By Mandy Marksteiner
Susanna Perkins is an online copywriter who has a super useful website called WordPressBuildingBlocks.com where she teaches a simple step-by-step system for building a website using WordPress.
Mandy: How did you get started building websites with WordPress?
Susanna: I’ve been building websites since the mid-1990s. I started out actually hand coding HTML and had some success there. Then when websites got to be really, really heavy on the programming I stopped doing it.
Around 2006 I discovered WordPress and that to me was the solution to everything because it allowed me to start building websites without having to program. There are a lot of people who need websites. They need an online presence, but they’re not particularly technical themselves.
If you can create a document in Word or Google Docs you can use WordPress. Now getting it set up is a little different, but as far as just day to day use it’s really, really simple for the business owner.
Mandy: Many business owners need a website and an online presence. There are so many options and there are so many ways of doing it. Why would someone choose to use WordPress?
Susanna: The benefit to WordPress for a business owner is once it’s all set up and running you can add or change content pretty easily.
Mandy: What types of businesses have you worked with?
Susanna: Well, I’ve worked with all different types of businesses. I built a site for a Pilates studio which is very much a local business. I’ve built sites for other freelancers. I’ve built sites for somebody who does tours in Panama. It’s a pretty wide variety of clients that I’ve been privileged to work with.
Mandy: When someone’s going to start a WordPress site, what can they do to make the process easy?
Susanna: From my perspective as the person who’s building the site, it’s really important for the business owner to have a clear idea of what they want the site to do for them. The business owner should know what the purpose is for each page on the site and for the site as a whole. Is it to get leads? Is it to actually make sales? Is it to get people to walk in the door of their shop? It’s great to think, “I need a website,” but what do you want that website to do for you?
Mandy: Can you give some examples of page purposes?
Susanna: There are lots of different reasons to have a website. A local business, like the Pilates studio I mentioned, wants to generate interest in her studio. She wants to extend the studio’s reach and use it for just general public awareness that she’s there, but she also wants to get people in the door. She wants people to sign up for classes, and she wants her regular customers to be able to do things like check class schedules and make appointments for personal lessons or different types of work through the website rather than having to call and talk to somebody. Those are pretty common types of things that a local business might want.
Now somebody who’s a freelancer has very different because they don’t generally want people walking in their door. They want people to realize, “Here’s somebody who can help me solve this particular problem in my business and it doesn’t matter where they’re located.” Geography isn’t the issue there. If you’re a freelancer you probably want to use your website to generate leads.
Mandy: When I talk to business owners I get the sense that sometimes just setting up the website seems like an insurmountable hurdle. How can people make it easier to get over this hurdle in your opinion?
Susanna: You know, it’s kind of like anything else. At some point you just have to bite the bullet and start doing it. Like so many other things that seem like overwhelming obstacles, if you take it a step at a time, then with each step you take the next step becomes clear.
Mandy: Yes. That’s what’s so cool about your website, WordPress Building Blocks. It seems like you’ve broken it down into a step by step system. How did you come up with the Building Blocks idea?
Susanna: I love houses and buildings and architecture so I use this analogy throughout the site of comparing your WordPress site to building a house. It’s an easy analogy for people to understand and something that we can all relate to. Every house has to sit on a piece of land. That’s your domain name and where you host the site. You need a foundation — that’s WordPress.
Then different elements of home building I compare to different elements within WordPress. I think that really works with people.
Mandy: When you go to your WordPress site, people can sign up and receive a series of training emails from you. What can they expect?
Susanna: It’s a seven-part series. It’s completely free. You get one email a day that gives you a high level view of that particular part of the process of building the website. For example, the first one is about the plot of land, continuing the house analogy. Day two is about the foundation, day three is framing and day four is about the roof. Your domain name and hosting is the land the structure sits on, and then the foundation is WordPress. The roof is security which is plugins. Step by step we’re building this house which is synonymous with building the WordPress website. You get seven of those and then periodically after that I send out additional emails. I don’t have any set schedule for that.
Mandy: Visiting your site and signing up for that email is a really good way to just get your mind around the process of creating a WordPress site. Is there anything else that people should do to prepare themselves for getting a WordPress site?
Susanna: Think really carefully about what you want the site to do for you. Then after you’ve done that, then you need to start gathering your materials. You’re definitely going to need some imagery on the site. You’re going to need a logo. You’re going to need … Whatever branding you already have should be carried over to the site. If you have a business and your branding uses the colors red, white, and blue then that should carry over to the website. You don’t want the website to be pink and purple because that’ll just confuse people. If you don’t have that kind of branding already established, then this is probably a good time to really think about it and figure out the face that you want your business to present to the world because that’s what your visual branding is.
Mandy: How important is the logo itself? If someone doesn’t have a logo, do you think it’s worth it to get it now, or just maybe move forward with the website and then get the logo done later?
