Website planning: Are you doing these two things backwards?

Are you making these two mistakes in the planning of your website? I’ve let them slide in the past, too. But I’m putting my foot down so I can deliver the best possible websites for my clients.

You are planning your website backwards if:

1. You decide you need a new website…then look for a template.

If you’re a print designer, do you grab a brochure template and then make the client’s copy fit inside it? Of course not. So why does this happen so often for websites? Fine, maybe it’s (seemingly) easier. But by using a template, you’re taking something with no limitations (WordPress) and immediately choosing to restrain yourself with limitations that might make absolutely no sense for your business. Your website design should start with what you need to say. Okay…maybe there’s a time and place to use templates, but if you want a website to be the catalyst of your online business presence, this is not the time. A template’s capabilities should never determine your website’s function.

Moving forward:

I’m going to save myself and my clients headaches by not working on other people’s code anymore. No more pre-existing themes. I have never seen a template result in a better, more authentic outcome than a custom site. Custom sites are the only way to make sure the layout isn’t hindered by anything. Plus, some templates end up taking as much time as doing it from scratch—and they always include banging my head against the wall when this theme isn’t working right. No more!

2. You aren’t writing copy first.

You have to have something to say. Until you know what that is—and how long it is—design doesn’t need to come into play. The design and layout should be determined by your message, and by your business’ personality—both of which will be defined by its content. I used to be looser on this matter. But it’s always been where projects stall. I’ve had far too many sites stall for months and years because the content didn’t get finished. No more!

Moving forward:

I’m not going to begin a website design project until you give me the content. Content before design honestly creates better websites. When you know what you want to say, we can use the design to make the message extra-awesome. As of today, I want all of the content (the web content and at least 6 portfolio pieces) up-front.

At Jill Lynn Design, there will be no more clients (or designers!) made miserable by preventable reasons. Here’s to doing it the right way (the forwards way!) the first time.

Are you tired of reinventing the wheel each time you bring on a new client? The Client Onboarding Toolkit is a simple, 4-step digital course that walks you through my time-tested process for onboarding clients. Jam-packed with advice, tools, and templates designed for creative professionals, it’ll save you time, stress and frustration while making you look like the creative rockstar you are. You’ll convert prospects into paying clients with more clarity, sanity, and confidence than ever before. Learn more »

About Jill Anderson

Hi, I’m Jill, a WordPress WordPress designer/developer who partners with talented designers, copywriters, and agencies on their websites, and their client’s sites. I’m passionate about crafting beautiful and innovative WordPress websites focused on clear positioning and positive user experiences. Get my free report, Get Your Website Done: 12 Actionable Steps for Designers, and check out my Client Onboarding Toolkit, a simple 4-step digital course for converting prospects into a paying clients.


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9 thoughts on “Website planning: Are you doing these two things backwards?

  1. #truth. I much prefer to do custom work because, yes, templates are just as much work. And yes, copy first!!

  2. “I have never seen a template result in a better, more authentic outcome than a custom site.” I couldn’t agree more.

    Templates often look good when they are set up all pretty with the carefully selected stock images, however when you get down to it and they get used in real life they never looks as good.

    Clients often like the idea of templates but then start requesting all sorts of customisations that ultimately make the template look rubbish. A bespoke site is the way to go and I refuse to work with templates. They often take more time to work with as you have to hack away at them and they rarely play well with large scale functionality or design changes.

    There are some genuinely well coded and functional themes out there, they have their uses, but don’t even get me started on the likes of Ink Themes. How anyone could think they look good is beyond me.

  3. Content before design is so important for print design too! Great post, I will share with my network .

  4. It’s nearly 12 months on since writing this article. Has your change been a success? I’m interested in any lessons learned along the way? Great article by the way.

    1. Yes! I’ve been very successful in sticking to my guns and saying no to working on existing theme modifications. And, for all new projects, I’m requiring content up front before I work on the design. It’s definitely a better way of working for me, and my clients have been very receptive to this 🙂

  5. Having the content upfront is always so much better! I completely agree. I am wondering though, because I too am venturing to stop using any form of templates eventually, what do you recommend to use? I started playing with Underscores and am comparing it to others like Roots/Sage etc to see which is best for me, but I’d love to hear what in your experience you’re using and is working well for you and your clients.

    1. I’m using a customized theme similar to the default Twenty themes with Bootstrap added in. I hear great things about both Underscores and Roots/Sage and I think either would be a great starting point. I also use Advanced Custom Fields Pro to make it super easy for my clients to edit their content in WordPress. ACF’s Flexible Content is awesome!!

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