Oh, I know how it is. You have a new business – what fun! It’s like a puzzle you’re trying to solve, fixing all of the pieces together. You’re like Dr Frankenstein putting together his monster – cue the maniacal grin! It’s alive.
Ok, ok, maybe not Frankenstein’s monster. But you’re putting together a legacy of sorts, and how it develops, evolves and is received by the world is ultimately up to you.
I encounter this dilemma a lot with potential clients: they’ve been working hard for months to get their business baby (or monster) off the ground. They have a beautiful website design, a logo that’s slicker than Nike’s, and they probably even invested in a very profesh photographer. They are looking smooth…and so is their website. Except for one thing.
A common but avoidable mistake
It’s five days till launch time, and I get The Call. They’re excited, but highly-strung and inarticulate. They need a copywriter to come on board to create an engaging tone-of-voice. Probably like frank body scrub….even if they’re not marketing themselves towards girls in their 20s.
It’s at this point that we realise launch time might not be five days away.
More like…five weeks.
Because when you leave your brand’s message and communications to the last minute, the whole project can start to tear at the seams.
Because what you say is just as important as what you sell.
And you can’t tell people what you’re selling, or creating, or offering to the world, unless you know what language and tone-of-voice to use.
It can be totally heartbreaking to hear that your business baby, that wailing entity you’ve spent months with every night, might not be ready for the world to see and enjoy. Your business. You know, the thing that pays the bills and lets you live your dream life?
But it’s not all bad news, nor does launching an online presence need to be difficult. This entire scenario can be avoided.
It’s a modern take on the classic conundrum: what comes first: website copywriting, website design or branding? Strategically thinking, does it make sense to build a container – your website – for your content first? Or should you define what kind of building you want before that – in other words, brand your business? And if you begin at the wrong point, will you need to start from scratch later on?
What comes first: website copywriting, website design or business branding. Google this question and you’ll get a plethora of answers. Each creative individual will have their own opinion on this, often skewed by their own agenda. But if you’re working with a professional who has your business' best interests at heart, there is a best place to start when building your business an online presence.
How to launch an online business
Figure out your why
Aside from making a living and making you money, why are you launching your business? How are you serving the marketplace? Perhaps you’re launching an e-commerce website, dedicated to helping time-deprived 20-year-olds develop confidence in their own personal style with investment basics. Maybe you’re an interior designer who wants to help busy, working families to make their homes beautiful. It’s important to get clear on your Why, because it will help you when honing in on your Ultimate Selling Point (or your Value Proposition, Purple Cow or Brand Proposition). Essentially, your Ultimate Selling Point (USP) is what distinguishes you from others in your field.
Contrary to common belief, being passionate, disciplined and creative does not make a viable USP. The majority of business owners – the successful ones, anyway – have a keen interest in their clients’ outcomes and a drive to master new skills.
Finding your USP can take time. You might want to incorporate your personality. Or you might want to explore the convergence of different ideas. Or you might want to hone in on a niche audience.
Which leads me to…
Figure out your who
If you’re a life coach, a health professional, a yoga teacher or a general philanthropist, I know what you’re going to say: You want to help everybody! The thing is, when you try to appeal to everyone, you appeal to no one. Your brand ends up as a watered down version of itself. A diet version, if you will. And if your business is a personal brand, the consequences of this can have dramatic effects for your livelihood. People won’t know what you stand for.
To illustrate, here is an updated version of an ancient allegory:
A 20-something Gen Y female and her mother were walking along the beach. They only had one pair of Havianas. The girl wore the thongs and the mother walked bare foot. The sand was ridiculously hot because the weather was the kind that raises the murder rate.
As they went along they passed some beach bums who remarked it was a shame the mother had to walk barefoot while her daughter wore the Havianas. The mother and daughter thought, ‘Hey! Good point!’ so the daughter gave her thongs to her mother.
Later, they passed some people that were snarky and remarked: “That mother is being smug and probably punishing her for delayed on-set parental stress from the teenage years. The daughter should wear the thongs.” So they put the thongs in their beach bag and walked barefoot on the hot sand.
Soon they passed some more people who thought they were stupid to both walk barefoot, so the mother took the right-foot thong and the daughter took the other.
Then they passed some highly logical but nonetheless rude people who thought they should really make up their mind. So they took the thongs and chucked them in the ocean, choosing to burn their feet instead.
The moral of the story? In Marketing, if you try to please everyone, you’re gonna get burrrrrned.
If you’re particularly stuck on this, it might be time to call in an expert. When I have potential clients come to me, I can usually get a sense of where they’re at in creating their online presence. While I can and do work with those who haven’t seen a branding specialist, it’s always particularly useful if you’ve fleshed out your why and your who beforehand. You can, of course, do this yourself. But if a potential client doesn’t have this level of clarity, I usually point them in the direction of a branding specialist to help them. This sort of process can be quite intensive, and often involve a lot of homework.
It might be time to talk to a professional branding expert if:
- You can't think of anything more specific than targeting women in their 20s with expendable income.
- You think being dedicated, hard-working and creative sets you apart from the competition.
- You're just copying what other's in your field are doing.
Find your copywriter & your designer…around the same time.
Each designer and copywriter will have their preferred way of working: one copywriter might be comfortable working from scratch, and might happily draft up some wireframes to hand to your designer. Wireframes are important, because they’re essentially a rough diagram of what they think your website should look like in terms of structure and how your content will be housed. Another copywriter might happily squish their pegs into whatever type of container you have. None of these options are wrong.
But if you’re going to find a copywriter first, make sure they know how to mock up a wireframe. If they don’t, go find your website designer first.
As a personal preference, I believe enlisting the help of a professional graphic designer and a professional website copywriter at the same time is a good approach. What is this black magic? It’s simple! If you get them both on your team at the same time, they can work together. And I don’t mean they’ll sit down in a room together and nut it out over tea. I mean they'll talk via email, or you can act as the middle-man, but the idea is to make the process synchronised.
It’s up to you who you want to approach first. One approach is finding a copywriter who can create wireframes, then seeing if they recommend a designer. Or switch those roles. The creative industry is mega tight. We all have other creatives we’ll happily recommend.
If you’re building a business presence online, figure out your branding first, then bring on board your copywriter and web designer.
If you leave copywriting to the last minute, you’ll end up with a rush job, and you’ll probably end up paying a rush fee. Or, you can wait it out until your chosen copywriter is available…but then you’ll be waiting in anguish while your business takes the backseat.
If you neglect branding, no one will have any idea what the hell they’re doing.
Avoid this special kind of misery and organise everything before your launch date – two months at the tightest! Remember: branding first, then copywriting and design.
Not sure if you're ready for a copywriter? You'll never know if you never ask.