Get rid of website shame

Do you have a website, but hate people looking at it? Does it misrepresent you? Or is it just plain ugly? Website shame is real, and fixing it begins far away from the computer screen.

There are so many technical guides out there about website design and website development. And if you’re a newbie you would be forgiven for thinking that the technical hurdles are the biggest challenge you face in getting a polished, professional site up on the internet.

I’m now on version 5.0 of my website. My first foray into cyberspace was an ill-judged, mish-mash of a site launched in 2004 with no clear direction or focus. And during the 11 years since I’ve found myself handicapped by my lack of technical knowledge. At least, I always thought that was the problem.

Then in 2013, I schooled myself in WordPress and found that I still had an ugly site that wasn’t really fit for purpose.

As a creative entrepreneur I had been going about it all wrong. Finally, in 2015, I let creativity lead the way and now have a site I love. Here are my top tips to help you do the same.

1: Step away from the computer screen

Grab a notebook and pen, and start with you. Begin with the big questions such as: What is your vision? What are you trying to achieve? Get clear on exactly why you want a website, and what you hope it will do for you.

2: Write your copy first

Yes, get your copy finished first before you go anywhere near the design. Of course, this is easier said than done. But if you don’t do this, there’s a greater chance that you’ll get distracted by the design elements, and your site won’t end up doing what you want it to.

Pay close attention to headings and calls to action, and make them count. And above all, show your personality.

3: Map out your layout on paper

Buy some A4 pieces of paper and map out exactly how you want each page to look. No doubt this will change slightly but the worst thing you can do is to buy a template and sit there trying to cram your copy into it. Take control of the process by deciding where YOU want your carefully crafted words to go. To help me do this, I downloaded a free kit from Allie Creative 

Once you’re pretty sure what you want, go shopping for a template that can help you achieve your vision. I opted for The Bridge.

4: Choose your colours

Choose two main brand colours. The easiest way to do this is to search on the internet for images you like, and then store them on a private board in Pinterest.

Make sure these images are ones that you are genuinely drawn to – that you find inspiring. Don’t quash your creative juices by trying to be strategic about it or searching for images from your industry. For example, I had a lot of images of cafes and furniture. I also had tribal prints and head wraps and lots of chalkboard menus, none of which you see on my current site.

Pick a couple of your absolute favourite pictures and use Adobe Colour CC to map out the colours. This programme will give you the RG and hex codes for a palette of five colours. And from these you can pick two.

It’s also important to understand branding, in terms of what it is, and what it can do for your business. I did a course called Be Unmistakable, which was crucial in me mapping out a clear vision for my site.

5: Create a style guide

Now that you have copy, two brand colours, and a rough layout – create a style guide that brings together your vision, and how you want your site to look.

I used the following headings in mine:

• Mission and values
• Audience
• My website must look and feel
• Fonts (keep this simple and if in doubt use open sans)
• Colours

6: Hire a photographer

Great pictures are crucial. Long gone are the days when a single headshot on your about page was enough. The increasingly visual nature of our society means that you need to express yourself and your brand image through visuals. Choose a photographer who understands this and who will work with you to get a range of shots that illustrate you in action, plus shots that you can use on social media.

7: Hire a designer

Unless you have some seriously nifty design skills – get some help from a design professional. Preferably, this will be someone local in your community so you can chat and get to know each other. Your designer needs to understand you and what you want. If he or she doesn’t in your first meeting, move on and find someone who does.

I worked with Sonia Afonso Studio who provided both my graphics and photographs. But crucially, I had completed steps 1-5 before we started working together. This meant that I knew creatively and from a business standpoint what I wanted. So I got an end result that I’m delighted with.

Finally, throughout the entire process, keep going back to the very first step and ensure that your vision and what you were trying to achieve in the first place shines through.

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