A New Website Alone Will Not Improve Your Business

Today, I turned down a project with a substantial budget–around $40K.

The prospects told me they didn’t need business advice. That their biggest problem was their website.

I’m sure our team could have taken on the project and created a new website that looked great, and the client would have been happy, but I was already sensing a dangerous conflict of opinion.

I knew their website wasn’t their problem. It never is.

Most agencies would think I’m crazy for turning down an opportunity like this. Most agencies don’t turn down any work.

See how that can be a problem?

I have an ethical obligation to my clients to take on only the projects that are a good fit for our company and what we do. At Madtown, we care about reviving businesses, and we do our best work when we take on projects that we’re confident will have a great impact on business outcomes.

Redesigning websites, just for the sake of redesigning them, does not impact businesses. And unless a company is willing to let us dig deeper into their business problems to uncover solutions, we’re not comfortable moving forward, knowing that we can’t promise the outcomes we want to.

The Perpetual Redesign Cycle

Everyone thinks their website is their business’s primary problem. Common complaints include:

  • It’s hard to navigate.
  • The design is dated.
  • The copy is boring.
  • It does a poor job of communicating the business’s strengths.

It’s easy to identify problems with a website as a means of justifying a redesign. Executives and marketing directors do this all the time.

This is how organizations get stuck in the cycle of redesigning their website every few years, making lump-sum payments here and there instead of investing in regular, consistent website care and feeding.

If you had a few problems with your house–a leaky faucet, a stained carpet, and some outdated decor–would your first instinct be to build an entirely new house? Probably not. But if so, chances are there are some deeper issues with your lifestyle that are bothering you more than the minor aesthetic and repair issues. You’re just building your case with the wrong evidence.

And that’s exactly what a lot of businesses do with their websites.

In most cases, when organizations are willing to tweak their websites monthly to optimize them, their problems don’t fester to the point where starting over seems like the only option. Not only is this option more economically sound–it’s just smarter business.

What Goes Wrong

Let me tell you how most design engagements start, and why most website redesigns are not successful.

First, an executive determines that it’s time to redesign the website (often, based on the simple fact that it hasn’t been done in awhile). He appoints someone to contact several agencies, which are found through simple Google searches, and to distribute RFP’s to the most promising candidates. When the proposals come back, a team skims them and ultimately makes the decision based largely on price.

Here’s the problem: at this point, the agencies still know next to nothing about the business and its problems. So they base their recommendations on assumptions and design preferences, focusing entirely on what would impress the prospect rather than what would impress the prospect’s customers.

Just because you’re the one paying for the website doesn’t mean the website is for you. But as long as you’re writing those checks, amateur design agencies will feel obligated to please you, first and foremost.

The Right Approach

The right first step in a redesign is to help agencies understand your business.

Lots of business owners don’t know exactly what their primary business problems are, or they’re too focused on the wrong ones. That’s where your agency can help you, if you’re willing to let them.

The truth is that a successful website redesign starts with fresh business advice. This is a hard pill for most business owners to swallow, especially when they’ve been turning profits for a long time. What could a design agency possibly know about what it takes to grow a business?

For one thing, there’s the simple fact that an agency isn’t you–they’re a third party with a valuable outside perspective. They can help you let go of the business story that you’re hopelessly attached to but that doesn’t connect with your customers. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with your products, but no one cares about your brand message, or you haven’t found a way to weave emotion into the solutions you offer.

The list of things that could potentially be impeding your progress is a lot longer than you might realize. And it’s a list that’s much more readily apparent to someone not as deeply invested in the day-to-day workings of the business as you are.

What You Stand to Lose

It’s disappointing when a client dismisses business deficiencies identified by an agency.

Quality design agencies aren’t just good at creating websites. They can also address complex business issues in areas like branding, lead generation, sales, marketing, pricing, positioning, customer service, sales funneling, and communications.

In these cases, when a business is unwilling to truly let an agency in, there’s a high probability that they’ll end up unsatisfied with the results of the project. Design can never produce excellent results without the strategy to back it up.

The Takeaway

Design should never be the first step in fixing a business. What works is excellent design that’s based on sound business strategy.

Too often, design takes the fall for failed business strategy. Its a shame, and it’s unnecessary.

Are you ready to break the cycle?

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