Susanna: Well, I guess it depends on what kind of business you have. You don’t need to have a logo to have a good, attractive, and effective WordPress site, but it’s the kind of visual element that really helps because people start to identify with that logo. When they see it on the page they recognize, “Okay, here’s where I am and this is where I want to be.” It’s a good visual clue that you’re in the right place as a site visitor, but you don’t have to have it right at the get go. You can add it later.
Mandy: Do you have any other words of advice for someone that’s going to start a new website, WordPress or otherwise?
Susanna: Like any other construction, be prepared for it to take twice as long as you think it’s going to take.
A lot of that is because things come up. For example, if I’m building a site for you, I try to collect all the materials that I’m going to need from you before I even start. I would ask you to give me your logo and any other images. We discuss colors and other visual elements.
As I’m working along, invariably questions come up. If I ask you a question and you take two weeks to respond to me, well that’s two weeks when I’m stuck and not able to be working on your site. You need to be prepared to respond quickly to any questions or issues that might come up, and to make decisions.
On the other hand, if there’s a decision you have to make while the process is going on, you shouldn’t feel compelled to make a snap decision which you might regret later. Take your time with it but be prepared to move on it fairly quickly so as not to hold the process up.
Mandy: You want to be as efficient as possible but you don’t necessarily want to be in such a rush that you make a mistake.
Susanna: Exactly. Then besides the visual aspects of the site, you’ve got content and so you need to decide ahead of time who’s going to create that content for you. For the most important pages on the site, the homepage, the about page, and sales pages, you’ll want to either put a lot of time into them yourself or hire a professional to do for you. Because those are the pages that are going to get the most traffic. Those are the pages that are going to get the most attention. Those are the pages that your site visitors are really going to rely on to get a good sense of who you are.
Those pages are the pages on your website that help you to let the site visitor know, “This is who I am. This what my business is about. This is the kind of relationship that you can expect if you want to do business with me.” Those are really important pages. My sense is that unless you’re already a skilled copywriter yourself, it’s a really good idea to let a professional write those for you.
Mandy: A lot of people want to do it themselves but they struggle with it. It’s so much easier for them to sit back and relax and talk about their business but then actually to sit down and write down what they want to say. They can do a beautiful job explaining their business out loud but at that point a copywriter can capture that for them often better than they can do it themselves. It’s hard to write about yourself, so a copywriter can help you with that.
If someone chooses not to hire a copywriter, what can they do to be more successful?
Susanna: Study sites that you like, preferably sites that are in your same market, your same niche, whatever industry or business you’re in. Really study them and see what they’ve done and see what you think works well for them and what doesn’t and then try to write yours to take advantage of the best that you’ve seen. Now that doesn’t mean that you take the same sentences and paragraphs that they’ve used because that’s totally wrong, but to just see how they structure things, see how they present themselves just so that you know if this works for somebody else then the chances are good that something similar would work for me.
Mandy: When it comes to websites, there is a huge range in prices. How can someone make a logical decision that makes sense for their business money-wise about how to make a budget for their website?
Susanna: Again, ask yourself what’s the purpose of the website? Because it’s easier to figure out a return on investment and to justify the price you’re paying when you’re making direct sales because that’s something you can measure. It’s harder to measure it when you’re looking for leads or just for general letting the world know that you’re there type of website. I would say especially for a small business, because small businesses are always struggling with their budgets, try to get the biggest bang for your buck. Try to get the most you can for what you can afford to pay. I don’t really have any advice on how to do that.
Mandy: That’s okay. I want business owners to have some control over what they’re going to pay me. Of course there’s a lot of web designers they can charge what they want and they have the right to do that, but a business owner needs to decide what their budget is. Know first of all what can you afford to pay, and then once you know how much you can afford, how they can get the most out of that money.
Susanna: Right. That’s why I offer some bottom end packages where I say, “Okay, for $249 I’ll set up WordPress for you, I’ll build you these pages, I’ll install so many widgets.” I specify exactly what I’ll do. I’m not promising them a turnkey “this will be everything you ever dreamed of” website for $249.
Mandy: Yeah, that would be unreasonable!
Susanna: Right. I’m giving them the basic that they can get started with for that price. Then it goes up incrementally. For so much more, then I provide these other specific things for you. Then of course we get into completely custom work where they tell me what they want and I figure out what it’s going to involve and I quote them a price for it. Those can go up into several thousand dollars depending on what they need and what they want.
The whole process of setting up a site makes a lot more sense if you decide ahead of time what you can afford to pay, based on where they’re at, and then understanding what your goals are, and then having the materials together. Once they have all those things then they can make a more informed decision on what to get. Susanna Perkins and I are working together to create websites for small business owners, freelancers and other organizations. For more information contact Mandy Marksteiner at 505-515-7001 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit Susanna’s website at www.WPBuildingBlocks.com.
Click here to see samples of websites where I wrote the copy.