It’s been a week since WordCamp North Canton. I’ve been reflecting a lot on how what I thought was easy-peasy turned out to be way over the heads of most of the people in the room.

Then, last night Chris Lema posted a few thoughts on how people who don’t deal with websites often hear about how easy it is, when the hard truth is they’re not easy at all. Not when you’re just starting out.

And it’s not just a WordPress issue. You can sign up for a free site with Wix or Squarespace, or any of the other services out there that claim that you can “build a beautiful website yourself in minutes”, and it’s the same deal.

Sure you can get a website up in minutes.

But chances are it will be a more frustrating experience than you anticipate from the advertising. And chances are you’ll end up with something that’s not quite what you had hoped for.

It’s not your fault that what you thought would take minutes takes a whole afternoon and it’s still not right. It’s not because you’re inadequate, or stupid, or even that you’re not as good with computers as you thought.

It’s just that you’ve never done it before. You’re a beginner. And that’s perfectly OK!

Like Chris says, just because you’ve flown on an airplane doesn’t mean you have any clue about how to build one. And I’m pretty sure I’d want to fly on any airplane you’ve built.

But I don’t kick myself for not knowing how to build an airplane, and neither should you. (Unless building airplanes is what you do for a living. Then you should definitely know.)

Unfortunately, when it comes to websites, what you’ll often hear is, “Anyone can build a great website. You can build a great website.” That’s a little like saying, “You can build an airplane.”

Granted, nobody’s going to fall 50,000 feet from a website. But, then again, they could get their identity stolen from your website. And I’m not sure which is worse, a sudden death at 50,000 feet or spending the next 10 years jumping through bureaucratic hoops to put my life back together.

So, next time you think about putting together your own website in minutes. Ask yourself:

  • How do I register my domain name and who will control the DNS when I do?
  • How will I configure my email to relate to my domain name and my website hosting?
  • What are the criteria I’ll use to decide which website hosting is best for me?
  • Will the e-commerce options I’m getting with this package handle the kinds of stuff I’m selling?
  • Will the CMS I’m using make SEO easy or hard?
  • Will the CMS make it easy to connect my website to social media?
  • How much work will it take (and will I have support) to add custom features?
  • Which page layouts are most effective to help my site’s visitors get where I need them to go?
  • How do I make sure my site is mobile-friendly and accessible for people with disabilities?

Please don’t kick yourself if you have no idea about any of the stuff on that list. Please don’t be discouraged.

There’s absolutely no reason you should know any of that because your job isn’t building websites. Your job is doing something else that’s totally awesome and helps people in other ways — stuff that I don’t know the first thing about and couldn’t do.

There are lots of tools that can help make all these things easy*-er*, but that doesn’t mean any of them is easy — not for a beginner.

They’re easy for people like me who have done them many times. But probably not for you.

And that’s OK.

And it’s also why, when you’re thinking about building a website, you should be wary of anyone who tells you it’s quick and easy.

As you work with a website professional, you will learn a lot along the way about what makes a website work. That’s great. Always be learning! Don’t be embarrassed to ask what seems like the obvious “dumb” question. You’re entitled to an explanation about DNS is, even if you never want to mess with it yourself.

Beginner’s mind is a beautiful thing. People like me need people like you to remind us that we were once beginners, too.

And, believe it or not, there are people like me who really want you to know how your website works. We want you to participate in making your site the best website possible. We don’t expect you to be able to build it on your own. But we do want you and your visitors to be safe and comfortable when you’re flying through cyberspace on it at 50,000 feet.

Photo credit: Steve Jurveston