An Interview With Sky Stover: What Business Owners Should Know About Websites
Sky Stover is the owner of Sky Stover Web Design & Internet Marketing, a company that helps small businesses establish and grow their brands.
I love Sky's story. Her life as an entrepreneur really began with the desire to buy her own drum set at 12 years old. A deal she made with her step-dad helped her realize that she could blaze her own path in life, and her experience as a scrappy pre-teen eventually led her to a career in web design.
I sat down with Sky to hear more about her background and to see what business owners and entrepreneurs should think about when it comes to building and maintaining their websites.
A Conversation With Sky Stover
Patrick Schober: Give us a little more background on you and your experience. What types of businesses do you typically work with?
Sky Stover: I primarily work with solo entrepreneurs and small business owners. And by “small” I mean people with just a few employees. If we're going to niche it down further, I work with coaches and women who are speakers and consultants—businesses that are very education/information-based. That’s where about 60%-70% of my clients are at this point.
Patrick Schober: Talk to me about the projects you typically take on. Do you work on full site builds, for example?
Sky Stover: It’s a mixture. There are two typical ways of working with me. I do help people with full website projects. In these cases, they often start from scratch because they don’t have a website or their site is so bad that they need to completely redo it.
Then there’s the other side of my business, which includes membership programs. That's where people are getting regular maintenance help. I'm doing security monitoring, I’m helping to maintain the site and make any necessary cosmetic changes. They might need a new sales page or a lead page. That sort of thing.
Those two areas are where most of my business comes from, but I also have a few custom development projects where I’ve built portals and stuff like that.
Sky Stover On Her First Business
Patrick Schober: I do want to talk about the advice you have for entrepreneurs in a moment, but your background is so interesting that I want to spend a little more time on that first. You started your first business as a child, right?
Sky Stover: Right! I started my first business when I was 12 and I built my first website when I was 14.
When I was 12, I wanted a drum set. My parents said the only way I could get a drum set was if I went out and bought one myself. Now, I was 12 and I couldn’t get a job, and I think they knew that as well. But I went and thought, “OK, well, I can shovel walks, but it's summer right now. So I can't do that. But I can cut grass!”
Well, the next problem was I didn't have a lawnmower. And so my step-dad basically gave me a deal that changed my life. He told me that if I could go out and get 10 people to sign up and say I could come back and cut their lawn in a week or two, he would throw me the money for the lawnmower. And so I went out that night and had my very first sales experience. I don't think I got quite 10 people, but I got enough that he was impressed. He bought me the lawnmower.
I worked really hard all summer. And by the end of it, I had the drum set. That was my first foray into small business and entrepreneurship. I was hooked from that point on. That’s when I started looking for other businesses that I could start.
The first one that I started and created a website for was when I was doing magic, like card tricks. I wanted a site where people could go and see my performances. I figured it would be just as easy as buying a domain name and just like clicking a few buttons, or that it would be like MySpace. So I bought the domain and I bought the hosting, but there was nothing there. That’s when I realized I didn’t actually have a website. I didn’t have the money to have someone else do it, so I decided to learn how to do it myself.
My first website was obviously not great. But a month later, I was able to say, “OK, let’s redesign this,” and I would redo it. And then a few months later down the line, I would learn a few more things, and I would say, “OK, let’s tweak this and that and try again.” And I eventually got to the point where I was proficient on the designing side, and I was honestly better at doing that than I was at the magic at that time!
Patrick Schober: What I love about that story is you and I came up in the age right before actual social media. We had AIM and MySpace and Xanga, and we all learned how to code a tiny bit, but you really took it to the next level.
Sky Stover: I can credit MySpace with a lot of my early experience. I got my first bit of coding knowledge in school because I was in a special program, but I feel like MySpace was the first time that I actually enjoyed it and was able to create something that looked amazing and represented me. You could find a template and modify it, and that was just like magic to me.
Sky Stover On Common Web Design Mistakes
Patrick Schober: You built your first few websites in the first decade of the 2000s, and the internet and websites have come a long way since then. Even something that was cutting edge in 2009 or 2010 would look completely dated by now.
What are some of the things you notice that really hamper site performance today?
Sky Stover: Not being mobile-friendly is the main one. If I go to a site, I can tell pretty much right away if it's going to be mobile-friendly or not, even if I'm just on my desktop. You can usually tell because it typically looks like it was designed in the ‘90s or early 2000s, or if you make the screen smaller, nothing rearranges. It just gets cut off. So that's the first thing I notice on any site that isn't up to par.
Another thing is big sliders, those giant image sliders that are at the top of a page. They’re like, “Click on this button! Now click on this button!” Google doesn’t like those. People don’t like those. I think the only people who like those are the business owners who put them up.
Another common problem is too much information. It’s less of a design factor, but too much information overwhelms site visitors. You’ll often see sites with these giant walls of text that are mostly about the business and things nobody cares about. The website ends up being more about the business and less about the value for the customer.
