevitably create a better site, whether you end up DIYing the site or hiring a designer.

 

  •  Books– To bring it back to the planning for a trip analogy, think about how people find travel guides to figure out what the weather’s going to be like or where the best place to get a latte is near the hotel. There are plenty of books out there that can help you to plan your website better, or maybe to plan just one aspect of your site better.

 

  • Trusted websites– There are a ton of lovely people out there who have paved the way for those who are just getting started. My personal favorite blogger for creative entrepreneurs (which is no secret) is Blacksburg Belle by April Bowles-Olin. April talks a ton about blogging advice, she shares some dos and don’ts for your website, and she talks a lot about marketing and the psychology of why people buy. Hunt around and find the people you learn best from and then take notes.

 

  • Courses/memberships– I want to have a little disclaimer here letting you know that I did the wrong thing early in my business by letting courses become my obsession and not completing the work before buying the next course. I’m not telling you to get in the learning mode and to get stuck there, but if you want to DIY your website and you don’t know how then it’s okay to buy a  or join a membership that will help you to your goal.

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Step 4 – Gather Everything Together

When I finally had my list for what I needed to bring with me on my trip, I went around the house gathering everything to one place. The couch. I got out my orange carry-on and sat down and stared at the bag for a few minutes trying to figure out how everything would fit. You’ll be doing something similar in this stage. By gathering everything together in one place, you can really zoom in and figure out what needs to stay and what needs to go.

  • Secret Pinterest Board– My favorite way of gathering all my ideas in one place is by creating a secret board on Pinterest. I often do this with my web and logo design clients and invite them to pin on the same board. You can make comments in the comment section if you are working with someone, or relabel the photos you pin so you know exactly what drew you to the photo.

 

  • Physical Mood Board– I feel like physical mood boards are a little underrated nowadays. We get stuck in the habit of doing everything online. Cutting out images from magazines and getting out the color pencils or watercolors could help you think of things differently.

Step 5 – Create Your Site

  •  DIY– You alone are the only one who can determine whether or not you should create your website yourself or hire it out to a pro. If you feel like you have the time and patience to learn then this is the way to go. I took this route and made a career change because I fell in love with design. It’s not the easy path, though.

 

  • Hiring Out– You may feel like all the work isn’t worth it if you’re just going to hire a professional designer to create your site, but I’m here to tell you that whatever work you put in will be worth it. It will help you to communicate your ideas and vision to your designer. It can cut out any frustration that you may be tempted to feel with your designer if he/she isn’t able to fully nail what you pictured in your head. Plus, by planning out your site, you’ll be ahead of the game. A lot of entrepreneurs don’t take the time up front to figure out what they want on their site, so they spend years changing things and feeling frustrated. Take the time to put in the work beforehand and it will help make the process easier. Promise.

 

  • Combination of DIY/Hiring Out– I can appreciate when you’re just starting out that sometimes you can’t afford the whole shebang. But you may be able to afford your opt-in box to be designed or your logo. Hire out for little things as you can afford it, and it will help you to have a solid brand from the beginning.

Step 6 – Enjoy the Ride

After my bags are packed and I’ve boarded the airplane, the only thing left to do is enjoy the ride. Of course, there are things that need to be done when you arrive at your destination (like unpacking), just like the fact that you’re never truly done with your website. As you grow and learn, you will tweak things and change things slightly. But like I said before if you plan you build a solid foundation. From there it’s easier to come in and just make little changes.

 

If you’re needing help to DIY your site, you can join my monthly membership and get access to courses like WordPress Made Easy where you can make your WordPress website in a weekend.

 

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