The One Question to Ask Before Building Your Own Website

By Sarah Haas

As a millennial, I’m part of a unique generation gifted with the context of growing up in a pre-tech world while coming-of-age in a global, tech-savvy landscape. As a result, millennials are the last generation to remember life without reliance on technology, and the first generation to intuitively weave it seamlessly into daily life.

However, I’ve come to realize that being able to use tech doesn’t mean I’m any good at creating it.

Why A Website Matters

Growing antsy in my current job last year, I decided to browse other opportunities. Given my varied background and the overcrowded market, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to pursue but I knew I had to sell myself easily and effectively – within about 10 seconds.

I perfected my elevator pitch and made my resume pop, but it wasn’t enough.

I didn’t know how to tell my professional narrative cohesively, and sending multiple attachments via email was time-consuming and ripe with anxiety over whether the larger files ended up in junk mail.

I knew as a brand I had real potential, but I didn’t know how to leverage it.

I needed a website.

Having a website is now not only common, but it’s totally trending as a professional differentiator, even among people who work in fields not traditionally associated with needing one (e.g.: nannies, bakers, yoga teachers, etc.).

With one URL, I could organize my materials, carve out appropriate categories and effortlessly send any potential employers a relevant deep link accordingly.

Visually Defining My Brand

So I did what most of us do – I made myself a free WordPress page.

The plan was to create a one-stop-Sarah-content-shop with a cool domain name, streamlined design, ample white space and gorgeous visuals. I’d use a simple color scheme with easy navigation between my career highlights, volunteer experience, writing samples and visual portfolio. The best part, I rationed, is that it would be free.

I had worked in digital media for years and was a casual consumer of online content since I was a kid in the 1990s. I knew what made a good website, and so I assumed I could easily handle spending a few hours designing one. I didn’t have the cash to spend on hiring a professional, and – true confession — I didn’t want to be incapable of doing what seemed so easy for my peers.

After all, I wasn’t trying to promote my web design skills – I just needed a digital space to highlight what I was trying to promote: Me.

What Is My Time Worth?

It’s a difficult question. Free rarely means easy, but easy usually costs money.

I knew my time was valuable, but I didn’t realize just what it was worth.

After deciding on a platform and selecting a free template, I spent hours trying to master it, swapping it out, then building pages only to find that they refused to look how I wanted. (Sometimes due to code restrictions, and other times thanks to my own amateur skills.)

Annoyed, I cut my losses and activated a free trial for a paid platform which promised it would be much easier for me to make the website of my dreams. It wasn’t. And then it charged me.

Eventually I lamented my troubles to a designer friend of mine and naively asked if he could just, “You know, make me one?”

He gave a hearty laugh, and then told me his rates.

Turns out that even with a generous “friends & family” discount, time is still money. As it should be.

Both are valuable, fleeting and necessary investments to get results.

It’s up to me to invest wisely.

Lesson Learned

I knew I could make a website — in fact, I think I made about four during my trial-and-error efforts – and I knew I understood what a good one should look like.

But after endless hours of trying fruitlessly to create something up-to-par, I still couldn’t make my site resemble what I envisioned. Try as I might, it just didn’t look like I wanted it to, it didn’t work the way I needed it to and it didn’t tell the story in way that supported the whole purpose of its existence in the first place.

So now my website idles disjointed and unfinished. I am depleted – lacking creative gusto, and in need of renewed energy if I ever want to populate the site with actual content.

I was so burned out devoting my time to perfecting my amateur skills as a web designer, coder, information architect and expert HTML color palette-picker that I didn’t have any energy left for what I actually wanted to be my focus: My brand.

Invest Your Time Wisely

Anyone can build a website, even me. However, I want to focus my attention on my brand, not teaching myself how to build the website to promote it.

By hiring a professional designer, I can narrow my focus to creating the best content I can to fill its pages.

I accept that my cash-flow is limited, but so is my time. It’s an investment, and if I’m going to invest in myself, I need a site that’s as extraordinary as the person being promoted.

So before deciding whether to design your own website (which can be quite a fun adventure … or a massive time-suck), just ask this question first: How can I best invest?

Sarah Haas is a marketing professional for a Fortune-15 tech company in the Pacific Northwest. She’s also a freelance writer, performs with the local LGBTQ theatre company Fantastic.Z and volunteers with the nonprofit animal rescue group Motley Zoo.

She holds a Masters in Media Studies from The School for Public Engagement at The New School in NYC and lives in Seattle with her two dogs, two cats and multiple streaming media subscriptions. She still believes that the truth is out there.