(Click to read the TL;DR version)
If you work at a small agency, this is something you hear a lot of times. It is an exciting time for everyone involved; some people had an idea, and they finally made it happen. They quit their day jobs, they invested money into products or knowledge they are going to sell, and they are on to a better future! Woo! All they need is a new website.
Which, depending on where you're going, could start at about £3,000. It starts there. That's the most basic of websites you're getting. For a lot of budding companies, that is a ton of money to invest. Moreover, as the owners of budding companies, clients usually have no idea whatsoever about the finer details of their business, their industry, their customers (not having had any yet), which would be absolutely cruicial, and getting it wrong for at least £3,000 is a very expensive way to learn. So here's something you might think about:
You do not need a website from an agency
This goes against everything that I work for / work at, but it is something I genuinely believe in. I'll endeavour to shed light on this though. I will make the assumption that you are a budding entrepreneur, hence “you” refers to the owner of the business and the person looking to get a website.
What's the point of a business
This is not rocket science. Basically there's a problem / opportunity in your local area that you want to / can solve and, in the process, earn money. You have bills to pay, family to care for, kids to fund their schools, vacations to go on, etc. You also have useful, marketable skill or knowledge. Something that people are willing to pay for.
Right, that is an assumption. How do you know if your skill / idea is viable? Viable = people pay for it, and you can fund your lifestyle from it.
Testing an idea
When you're starting out, no one knows who you are. You do not have a reputation to take care of, you do not have brand guidelines to adhere to, you do not have a widely perceived image that you need to protect and not screw up. Basically, the entire point is: your branding does not matter at this point. Let me repeat this: it does not matter. Later, sure. Not at this point.
“But then my customers will get to know me in a light that I don't feel is indicative of who I am / what my business stands for.”
Yes, a valid point, but as I said, at this point you do not know whether your idea is a good one, or a bad one. Betting at least £3,000 on a website on your feeling is probably not a smart thing to do (unless you have way more, in which case go for it).
What you need to do is get your thing in front of as many people as possible. Currently:
- you don't know who your target market is (you think you do)
- you don't know if they are willing to pay
- you don't know how much they are willing to pay
- you don't know why they are willing to pay for that (what the actual reason is might be totally different than what you think it is)
- you don't know what they need to make a purchase decision, and what is totally unnecessary
- you don't know what method they'll use to pay
- you don't know where they are
One method of findig these out is to ask people: “Hey, would you pay for my X, and if so, how much?”. They will say: “Yeah, awesome idea, about £300 a unit.” And then you say: “Awesome, how many do you need?”. Awkward silence, excuses, and no one will buy any. You haven't asked the right people.
Basically the only suggestion you ever need to take into account are from people who have given you their money. They are the buyers, they are the people whose problems you're solving. Anyone else will misguide you.
You need to find out if there are anyone willing to pay for what you have where you are, and how much.
At the end of the article, there's a list of steps to take on how to do it.
When to conclude a test?
I would conclude a test when you have a few customers, some repeat business, and some income. Sustainable income, even if it's a few hundred pounds a month. You have a user base / client base (you are capturing their data so you can get back to them, right?), and at this point you feel confident your idea is a good one.
The next is to initiate a conversation with your customers to see what they've actually done. Analytics help a ton (you have analytics installed, right?).
Do I need a better website?
Depends. Can you do a lot better than how well you're doing currently? Do you need custom functionality that isn't possible with the things you currently have? Can you provide the next section's answers? If the answer is yes, then you need a better website, go and talk to an agency. If not, stick with it, change copy (the text on the website), adjust pricing, ask customers, talk to them, etc. Get better.
Things to bring to an agency
At any agency, the dream client opens the conversation with something along these lines:
“Hi. So we had the idea to sell T-shirts that were different from other T-shirts because of X. We have set up an initial website, a blog and an ecommerce platform to validate our ideas. We have tried pricing strategy A, pricing strategy B, pricing strategy C, and B outperformed the other two by 12%. So far we've made sales of about £4,000 over the span of 3 months with a consistent growth month on month. Most of our business comes from people who have clicked on a link shared on Facebook (see analytics data), with google searches for "Tshirts for X" being the second. We have all our customers in a database at ecommerce platform and on Mailchimp. We've sent out emails every two weeks, open rate is about 6%. We need a bespoke site because we want to achieve integration with SERVICE, and the current ecommerce platform is not capable of that. Regarding the pages, legally we are required to have a contact and terms and conditions page. Overwhelming majority of people go for our blog, and the ecommerce platform is accessed from the sidebar. About page is nice to have, but should not be prominent.”
Boom. Done. If you tell all of that to any agency, you will see their eyes shine up. You have given them ALL the information they need to work with, to provide you with a quote, and all of those are things they would ask for anyways in endless email back and forths. Without these any solution is a shot in the dark, and there's nothing more demotivational to an agency too as seeing a proposed, signed off and built solution fail spectacularly, despite receiving payment for work. We too like to make stuff that works.
Addendum: tools and resources for testing
- eCommerce platform: Squarespace or if you need heavier lifting: Shopify.com
- blog / website: Squarespace
- Payment gateway: Stripe for US/UK based merchants, PayPal for everyone else
- analytics: Google analytics and / or GoSquared
- newletter management: Mailchimp or Sendicate
- Surveys: Typeform
- Book: 4 hour workweek by Tim Ferriss. It has a very lengthy passage on testing, validation, etc.
- Blog: 4 hour workweek blog / case studies category
- Blog again: Read this article and all referenced material on Ramit Sethi's blog post on entrepreneurship
If you need any help with this, get in touch. I'm happy to give you short answers to simple questions or work together with you in larger projects, if need be.