Our Two Major Mistakes & Helpful Advice: Developing a New Website

I’ve been a part of four new website rollouts in the past three years, but making this site a reality for The Way Women Work was the most hands-on for me, most challenging, frustrating, and also the most rewarding. Sometimes I still feel like screaming and dancing all at once for having made it out the other side.

A lot of the women entrepreneurs and business networks we’re meeting around the world are also working on new websites. So I write this post for you: We learned a lot and hope you can benefit from our experience if you find yourself undertaking the same project in within your job or business. (And if you haven’t yet, there is a good chance you will!)

Lesson One:

The first mistake we made was in the very beginning: assuming. When Rania and I sat down with a designer to dream up our ideal site, we made too many idealistic assumptions about how the process would go, from design to development to launch. We were both a little naive since we hadn’t done this before and therefore didn’t spend the time, asking, thinking through and mapping out the steps of what exactly was involved, who would be responsible and what it would take to coordinate. To be fair, neither of us really understood coding and the backend side of developing a new site either. We assumed it wouldn’t be that hard for our developer, that it would all only take only a few weeks max to go into production.

Lesson Two:

The second mistake was a lack of definition and communication. On my end, I should have communicated to our developer our expectations, and worked with him and Rania to map out a timeline, all the pieces involved, and ask what was involved on his end. There was also a lack of communication regarding what each of us wanted and changes that needed to made as we dove into the process. All of these could have been prevented or approached differently had we 1) all met in person with our developer right from the begining 2) asked a lot of detailed questions 3) each laid out expectations, timeline and action needed and 4) signed a contract.

To give ourselves some credit, we did some really smart things from the beginning too:

  • Research: We compiled a lot of websites we liked and why. We took the things we absolutely wanted to include and kept them in front of us through the whole process.
  • Set Goals: We always talked about the main goals for us with our site and really tried to keep our brand unified and clear: in our word choices, photo choices, and everything displayed.
  • Ask good questions, such as:
    • What experience did we want women to have when they came to our site?
    • What actions do we want women to take once on our site? Things like: continually be able to find good content depending on their interests, sign up for our newsletter, like us on Facebook, hire Rania.
    • How will we engage women, make it clear we want to be a resource as well as wanting them to contribute, etc?
  • Develop a responsive site: This means that if you visit thewaywomenwork.com on your smart phone, iPad, or tablet, our site will be tailored accordingly to your device – it is easier for you to navigate, read, and get the full experince.
  • Work well as a team: Rania and I greatly respect each other’s opinions, and if one of us had a stronger opinion on something than the other (for example, wording or a certain photo), we’d defer to the other person. If we were frustrated (which become often as time went on), we were always able to recognize that our frustration wasn’t with one another, Rania was really good at saying, “I’m not frustrated with you, but I’m frustrated with x,y,z.” This approach not only taught me a lot, but allowed us to keep working together through the frustration. In honesty, we kept pushing through. In the end, our business relationship was stronger for it.

Finally, I’d like to share some tips and resources to help you get started on your journey:

Information architecture: Before you ever meet with a designer or web developer to come up with a new site, you can work on this. Think of it as the backbone to your website. This means mapping out the content you want have  on the site, and think through things like how will the site be structured? What is on the navigation? What is most important? How will pieces link to each other? How will things be clear to the people who come to your site?

You alone, or you with a team, can begin to think through this. This will help the designer too, as you will need to have all of these pieces eventually. Why not start now? Here is a site I found and liked about information architecture that might help.

Good design: While people have different opinions on what ultimately looks good, I would argue there are some things that everyone on your team should uphold:

  • BALANCE: Don’t cram things together. Give everything room to breathe, let it all look even and have room around it.
  • NICE PHOTOS: This will help tell your story, communicate who you are, and add a lot to your site. Try to incorporate where appropriate. Again, I’d suggest researching – what sites do you think use photos well? Why? How could you take what they are doing and apply it to your own site?
  • SIMPLICITY: Good design allows the people who come to your site to focus on the content, and engage with your site. Think of it like giving someone a pleasant experience, room to breathe, the ability to take time and learn on your site. The more cluttered and smashed information is on your site, the less likely people will want to stay. I think this is more of a subconscious effect. I think you’d rather people visit your site and say, “How nice! How lovely! Very user-friendly.” So think of how you can achieve this.
  • LEAD THE WAY: Use the design to show a visitor where they can go next, what valuable information they want/need to find on your site. You can use buttons, tag clouds, widgets, and more.

Get a responsive site: It’s not secret that everyone has a mobile phone and uses it almost constantly. I read a stat recently that only 2% of website have a responsive site, which means it formats automatically to the device you visit it on, whether that is your smartphone or tablet. It makes the users life easier, and there is a better chance they will stay on your site if that is the case. It takes a little extra time and work to make your site responsive, but there is a good chance it will increase web traffic, business, and your goals in the next year or two (translation: it’s worth it!) With more people using mobile, it is becoming more important by the day for businesses to quickly adapt in order to keep with the trends and demands of customers/clients.

Thank you for letting us share our story! I could probably keep writing, but in closing, I would just say that we encourage you to dive into this process with energy and confidence, knowing that you will probably learn a lot along the way too. GOOD LUCK!

What successes or mistakes have you made in developing a new site? What are your lessons learned?

Erin Risner

Director of Community Engagement

Writer. Creative. Brand Strategist. Content Curator. Social Media and Marketing Maven. Passionate about connecting with women around the world and telling their success stories.