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Boni and John Wagner-StaffordEvery business today needs a website but finding the right team to help build it isn’t easy. There is no HomeStars for companies that design and build websites in Canada.

We have many clients who’ve had terrible experiences with website building. Either the strategy for the site doesn’t align with the results, the content doesn’t match the personality of the brand, the site doesn’t get completed in time for launch or it doesn’t attract enough of the right leads.

These experiences are expensive, labour intensive and can be devastating to a small business.

“We hired someone who supposedly specialized in developing e-commerce sites when we were about to launch into the United States,” says Kelly Niessen, CEO of KANDY Outdoor Flooring. “A project that was supposed to take eight weeks to complete wasn’t finished in five months. I fired the firm and lost a chunk of money on the project.”

Niessen’s story is far from unique. Lynn Williams of The Lifestyle Protector once hired a designer and copywriter to redo her website. “It took me over a year to get a piece of brochure-ware up, which is ridiculous,” says Williams. “I’m not convinced that the web world actually knows what they’re doing at all and it’s not like I’ve had one experience with one person.”

It’s a complex interplay of concepts: from technical to design, from functionality to behavioural analysis, from image presentation to engaging content, from the first wire frame to platform and page creation. Then there are the linkages, search engine optimization (SEO), user experience and the conversion funnel. But all of this can be executed flawlessly and your website can still be a flop.

So what do you do? How do you know?

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Content can’t be treated as an afterthought in your web project. Based on our experience rescuing business owners like Kelly and Lynn on the content side, here are four things to ask before you enter into a contract with a web design team.

How do you plan to translate my brand personality into the copy?

You’re looking for a writer who wants to read everything you’ve written about your business: your business plan, your marketing strategy, your brand guide, your customer personas.

If you haven’t developed these yet, you want a writer who wants to interview you in detail about your market, your customers, your strategy, your differentiators, and not just about your products and services.

What’s your view on image selection?

You’re looking for responses that indicate the team you’re considering understands the importance and the power of imagery, and the role images play in reinforcing your strategy and your message.

Picking pretty pictures that don’t mean anything will not engage your visitors and will not help you convert them into customers.

How will you respect my brand’s visual identity?

This is more than just logo placement.

You’ve probably worked hard picking the right colours and design elements for your brand. You want someone working on your web content who will exactly match your logo colours and respect them in the design throughout the site.

Can you fill all the key roles?

As entrepreneurs, especially when starting out, it’s natural to do a piecemeal approach so you only spend money when you absolutely need to. You hire someone to manage your Google Adwords. Then someone else to do SEO on your site. Someone else to add new pages and change the layout. You get the idea.

Unfortunately, this can cause more problems than it solves.

“With previous websites, I had different people/service providers taking care of different aspects of the web presence including development, post development management, SEO, hosting, PPC (pay-per-click), conversion, content (written), content (layout and design) etcetera,” explains Niessen. “Whenever a problem arose, I found that there was a lot of finger pointing and lack of accountability.”

All the detail and moving pieces can easily suck your time and energy, even when you’re hiring a great web team.

Don’t lose sight of the big picture, which is how seamlessly and how well your website represents your brand.

So take the time to ask the right questions in order to find the website-building team that fits your needs.

Between them, Boni and John Wagner-Stafford have five decades of experience as entrepreneurs and/or providing consulting services to other small businesses across Canada. Boni and Joni are the authors of Rock Your Business: 26 Essential Lessons to Plan, Run, and Grow Your New Business From the Ground Up.

For interview requests, click here.

The opinions expressed by our columnists and contributors are theirs alone and do not inherently or expressly reflect the views of our publication.

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