You may be wondering why I’ve suddenly started helping others to manage those things they can’t, won’t, or don’t want to do themselves, including website development. Well, as usual, there’s a very good reason behind this business. There’s probably a hundred reasons, if I’m honest, but I’ll just share one for now.
My website nightmares
In 2004, six months after my second son was born, I set up a business, called bras4mums. It does what is says – sells bras to pregnant and breastfeeding women. Very specific, and it’s still going 12 years on.
Back in those days, internet shopping was only just starting out. I set up my own website, using a templated system, and it worked really well as the business grew. However, like all things, they get old, and outdated, and the coding was starting to get a little crumbly. There’s lots of personal stuff going on around this time, apart from my children growing up, and the business growing exponentially, and us moving the business out of home, into premises. All scary, but exciting times.
The website, whilst working OK, was starting to not function properly, and it was limited, and not ideal for coping with the complexity of bra sizing. Now, please don’t feel sorry for me, but my Mum died in May 2009, aged 65, and I’d spent a lot of my time travelling the country to be with her during her last few months. We were lucky to have that priviledge of knowing her illness was terminal. However, I’d obviously taken time out of the business to be with her and Dad. More ‘little things’ were going wrong on the website, and it was increasingly frustrating.
My Dad very kindly offered to pay for a new website to be created, from scratch, to help me with the next phase. We discussed how an improved website structure, and back end system would help the bras4mums staff team, with efficiency, and improve the customer experience. I’d met some people I liked and trusted, and was ready to go with a new shiny website.
There’s lots of details which aren’t important here, but, hopefully, you can understand that as I’d created my own website, and learnt a little bit of basic coding, I knew what I was after in my new website. I’d done a little shopping around for a website creator, and decided to go with an agency who had a wealth of experience in marketing and branding as well as the web design side. I felt they understood the complexity of lingerie, and how to get it across online.
The web design agency came up with a proposal using a templated site, so it wasn’t written for me, but they could customise to my specifications. I questioned it at the time, but they seemed convinced that this was the right way to go. So, we went ahead. I created a very specific timetable and list of instructions, including the web team adding the products and attributes to the site, within the project fee. I remember a conversation whilst away spending time with the family, after we’d scattered Mum’s ashes in a favourite place, that started to make me nervous about their knowledge and skills to get my project right.
The team were 2 weeks late going live, and my staff team had had to spend 100+ hours on product input as the web team couldn’t get it right. I should have pulled out then, shouldn’t I? I was so focused, and believed in the people I was working with, and if I’m honest, during this period of grief, I wanted something sparkling new to look forward to, and move the business forward again. 2009 you’ll remember was the start of the deep recession.
Even at the going live stage there were issues. For those of you who are technical, the DNS wasn’t pointing in the right place. As I was keeping control of the domain in my own account, (and I’m so pleased I’ve always insisted on this), and the web team were hosting the site on a new server capable of the new fancy site they were creating, they hadn’t transferred files over from the development server correctly, and hadn’t asked me to change my nameservers, etc, etc. More signs of things to come?
Oh yes, the story doesn’t end there! The brief wasn’t complete, and there were functions I’d asked for, which were in the design document, and in the payment schedule which seemed to be causing an issue for the web developers. As I got to know the web developers more, as I’d started working directly with them, rather than the account manager who hadn’t a clue about the techincal side of web development, I started to understand that the template wasn’t working for my products. Well, fancy that! My exact question right at the start! So, the account managers had ‘sold’ me a ‘solution’ that didn’t match my needs. It would have cost less to have had a site coded from scratch, that would actually work. Yes, I was getting increasingly frustrated.
I’d paid for some very expensive PR agency to work alongside the website launch, as some of the features were totally unique to bras4mums and the service we offered. I wasn’t getting the whole benefit as some of the promised features weren’t yet working properly. So, I was, in essence, throwing money away.
A few months after the live date, my final payment for the site was due. I hadn’t had enough sales to cover this payment, (I’d spent Dad’s investment on stock for a retail show at Earls Court), as I’d expected the websales to start kicking in now, with all the PR we’d paid for. I also believed that the web agency would shut my site down if I didn’t make the payment, even though there were outstanding issues not yet fixed on the site. Yes, I can hear you all shouting at me. I borrowed the money from some friends, and made the final payment. The web developers were even more illusive after this. You can see why I learnt so much can’t you?