If people walk away from this interview with nothing else, they should remember this: Your site needs to be about your customer, not about your business. Too many people make the mistake of focusing on themselves.
Patrick Schober: That's a great point. And if you focus on your value proposition, that makes it easier for you to stay succinct and avoid those large blocks of text that nobody likes to read.
Sky Stover: Right. Just get to the point. In addition, make sure you’re breaking things up in a way that helps the visitor. Make sure you’re using subheadings and bolding and italicizing as necessary.
If you are going to use giant walls of text, at least make it easy for people to skim. That's what 90% of people are doing today. Most people are not going to read every single word on your website. It's just not how most people's brains function.
Patrick Schober: There seems to be a movement away from having any sort of heavy text on the primary web pages. I was on the Masterclass homepage recently, for example. If you look at that design above the fold, it’s just a video and a call to action (CTA).
If you scroll down, you get a few trust signals, like the New York Times logo or the NBC logo. And if you scroll down a little further, you get a few more images with CTA overlays.
There’s no overwhelming copy there. It’s just value propositions and CTAs in multi-media formats.
Sky Stover: Right. And as you know, a lot of a site’s SEO juice comes from blog posts and all of the background content that you're linking into them. So that’s where all of the wordiness and keywords can come in, but you don’t need that on the main pages. You don’t need to be too wordy.
Sky Stover On Finding the Right Partner
Patrick Schober: Great point. One thing that’s interesting about web design and web development is the pricing you’ll run into.
You can find someone who will build your site for $10,000. But you can also find someone while will build it for $5,000. And you can also find someone who will build it for $100. And if you look in the right places, you can probably even find someone who will build it for $10. Obviously, there’s going to be a major difference between a $10 site and a $10,000 site, but there’s a certain point where your ROI starts to diminish.
If I’m a business owner looking for a developer, how can I go about finding the right talent at the right price? How can I figure out how to get the most value for my dollar?
Sky Stover: It’s a little bit like ordering a steak at a restaurant. You can spend $100 on a steak, but it’s not going to be much better than the $50 steak. But it’s definitely going to be better than the $5 steak or the steak you get at the buffet.
You’ll eventually reach a point where you’re at a reasonable amount and somebody is being paid enough for their time and skill set. What you’re really paying for, though, is time and focus. At a certain point, the skills are second nature. So you’re paying for them to focus on your project and give you their complete attention.
If they’re not getting paid enough, they have to share their focus with 5 or 10 other sites at the same time, which means your business isn’t getting as much individualized attention. So you want to find that middle point where you’re paying reasonable rates that you can afford.
There are different web designers for different things. There are web designers who are perfect for giant websites for companies that have 100 employees. That’s not me, for example, because that’s not the type of project I’m interested in. But if you’re a giant company, you may want to seek another giant company to build your site.
Patrick Schober: But it’s not always easy, right? We’ve all heard horror stories of companies that pay for websites that are poorly built or designed in one way or another, and they end up paying for it, quite literally, in the long run.
But there should be red flags at some point during the sales process, right? What should entrepreneurs and business owners be aware of when talking to developers in the sales process?
Sky Stover: The first thing is to make sure there aren’t any language barriers. You can find really great talent overseas, but you want to make sure they’re fluent in English or whatever language you’re most comfortable in. And I mean fluent.
It’s already hard enough to communicate about web design in the same language that it’ll become more challenging if both speakers aren’t fluent. You should definitely look for someone who speaks your primary language.
Then I would make sure they have good reviews. That’s something you should do for everyone you work with, but particularly with web designers because web designers know how important reviews are. If you look at their Google profile and see that they have three stars, that’s a sign you may want to avoid them.
And then look at the sites they’ve already designed. Are they slow? Are they fast? Are they well-designed?
Sky Stover On Keeping Up With Trends
Patrick Schober: Speaking of web performance, there are many issues that impact your site, both in terms of the user experience and SEO performance.
For example, Google is starting to penalize sites for Cumulative Layout Shift, when things move after the page has loaded. Fixing issues like this can get expensive in some situations. How can you avoid these sorts of problems on your own website?
Sky Stover: That’s not something you should have to worry about as a business owner as long as you have someone capable and competent who’s keeping tabs on things.
So to address your example of Cumulative Layout Shift... For people who don’t know, this is whenever a website loads and you say, “I’m going to click this button,” and suddenly the whole website shifts and you click a button you didn’t mean to click. I really hate that, so I’m glad Google’s penalizing sites for this.
For this problem specifically, there’s not a whole lot you can do if you’re working with WordPress or WordPress templates. The biggest thing you can do is rely on the background software of your site. Use good software. WordPress websites have themes, and a lot of people will go with a theme that just looks like the website they want. That's usually a mistake.
You want to go with a theme that has the background architecture you want, one that’s being updated by the theme author so that when there’s an issue created by a new WordPress release, the theme author is going to fix it quickly. That’s what you want to look for so that when Google releases an update like that, you can address the problem quickly through an update.
Sky Stover is headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA. To learn more about Sky Stover or her web services, visit her website.