A month ago or so, a colleague and friend of ours, Jason Mogus, wrote an eloquent and widely circulated blog post titled "Why We Stopped Building Websites." It's a great read. And, I'll admit, when I first read through it, I found myself wondering if perhaps we at Raised Eyebrow should, in fact, stop building websites. After all, Lauren and I, the partners in the business, don't really have that much to do with the day-to-day building of websites any more. We have brilliant staff who manage the ins and outs of website design, development and deployment. And I agree with Jason's thesis that it's not just about websites anymore. In order for your online presence to help further your mission as an organization, you need a fully integrated strategy. You need buy-in from the whole team. You need to know where you're going and how you're going to get there. You need to be able to integrate different internal departments and different online tools to keep driving your mission forward. And most of the time, when we're working with clients, that's exactly what Lauren and I are doing: Digging deep with our clients in the non-profit sector to surface a strategy, to involve the decision makers, integrate the team and to start measuring impact.
So why do we still build websites?
The more I sat with this question, the more I became convinced that one of the things that really sets Raised Eyebrow apart is that we do build websites. Great websites. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not intending to rebut Jason's post, which I think is in fact brilliant and exactly the kind of value their firm can bring. Nor do I think the fact that we build websites makes us better. I do think it makes us different, which is why I've decided to take the time to explain to our community why we still build websites, and why I think, for some types of clients, it makes us the right choice of firms to work with. So, why do we build websites?
- We build outstanding websites: If I still actively built our websites, I might be a little uncomfortable with this level of bravado. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm not a particularly self-promoting sort of gal. Fortunately, I don't have to worry about my ego taking over here. I don't build our websites. Our amazing team of developers, project and client managers and creative problem solvers do. And really folks: they're awesome. I know, without a doubt, that if I bring a strategic problem that a client is having to our dev team, they will find a great solution in the land of code to get the client from Problem A to Solution B.
- We have tip-to-tail quality control: I may not be very good at self-promotion, but I am a stickler for details. One of the reasons we first took the leap from being a two-person shop to a company with staff was because we simply were not satisfied with the level of production coming out of contractors. I still hear nightmare stories from colleagues of developers or contractors who simply stop work on projects when their budget is up. I've heard tell of websites launching without the basics like the full navigation structure being built out, or with site features like event calendars only half-functional. Yes, websites should be living documents that evolve over time. They should improve and adjust to the needs of their audience. That said, when they launch, the website should function. Back in the days when we worked solely with contractors there was a lot more begging and pleading to get folks to finish their work to a standard and timeline that Lauren and I were proud to put our names next to. With an in-house staff of experts who are just as dedicated to our clients' needs as we are, that's no longer an issue. Sure, sometimes projects go over what we've budgeted (an overage we as a company eat), but I never worry that our team won't deliver the work outlined in a project brief.
- I stay immersed in my field: Ok, so I'll admit I'm getting left behind when it comes to coding HTML5 and there's a whole world of mobile app development frameworks that I understand from a user and strategy perspective but that go totally over my early-adopter HTML coding skills. That said, I know the questions to ask. I know the parameters on the latest technology and I know what is likely to cause speed bumps during the course of a project's development cycle because I watch it happen in my office every day. Yes, I could keep abreast of this stuff through reading, some personal R&D and professional development time, but frankly between the business of running a business, doing strategic consulting for clients and somewhere in there managing to get to daycare pickup on time, I don't have too much time for that stuff. Lucky for me I live and breathe it at scheduling meetings, our daily scrum or whenever I want to pop my head in to the developers' half of the office.
- I love being full-service: There are definitely some things we don't do. We don't do print design. And we're not necessarily the people to go to for an aggressive SEO campaign. But I do love being able to field a request from a long-term client for a quick-turnaround WordPress site to launch a campaign to lobby a particular municipal government (in a particular city in Ontario), meet that request with our in-house team of developers in a very speedy fashion, and then not a week later hear that changes are actually happening on the ground. I also love being able to sit down with a client, help them create a strategy framework, revisit that framework quarterly and two years later watch them soar as they take on their own online communications work with the strategy we helped them create and the tools we built for them. That's teamwork.
- All of the above makes me a better strategist: It may not be what works for others, and I know for certain that some of my colleagues, Jason included, don't need this kind of environment to thrive at what they do. I, however, do. I'm a girl who loves the written word, but ultimately I learn best by getting right in there. I understand tools and how I might be able to adjust them to meet the needs I'm looking for when I've had a chance to look under the hood and really poke around. I know that when I recommend a tool, or a platform to a client that I've kicked the tires, as it were, and I really feel confident that it's what's going to meet their needs, it's not just the latest craze the kids are talking about on the internets.
As I say: This is not so much a rebuttal as it is a different perspective. I agree one hundred percent with all of Jason's points about what makes for a good digital strategy and why, for his firm, that's meant it makes sense to stop building websites. At Raised Eyebrow, we're going to keep building websites (and mobile apps and other nifty stuff), while also helping you set a big-picture strategy and framework for success with the tools we can deliver. And speaking of building websites, we're working on a redesign and redevelopment of ours. Keep your eyes on us for a new Drupal 7 driven site to launch this Fall.