'Tis Spring, when a writer's fancy turns to her website! Whether it's flaunting a Big Contest Final, a Monumental Contest Win or announcing the Hot New Release, when the grass grows tall writers itch to start, revamp or completely overhaul their websites. Fortunately, we Banditas are a resourceful lot. We have two savvy website and personal branding professionals with us today to kindle your spark of a website idea into a towering inferno of internet marketing goodness.
Jenn Stark brings a practical, accessible approach to branding to help authors at every level present themselves for maximum impact. A former vice president of marketing and communications with sixteen years' experience and a published freelance business writer, Jenn has served as president and publicity director of the Ohio Valley Romance Writers of America, and was the 2007 winner of the RWA Golden Heart in paranormal romance. She is an invited speaker and instructor on branding and public relations topics around the country and enjoys working with authors one-on-one to help develop their branding and publicity materials. Visit her online at www.jennstark.com.
Liz Bemis has worked in the Graphic Design and Information Technology fields for more than fifteen years. She brings her passion for unique designs and customer-driven site personalities to her work as the Owner and Creative Director of Bemis Promotions. As a four-time Golden Heart finalist (www.elizabethbemis.com) and regular speaker to authors nationwide, Liz provides the perfect combination of business savvy, author branding, and promotional experience to her clients.
Welcome, Jenn and Liz! Pull up a hammock, grab an umbrella drink and tell us a story. How about the one where you and Liz created your website, Jenn? It's my favorite website design story ever! Pretty please?
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Jenn: As a Personal Branding expert who’s spoken to hundreds of authors about how to maximize their Brand in person and online, you’d think I’d have a truly easy time creating my perfect personal website the first time out.
Liz: (giggles to self)... They ALL think it’s gonna be a snap!
Jenn: Well… not so much (as Liz Bemis, my uber patient web designer will agree!) But the process that I took to create my site proved very instructive, and is hopefully one that can help you as well as you prepare to create—or update—your own website.
Essentially, my site development experience came down to three key steps: The Idea, The First Cut, and the Big Finish:
The IdeaThis by far is the most important stage in the process—where YOU decide what YOU want in your website, and then communicate that to your designer. I can’t stress the decision element enough. I’ve had the pleasure of working on four different site designs with Liz. Two of them I said “just put something together that makes sense for me, maybe with a dragon… or something swirly…” and I got exactly what I asked for, which wasn’t at all what I wanted once I saw it. Why? Because I didn’t go into the process with a clear and focused image of what I REALLY wanted to do.
Liz: Those first two site designs were years ago... I now pretty much require that all of my clients come up with five sites that they truly love (and what they love about each site), and five sites that are professionally developed that just aren't for them (and what they don't like about each site). I would recommend having this kind of list no matter who you work with.
Jenn: The other two design processes—which resulted in my first site and then my upgrade—were much different. I followed Liz’s recommendation of finding sites that had the ‘look’ I was seeking, I planned out exactly what I wanted to convey image-wise with each site, and I had reasons for each of the early changes I made. In addition, I worked with Liz on formatting issues—how often did I want to update my site? Did I want to handle this myself or have Liz do it? Making these decisions up front cut down Liz’s design time by at least 50%--and while I was a bit more of a pain because I was so much more specific, I ended up with a First Cut that was dramatically closer to my dream site.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Take the time to go through your designer’s pre-planning process, and be as specific as possible in your design requests. Your designer doesn’t start until you say go—so use her time wisely by being as prepared as possible up front.
The First Cut
While Liz had already been hard at work for days at this point, I really started my portion of the work once she gave me her initial site design. At this stage I got to see her first execution of my vision—and make decisions about whether or not that execution would work. In my case, I knew immediately what I loved, and what wasn’t for me. But knowing wasn’t enough. I needed to then communicate my preferences as clearly as possible to Liz, and see where she could then take my ideas. Remember, your designer wants you to LOVE your site. They don’t want you to “settle” if your site isn’t absolutely perfect. So when it comes to giving feedback, don’t just say “this doesn’t work,” offer suggestions to your designer that are as concrete as you can make them. In my case, I was on a deadline to get the site up—and I recommend this to anyone developing a site. Don’t give yourself too much time to obsess over it, or you will never get it done!
KEY TAKEAWAY: Be prepared to give fast, thorough feedback, with a timeline for implementation. Deliver your changes all at once, versus forcing your designer to change one thing on the first iteration, and another thing on the second iteration, etc.
Liz: That's really great advice. First, piecemeal input will drive your designer to Bedlam very quickly. Second, you'll get a much better sense of the changes if they all happen at once!
The Big Finish
Jenn: Once we went through a few rounds of design changes, we were almost ready to launch my new site. I wanted my site to “live” in its current version for at least 6 months, hopefully much longer, so it was important to ensure that everything in the site was where I wanted it to be. This was the time to sweat the small details and keep the lines of communication open! In my case, I tested the site out with a number of friends, getting their feedback and making incidental changes for clarity. This is also when I tested all of the cool features Liz incorporated into my site—the self-editing features, the blog, the contest, etc. We didn’t launch until I was sure I could manage the day-to-day updating with a minimum of difficulty, and then we launched with a bang, as I included a contest and promoted the site to all of my various groups and list-servs.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Test-drive your site with others, incorporating their feedback to ensure your site is as “perfect” as possible before launch. And don’t launch until you’re ready to start the maintenance for your site or blog, whether you handle the updating or your designer does.
And that’s what the site process looked like to me! Liz’s experience, however, may be a little different…
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Thank you, ladies. That's one of my favorite website stories ever, complete with a Happy Ever After! And so, gentle readers, you see how much sweat and lather goes into the seemingly effortless and lovely designs of your favorite author websites. If you're itching to pull a site together (you know you should already have one!) or have questions about where to start, when to stop or what you should fill up all that blank space with, ask away! Both our experts will be popping in today to answer your website and branding-related questions.