Case Study - Business Consultant Website
Peter Nixon is an accomplished business consultant based out of Hong Kong since 1989. He offers keynotes, workshops and training across the globe and has authored several books on dialogue and negotiation.
His website needed a visual refresh and updated content: it didn't accommodate visitors on phones or describe his current services accurately.
As an independent consultant he needed to manage his time dealing with inquiries: his processes to filter incoming inquiries and onboard new clients could be improved.
He was planning to promote his latest book independently with blog posts and videos. The right platform could act as a hub for his outreach efforts.
- Google Apps
- Google Analytics
- Web Designer
My process is geared towards making sure:
- My clients have all the information they need to make good decisions at every stage
- I know all their requirements before I commit to a particular tool
Requirements gathering is essential to any custom work. The initial conversations about the project scope are a great way to see if there's a good client designer fit and assess what the client really needs.
Unstated Need: Shaping Content
Peter's business was celebrating its 25th anniversary in August.
He talked to enough businesses around the region to have a sense of who understands the internet/digital/online and how they are pulling ahead of those who are not.
He felt that he had to become more knowledgable about newer media like blogging, podcasts and vlogging. Peter was an experienced writer and he understood how a particular medium can shape the message. He wanted to evaluate what made sense to do himself and what to outsource.
Building the right platform to reach his goals was a given. It looked like a big part of the project would be helping him to shape content.
The Solution is in the Design Dialogue
I have to borrow Peter's tagline: the solution is in the dialogue.
The dialogue between client and designer that starts with business goals and the customer experience develops into one about functional requirements, content, and appearance.
Custom products are difficult to specify succinctly.There's a lot of scope for misunderstanding.
Part of the process is establishing a common vocabulary.
Establishing a Common Vocabulary
Who doesn't wants simple & straightforward?
Most of my professional clients want the equivalent of a well tailored navy blue suit with some bespoke functionality.
Despite the influence of Swiss graphic design there's no universal standard for simple and straightforward. Just look at how the Apple, Microsoft and Google's current system fonts are barely distinguishable from each other yet their visual designs look very different.
It makes more sense to work from business goals that matter to the client, look at how they are achieved in that category, and work on areas to differentiate.
Prioritize Business Goals
Is it possible for the website to be a revenue generator? That's not straightforward in a professional services context whee there's a long lead time between an initial inquiry and receiving a deposit to confirm an engagement. A website is just one touchpoint among several many where a potential client will research, evaluate, contact, negotiate terms, before commiting.
Mitigating Risk - Normally a client is already aware of the risk of doing nothing as markets change. In Hong Kong several different ways of doing business are right in your face: small family run companies and very large entrenched businesses and many multinationals. China and whole different online ecosystem is next door and partially accessible.
ROI /Time - For pages with clear goals and significant audiences driven by social media or an PPC ads I can make a direct connection between money spent and lead generation results. In a consultancy context, tracking time spent on promotion is important because a solo consultancy has a fixed amount of available time.
Checking Assumptions - Business always involves acting on some assumptions about potential customers. Tracking changes in user traffic, inquiries and signups lets you verify whether those assumptions are based on reality. Understanding traffic sources, device types and audience interest in different types of content gives you a basis to correct course and test new assumptions.
Three Client Questions
We discussed Peter's SERP (search engine result position), marketing and past client inquiries. It boiled down to how someone would have heard of him and how they take to contact him.
The framework that we used was how to answer 3 client questions?
- Who are you
- What do you do? (What can you do for me?)
- How do I get in touch with you?
One Place to Answer Them
We proposed to consolidate the answers at one location: his website.
We would direct inquiries through one email for efficiency, different forms could filter into separate email folders. Peter had accumulated several emails tied to online storage, calendars and other services like Youtube. We would consolidate business activities into one GSuite account and add users as needed.
Simple and Align Expectations with Offerings.
Peter's draft page structure was potentially confusing for first time visitor. His consultancy offers several types of services. He also promotes several books, a network of partners and a location for off-sites.
We weighed alternative categories like audience, product, method or problem.
We looked at several competitor sites in this space. Most clearly identified who they were and what they offered to their potential audience with approximately 7 visible items in the primary navigation.
We circled back to answering the client's 3 basic questions through navigation items, page titles and organization.
Content Driven Design vs Decoration
Shaping the content together with Peter helped make the site stronger than decorating the initial drafts.
Position for Value
You have to strongly advocate for your value when the local price for websites ranges from half your rates to free. It can mean doing some free work up front to show you are willing to make the effort to understand their needs and have the skills to address them.
Address Needs within Boundaries.
Success was finding out what your client really needed and being able to address that within the budget for a project of this scope.
Together Peter and I were able to:
- Reduce email and hosting expenses by moving to better products from Squarespace and Google Apps
- Upgrade his image and provide better experience with a responsive site.
- Clarify his offerings to match other category leaders.
- Begin measuring traffic and the impact of different marketing approaches
- Begin automating some of his internal processes.