Start Building Your Online Platform by Envisioning the Goals of Your Website
Before beginning to design a website, it's important to understand the goals and purposes for that website. For example, to build an effective plan for an author site, in particular, one should develop a clear vision for how that website will support one's endeavors as an author. Is the goal of the website to sell books? Establish a professional presence? Make personal connections with readers? All of the above? Then your website design will need to incorporate tools to enable all of those functions.
Of the websites I've developed over the years, my favorite example comes from early in the year 2012, back when I decided I was writing a book about selling books. Before I began to design a website to sell my book, I had to decide exactly what it was I wanted my website to do for my book.
When I started the book, I already knew I didn't want to write just another how-to book about self-publishing and self-promotion for authors. I wanted to take everything I know about writing, design, and marketing, and I wanted to connect the dots from a decade of experience as an author, editor, and media strategist. I wanted to teach authors how to turn books into businesses. I wanted to incorporate all that I've learned from seeking my own direction and purpose and vision in life, and I wanted to save other authors the time of all the trial and error it's taken me to develop the strategies and principles that have worked for me. I wanted to give back what I've been given. I wanted to share the limitless potential of what can become a self-fulfilling business model for self-published authors.
On February 1, 2012, I started from scratch with a brand-spankin'-new website and an introductory blog post. From there, I began to share my motivation for undertaking that project, and I imparted my hope for other authors to find a similar imperative before launching into the public eye. I expressed the importance of being yourself and believing in yourself before attempting to sell yourself, and I outlined some of my own guiding principles in business (and life). Within a matter of weeks, after only some cursory social media promotion, I was already developing a following and building my online platform as a writer, entering a whole new genre without even breaking stride.
But before I started blogging, I built an effective website constructed from a clear plan laid out to support the goals and purposes of my book and my vision for my business of writing. With my website, through the early part of 2012, I built a new audience while demonstrating for that audience how I was moving step-by-step through the real, live implementation of my business model. With that website, I laid out the framework for my methodology toward...
- Building a promotional platform.
- Developing a social media presence.
- Launching a public relations campaign.
- Designing a Web marketing strategy.
- Producing and publishing a book in print and e-book format.
- Selling a self-published book as the main product of a business of writing.
Notice how much work is involved in this plan before publishing a book? Doesn't this model seem a bit backward to you? Shouldn't we be starting with the book and then worrying about all that business-end stuff?
Yeah, sure, you can do it that way. You can take the top-down approach. You can wait to find readers until after you have a book in hand. You can do it just the way everybody else does it, and you can leave all the work until the end.
Or you can implement a business model right now, and you can start building your business while you write your book.
Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, authors a blog about leadership and living on purpose. He addresses topics like publishing, marketing, business ethics, relationship-building, and other good stuff that drives who we are as people in our profession, and his guest bloggers do likewise. A few years ago, in a guest post entitled "Why You Need to be Building Your Platform Now," guest blogger Carrie Wilkerson shared a point that stuck with me:
"We spend so much time reading, editing, practicing, and perfecting for our 'someday' audience that we lose sight of the fact that we don’t have an audience... yet."
It doesn't have to be that way. You don't have to wait until you have a product to sell before you start gathering an audience. You can begin to build your platform as an author before you even have a book to share. You can interact and engage and become a living, breathing part of your audience's daily life, starting now. You can position yourself as a resource and establish yourself as someone worth paying attention to just as soon as you know what it is you want to say.
That's why my business model began with a platform. That's why, back in 2012, I focused on getting started by building a website. That's why the beginning of my business of writing rested upon the development of my own little "online central" that served as my home base for everything that followed.
Now, my goals have changed over time. Today, I'm writing articles about how to sell books because I want to give away what I've been given. I want to share what I've done, what I've learned, and what I've seen that works for other authors. I still maintain a free subdomain on Weebly, just to have a main spot to share my story and my contact information. If I happen to make a few bucks through HubPages while I'm at it, that's peachy, but that's not the point for me anymore.
When I launched my business of writing back in 2012, however, I intended to make it a full-time job, and so I laid out a strategic plan to make that happen. Your goals may be different from mine, and that's peachy, too... if we're both lucky, I might still have some tips and tricks that help you to better position yourself as an author by building a platform for yourself, starting with your website design.
Let me pause here to point out one key factor: as we go, you'll notice that most of the online platforms and providers I recommend are those that offer a free version of their services. There's a reason for that, and the reason is simple. Self-published authors don't typically start out with a huge marketing budget. In fact, most self-published authors are lucky to scrape up any kind of a budget at all.
And that's okay, because using the online platforms and providers that I have used to publish and promote my books, you can publish and promote your books for darn near free.
