5 Things You Must Have In Place Before You Build a Website

So you’re ready to sit down and start building a website, that's awesome! But what do you need to make sure you have ready to go before you dig in?

I’m going to share the five things I always make sure I get from a client (or have ready for myself if I’m building something personal or a template). Having a process that ensures I have these “big rocks” in place before I start building makes things go so much smoother and gives all the “little rocks” a place to fall into easily.

So let’s dig in.

1. What style is it going to be?

The first thing I want you to figure out is what kind of style you’re going for. Does your client want something whimsical or modern? Do they want it to be really interactive or more simple? Should it be bright and fun or more subdued?

While working through this with your client, try to keep them focused on their ideal end-user. They may personally love all things hot pink, but is that really going to attract their ideal client or customer?

You also need to make sure you and your client are on the same page. Descriptive words can mean different things to different people. For example, I recently had a client who liked to use the word whimsical to describe her brand and my brain really kept thinking of Alice in Wonderland, which was definitely not how her brain was seeing it.

This is where a good client onboarding questionnaire comes in handy. You can ask several questions that dig a little deeper into how they are visualizing those descriptive words. With that client, how she answered the question “If your brand had a physical location what would it look like?” really helped me see what whimsical meant to her.

Inspiration photos help tremendously whether your client is sharing them with you, or you are presenting them to your client to make sure you’re both on the same page. Pinterest is great for this!

Style also includes how the site functions. Does your client want something really clean and simple, or do they want a lot of moving elements like text sliding in or automatically scrolling testimonials?

As you progress in your web design business you may even get really good at one specific style that clients seek you out for. But as you’re starting out focus on the client’s end-user and design for them.

2. Have 4-6 colors picked out with hex codes

The second thing I want you to figure out is a color palette. A mood board is a great place to pull these stylistic elements together. You can use Adobe programs or Canva for this. You can use those inspiration photos from step one to help you pull colors.

I would encourage you to pick four to six colors.

I have a template that I use in Adobe InDesign that makes this process simple and repeatable. You don’t have to recreate the mood board wheel with every client. Just plug in their inspiration photos and colors and you’ll have a super helpful and cohesive document to guide your design.

You don’t even have to design the mood board template yourself. Creative Market and Envato Elements have great templates that you can buy ready to use.

Like I mentioned above, I like to start with four or five colors and then I will pull in tints and shades to add variety. A tint is a lighter version of a color and a shade is a darker version. This is helpful when you need a background but the original color is just a little too dark or light.

3. Choose 1-2 fonts you’ll use throughout your website design

The third thing you'll want to decide on is what fonts you are going to use. I like to pick out one or two. Even if you only pick one, if it is one that has a lot of different weights and styles it can look like you are using a completely different set of fonts, which can add some needed variety.

I would encourage you to include these on the moodboard so your client can see the full visual style you are going for all in one place.

Once I have our colors and fonts figured out (along with hosting and domain, more on that later) I like to set up a styles page in the backend of the website to see what it looks like online. Colors may look a little different depending on the device the user is on and having this page available for your client to test on different devices can save you a headache later on.

Changing colors and fonts on a website (in most programs) isn’t as easy as it is in Adobe. You most often have to change each individual element. So figuring these things out ahead of time can be a major time-saver and headache-avoider!

Some designers find it helpful to include a sub-agreement in their contract that asks clients to approve colors and fonts before moving on so they don’t try to change them later on.

4. Decide on rough chunks of copy you need for the website

Next, you need to have a rough idea of the copywriting the site will need. You want to know what paragraphs you’ll need and where. You don’t need the actual sentences, but you need to know the sections of text that you’ll need.

You know you’ll probably need a little about section on the home page and maybe another more in depth one on an about page.

If you want to learn more about how to help your client decide which pages their site needs, you can read this blog. It really ties in well with this part of the process.

For example, if you are going to have a portfolio page, is it going to be just pictures or is it going to have some text as well? Thinking through each page and section like this will allow you to say “Okay for every portfolio piece, we are going to have two or three sentences that tell about that project.” Or “We need a place for the location and venue for each wedding.” This will go a long way to help you design with intention instead of just designing empty space.

5. Purchase your domain and set up your hosting

Finally, I want you to make sure you have the hosting and domain bought and set up before you sit down to start building the site. Don’t wait until the last minute! Industry-standard says that it can take around 24 hours for everything to register and take effect. And that can vary depending on all the technical stuff, meaning it could take anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of days.

So don’t wait until you’ve carved out a few hours to sit down and work on the site. Get it done at least 24 hours ahead of time.

I have a blog post that goes over all the reasons we switched to using Webflow moving forward in our business. I also have a video that talks about who I used for years (Siteground) for hosting many of my own sites as well as those I built for clients. You can check that out here. You will need to join my private Facebook group for web designers in order to view it, but I know you will love it!

Let’s wrap it up

So those are the five things I encourage you to have before you start designing a website.

  1. Know what the overall style is going to be
  2. Have 4-6 colors picked out with hex codes
  3. Have 1-2 fonts picked out
  4. Have rough chunks of copy
  5. Have your domain and hosting bought and set up

Having these things ready to go will help you keep your right-brain and left-brain activities separate, which I find really helpful. Dealing with these technical decisions can be more difficult once you’ve moved into design mode. It’s more analytical and logical whereas the design process is more creative and explorative, and I just find it more efficient and enjoyable to not have to keep switching back and forth.

I hope that was helpful, and if you have any questions about any of this or other website building questions I’d love to hear from you! You can join my Facebook group where I love to share more in-depth tips and tricks and answer your questions.

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