So You Want a Utility Website in 8 weeks? Get Prepared!

Sam Coy and Kaytee Horton

The team at your consumer-owned utility decided they want or need a new website—and fast. How on earth can you possibly pull together a vastly improved, great-looking, much more an accessible website that meets ADA compliance requirements in such a short amount of time? Well, I’m here to share some helpful hints before entering the battlefield of the expedited website project.

Bring Focus to Your Goals

When it comes to kicking off any website project, it’s important to clarify your goals. This may mean looking at some of the broader issues and the features you desire, and it may also mean getting more specific—like really evaluating even the small things that are and aren’t working. Unfortunately, you’re short on time, so where can you start? Ask yourself and your team these few questions:

  • Why do you want a new website?
  • Why do you need a new website?
  • Is there information that is already at your fingertips that you can use to help you focus in?

If your utility’s website content management system is cumbersome and difficult to use, that’s a pretty big pain point when it comes to keeping your site fresh. If your security certificates, hosting relationship, or any other membership that could bring your site down is going to expire, that’s a pretty big deal, too. It’s important to separate the wants and the needs so that you can tackle the needs first and then achieve the wants either before your new website’s launch or incrementally.

With a time crunch, take a look around and see what tools or resources you already have that can get the ball rolling in the right direction. Perhaps checking with your customer or member services team about which tasks they get the most phone calls and emails about would be advantageous. If you have analytics on your current website, review those for insight. If you know there is content on the website that is sorely outdated, make plans to remove it or update it.

Limit Stakeholder Input

This one can be hard. Depending on the size and structure of your utility organization, there may be many people or departments that could get involved in a website redesign. Unfortunately, too many cooks in the kitchen can eat up a lot of time without making a whole lot of headway.

Here are a few “do’s” to consider:

  • Do involve the essential team members. The people responsible for your communications, maybe an IT team member, and get some input from the people who serve your customers or members.
  • Do try to streamline that input. Consider sending out a quick survey with a few pointed questions rather than opening the floor to unlimited feedback.
  • Do pull the right people in at the right time. Not everyone needs to be involved for the whole project, but instead at certain milestones.

Provide Clean Documents and Files

One way to jump your website project off right is to gather some essential pieces you know the web team will need. Clean logo files, a clear branding or style guide, and quality images of your staff and local landscapes are all great assets for a fresh new website. These pieces also really help to clarify your utility organization’s identity and vision. Having suitable files at the ready will help speed up the process even further.

Opt-in to Additional Services

Anytime you are short on time or resources, it’s helpful to recruit some assistance. Things like optimizing your content for readability and converting PDFs to web content are big in bringing your website closer to our STAR Standard, but you don’t have to go it alone. Removing all of the “click here” links, adding alternative text to images, getting rid of the wall of words to make your website easy to read—all critical steps, but it can be a lot for your team to do in such a short amount of time. You can lean on our team of trusted web experts to do the heavy lifting by opting in to have your content cleaned up in no time.

Consider Phasing those Additional Services

There are a few things that many electric cooperative and utility organizations are doing to bring themselves into the future and not only streamline their internal processes but making their member or customer experience better, too. One of those is converting their previously printed PDF applications or forms into responsive, accessible, translatable online forms. This can be a pretty big commitment as it impacts the workflow of several team members, and it’s something you want to prepare for in advance.

The great news is that you can have it all. Even though your website needs to launch in as little as 8 weeks, you won’t miss the boat on all of our great offerings because of it. Some of the add-ons we offer will not impede the development of the new website if we need to hold off for a bit. Things like repurposing PDF documents for web, converting PDFs into online forms, additional best practices and web accessibility trainings, KML map integration, and monthly repurposing of news content for web are all features that can be added after we launch your new website.

Conclusion: Don’t Panic. We’ve Got You.

I know it feels rushed. I know you feel like you can’t possibly make it happen. But, I assure you, with just a little bit of extra prep, some clear goals, and a little bit of flexibility, you CAN get your new utility website’s design launched in a flash.