So, January came and went, and little tweaks were still happening, but we still hadn’t got to the end product I’d originally briefed the web design company. I’d got another retail show in February, and wanted everything fixed for then. “Yes, of course, no problem. We think we’ve found a way of doing it”, the web developers told me. We were making progress, and web sales were picking up again, and we had high hopes we were over the worst of the issues.
How wrong could I be? On the Saturday of the retail show, customers told us our website wasn’t working. It was offline. Being a weekend, the web team don’t normally work, but as I’d been working so closely with them, I’d got contact details clients wouldn’t normally have. So, I spoke to the team leader to be told that yes, the server had caught fire and they were doing their best to restore the site. The only problem was, that when they restored a back up, it was a month old! All those tweaks they’d made, and all the stock I’d sold weren’t there – we were literally a month behind….again.
I still can’t believe this really happened. The excitement of the new site, even though it wasn’t perfect, was a much better one than the one I’d created. And then to have the crushing feeling of seeing everything my team and I had worked hard for, for the past 8 months to just disappear, through no fault of my own, was devastating.
I spent days just looking at my website, and refreshing the page to see if they could get it back. They couldn’t and didn’t. There seemed to be no-one taking responsibility for the issues caused between web host and development team. Contractually it was messy, as the agency I’d employed, had sub-contracted work, including the hosting to other companies. As I’d paid out the whole fee, even though the site wasn’t complete, what leverage did I have?
Over the next few months I kept trying to put things right. I paid out more money to the web developers directly to try and fix the issues which were still outstanding. I had lots of screaming matches, (and that really isn’t my style, but I got so frustrated that all my hard work, and all my Dad’s money was going to waste). I then asked a solicitor for advice, and with all the evidence I had kept, I had a strong case to pursue for the losses, and lost business I’d incurred. However, without insurance to cover my business contracts, I took on the risk of this myself, in the belief that “good will always win over evil” – well, it works in the movies doesn’t it? I employed more ‘specialist web developers’ who worked specifically on this templated software, to fix the issues.
Eventually, after another year of trying to fix something that was never right, I set up my own site, using another shopping template, so I could finally rid myself of the awful nightmare I’d been living in. That in itself wasn’t easy, as I lost the specialist features I’d created, but I hadn’t the money to do anything else.
My legal case went on and on, and I eventually ended up with my money back. I’d lost so much by this time, and lost faith in the legal system as well, that it’s a part of my business history I’ve not really talked about.
What I’ve learnt about websites
- As a business owner, you understand the outcome and customer process much better than a web developer, or account manager. You need to find someone who ‘gets it’, and pursues your end goal, not theirs
- You can do a lot, yourself, for free. Yes, you need to buy space on a server, (and there’s different qualities of these too!), unless you have your own on which to store your website, but then after that, you can do pretty much everything else for free, and come up with some amazing results
- Know, and understand where your domain names are, and check that they are registered to you, and your registered address
- Backup, backup and backup. Know how your server is backed up, and either keep backups yourself, in your dropbox account, or on a hard drive, or ensure someone you trust is doing this for you
- Be clear at the start of your website development what your end goal is, even if it’s a phased process. Understand the phases of development, and how this will impact the development of your website
- If your website development team aren’t meeting their targets, find someone else
- Have a clear contract of engagement, with pull out times if targets, or specifications aren’t met
- Having a beautiful website doesn’t mean people will find it easily
How I can help you with your website development and management
With over 12 years of business experience, and this
lovely awful experience in the middle of it, I have a lot to offer others. I’ve been advising friends, and local business owners on website development for a number of year, as well as creating my own sites for blogging, promoting and selling for my different businesses.
I’m now in a position, through Manage Those Things, to help more of you to:
- Map out your website plans to take to web development teams
- Help you source the right web development team for you and your project, goals, and budget
- Project manage your website development on your behalf with the web team you’ve selected
- Create a simple wordpress website for you and/or with you, which doesn’t cost a fortune
- Guide, advise, and support your ongoing website health and security
- Help you get your website visible
Are you ready for some help? Contact me now, and don’t suffer like I did.