Success … everybody wants it, but few know how to get there easily! I create author websites for a living, and at the start of each project I work with my clients to gather a bunch of information about what they’re looking to create, and most importantly, why. This is because knowing what they’re trying to achieve in a broader sense means that every decision we make in creating the site — visual, functional, or content-driven — is measured against whether it’ll help make their author website achieve their definition of success.
As an author building a website, or really, anyone doing anything, if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, then all your decisions will either be arbitrary, or even worse, based on someone else’s definition of success.
This isn’t to say that most people don’t have some definition of success in mind when they start on a project like becoming an author. Most do, and it’s something like, “sell lots of books!” or “find a traditional publisher!” or “boost my consulting career!” These kinds of very broad measures of success are important — they serve to point you in the right direction when you’re at the very beginning. But as you approach milestones like what kind of information you want to include in your author or book site, and how it should look, you absolutely have to get more granular than that. Otherwise, how will you know whether you’re on the path to success?
I recommend coming up with a list of goals. It might look something like this:
- You generate over $1500/month in income from book sales and webinars
- You save time doing something you don’t like, so you have more time for activities you do like
- Your audience grows by more than 5% a month on average
- Your mailing list reaches 2500+ subscribers
- More people contact you about working with you
Obviously, your mileage may vary, depending on what you write about and how that fits into your overall career… but in essence you want to make a list of real, tangible milestones you can achieve. Milestones that are smaller & more specific than, “become a best-selling author!” And you’ll adjust this list and add to it as time goes on.
The reason it’s important to have this list first, before you do anything else, is that it should help drive your research & priorities. If you know of another author (and it doesn’t have to be an author, it could just be another professional) who has met, and/or surpassed your goals, you can take steps to discover how they did it. Of course the fickle hand of fate will always be a wildcard, but you can glean tremendous amounts of information by just looking at how these successful folks present themselves:
- What kind of design do they use? What’s the overall tone & feeling?
- What kind of content do they have, and how do they present their most important messages?
- Do they leave out anything you consider critical?
- Do they include something you don’t consider important?
- How do they help you believe what they’re saying?
- What are their headshots and other photos like?
- How do they seem to spend their marketing time? What’s their social media engagement?
- Do they offer complimentary services like webinars or consulting?
… and the list goes on. But here’s the important thing: it’s important to recognize that just because someone uses a specific color, font, language, or layout doesn’t mean that if you do the same thing you’ll get the same result. It’s simply not the case that you can take a component from one person, add a couple from another, and even more from a third, mix them up, and expect to be successful. It just doesn’t work that way. You might see some great ideas out there, but if the reason they exist is to meet a goal that isn’t on your list, it’s just a pretty distraction. You want to notice things like, “oh, look, their mailing list signup is right at the top of the page and their content really makes me want to signup so I don’t miss out!” … rather than, “oh, look, they have a photo of themselves on the beach wearing red, so I need to do the same thing!” You can easily make your mailing list signup the most prominent thing on your landing page and do a little testing to find out what kind of messaging makes people want to subscribe, but maybe the image you use has nothing to do with wearing red on the beach because your audience would respond better to something else. The distinction can be tricky, but it’s very important.
And if translating your goals into a design seems impossible, even after you do your research & analysis, this is where you ask for help. Good designers not only have the skill set to make things beautiful, but also to help identify how to translate your goals into a finished product. And if you come prepared with your goals defined, it’ll make working together much more efficient (which impacts your budget) and they’ll be able to make decisions & recommendations that will help you achieve the success you’re after. Letting someone else define your goals for you, even if they’ve got lots of experience & the best intentions, will always leave you feeling a bit of unease. While someone else can help you clarify & articulate what you’re hoping to achieve, you want your definition of success to be your own, and you want to completely understand what it means to you.
Sometimes, if you’re not meeting your goals, in addition to adjusting the design of your author site to make sure it’s looking & working the way you want, you also want to look at the goals themselves to make sure they’re specific enough to be achievable.