The reason I point this out at the outset is that, in some cases, I chose to incorporate a few paid features into past websites and online promotion outlets. At times, I'll be discussing some design elements and Web marketing strategies that do require an initial investment.
That doesn't mean you need to worry about coughing up any cash right now, though. I'll let you know as we go if I'm talking about something that comes with a price tag, and I'll offer low- or no-cost alternatives where applicable. Plus, remember that you can start free, and you can always go back to add or upgrade features later. The world is your oyster.
So where do you begin?
Back in 2012, I built my website in one day using Weebly. I was able to build my website in one day because I spent several days planning my website before I began to build it.
Why Weebly? Well, I also like WordPress and SquareSpace, but Weebly has been one of the platforms I enjoy the most. It's fast, flexible, and ridiculously easy. While it doesn't offer a bazillion plug-ins and third-party add-ons, like some other site builders, Weebly does include the basics with its free version. Plus, the Pro version makes me happy, and new features are being released all the time. You might know or discover a different platform you prefer, and power to you... but since Weebly is the platform I have generally preferred, Weebly is the platform I'm going to discuss here.
This was one of those cases I just discussed, in which I opted for an upgrade for my website. I paid for a Weebly Pro account, which gave me access to additional design and plug-in features that aren't available with the free version, and I also had my own domain name registered through GoDaddy. I know, I know, there's all sorts of controversy about GoDaddy, but if you don't like their television commercials, you can go find your own provider. GoDaddy is the provider I used because it was the provider that best met my needs for my website at that time.
Total GoDaddy pricing depends on whatever additional products, if any, you include with your domain. For example, I also hosted my business email accounts through GoDaddy. That's just because I'd already bought my domain name a few years back, before I started using Weebly as my site host. If you're registering your domain name for the first time, and you plan to use Weebly as your host, you can choose to register your domain name and host your email directly through Weebly. The point is, there are a few options here when you're ready to take your website to the next level.
But don't worry, we'll get into details like that in other articles as we go. For now, let's just look at the process of building a free site using Weebly.
So, to get started...
- Go to weebly.com.
- Sign up.
- Enter a name for your site.
- Pick a category and a subcategory for your site.
- Select "Use a Subdomain of Weebly.com" to build a site for free.
Ta-da! Now you have the genesis of a website for yourself. You're thinking something like this: Now what?
This is where some of that vision and direction comes into play. Before you start building a website design, you should know a few things about what you plan to do with your website. What is your website going to accomplish for you? Is your website going to help people get to know you, help you generate revenue for your business of writing, help you position yourself as an industry expert, or all of the above? What do you want your Web visitors and future readers to gain from you when they meet you through your online platform?
Well, first of all, this is going to be the home of your voice as an author and as a marketer. So you want your website to reflect who you are as an individual and what you're doing with your work.
Before I even touched the admin controls behind my new website, I sat down with a pen and a piece of paper, and I began to identify the goals and objectives of my website. In fact, I didn't even pick a design template for my site until I'd come up with a top-five list of requirements for appearance, focus, and functionality. At that time, the top five requirements for my website included the following:
- Visitors would see my book title front and center on every page.
- My business brand would be associated with my book title. (More articles about business startup and branding later.)
- Every page would focus and link directly to my blog, which would be the center of my platform as an author.
- Every page would allow visitors easy access to contact me via Twitter, LinkedIn, or email.
- My website would serve as an automated revenue generator. (More articles about affiliate programs, advertising, and revenue later.)
Those requirements came as a result of some heavy thinking about my vision and direction. I came up with that top-five list after I considered the business purposes of my website and the desired impacts I wanted my website to have on my potential readers. In other words, each of those preliminary criteria represented a means to achieve an end goal:
- ...to foster familiarity.
- ...to build name recognition.
- ...to provide a foundation around which all of my public relations would be built.
- ...to cultivate discussion and interaction with my audience.
- ...to support a self-fulfilling business of writing.
Once I had those preliminary criteria in writing, I drew a picture of what my website would look like. Once I had a clear picture of my website, it took me a single day to build it to spec. The overall vision for my website was created at the outset, and the goals and objectives still stood after I built it and began to use it as the launching pad for my platform as an author.
As you can see, the benefits of clearly defining the criteria for your website are two-fold. When you plan your website ahead of time - when you create a blueprint for your intents and purposes - not only do the pieces come together to achieve what you've set out to accomplish, but the process of building your website goes a lot quicker and easier, too. After a week or so of brainstorming and daydreaming about what I wanted my website to do, it took me about five minutes to draw out my picture of what it should look like, and it took me a day to build it from there.
What can I say? Taking the time to develop a clear vision for your business of writing pays off in more ways than one. And setting clear goals and purposes for your actions as an author will put you on the fast track toward building a platform as a professional.