Case Study: Building a New Website in 3 Weeks

The Purpose of This Case Study

To give you a behind the scenes look at how I broke down and executed my website project to completion in 3 weeks — including all the challenges I faced along the way.

This is an in-depth look at my project execution process of how I built a brand new website entirely from scratch — tech setup & infrastructure, design and write all the copy.

Note: I’ve been in digital marketing since 2010. I started learning marketing by learning how to build websites for myself.

If you’ve never built a website before or is new to marketing, please be patient and kind to yourself. Remember that I started where you are.

PREFACE

I’ve been interested in productivity for a long time… it’s one of the foundational pillars to personal performance. I continue to obsess about personal performance because I want to perform at my best.

On 26th March 2020, I enrolled in a 5 Week personal productivity course called Building a Second Brain (BASB) — Cohort 10 by Tiago Forte.

Before enrolling in BASB, I already knew I wanted to:

  1. Start writing
  2. Start building a personal brand website
  3. Start a blog
  4. Start an email newsletter

As part of the course, we were asked to decide on a ‘capstone project’ so we can use the concepts we’ve learned and apply it to a project we wanted to work on.

I chose to build my new website. Because it’s the first step to creating a personal brand online.

The resistance I’ve always felt about creating a personal brand online disappeared as I came into alignment. I was ready to live authentically, follow my inner compass, work differently, and create something new — by expressing myself in a way I’ve never been able to because of my fear of writing.

My new website was going to be the foundation for my work because I needed an “online home” to house my work.

I felt called to start writing… I entertained the idea of starting a new business again… but most of all, my creative self wanted to come out and play again.

I owned JenKuo.com since early 2019 — finally the timing felt right to start building on it.

Accountability Partner

Before the start of BASB on 6th April 2020, I met Larry on our on-boarding call. He recognised my name from marketing circles. Turns out we have some mutual friends on Facebook, so I connected with him.

We talked about what we wanted to achieve with BASB. He wanted to be able to organise new info for new content on his website to help him with his career transition.

His website was important to him and mine was important to me. He suggested that we work toward our goals together. It was easy for me to say yes because I like having accountability partners and is delighted to have someone to go through the BASB course with me.

Larry’s goal was to publish 4 pages. My goal was to publish 5 pages.

We decided to publish whatever we create at the end of 2 weeks, and agreed that 2 weeks was a good timeframe to aim for. It’s a good constraint.

Finding an accountability partner (and a new friend) at the beginning of the course felt serendipitous to me because it was what I needed. I welcome social pressure to ensure I ship my work because of my perfectionism tendencies.

The 2 week constraint also helped inform how I made decisions as I worked through different phases of the project.

The first thing I did was create a simple Project Plan that outlined the brief, the challenge, the plan, desired outcomes and tasks. This allowed me to stay organised and quickly see where I am in the process.

I’ve shared my Website Project Plan at the end of this article as a reference.

Desired Outcomes

  1. Create and design a beautiful, simple and modern website with 5 main pages published — Home page, About page, Start Here page, Blog page, and Contact page.
  2. Weed out the majority (wrong people) and attract the best people to my newsletter. My website is the start of my audience filtering and relationship building process.

The Process

3 to 5 April: Researching, Note-Taking, Thinking and Planning Phase (3 days)

Webpage Builder Research

Criteria 1: Easy To Learn and Simple To Use

I understand tech, but I’m not a coder. When I first learned to build websites on WordPress, I had to learn how to use plugins, sort out conflicting issues, some basic html in order to get the website functioning the way I want it to.

Website technology has improved a ton since then. I’ve witnessed the rise and popularity of visual webpage builders in the last couple of years.

As a non-coder, I was initially drawn to visual webpage builders because they seemed easy to use to design webpages.

After stepping away from digital marketing and immersing myself in all the tools in the last few years, I needed to update myself and research current options because technology is always changing.

Criteria 2: Flexible Enough To Design Things The Way I Want

Even though I’m not a designer, I’m picky with design because I intuitively know what looks good, what works and what doesn’t. I have the “sense” and “taste” for it.

I also know how I want design to function in my marketing — so I wanted the freedom and flexibility to control layouts, elements and styles exactly the way I want.

This immediately rules out platforms like Wix and Square Space because they are too restrictive for my liking. Those type of web design platforms are built for newbies and non-technical people.

Criteria 3: Solid CMS (Content Management System)

I originally wanted to step away from WordPress, but in the end it is a solid CMS despite my initial desire to move away from it.

I looked into Webflow as an option. Even though it had the design flexibility and a built-in CMS I wanted, it was overkill for what I need.

Webflow is made for designers — it’s their candy store. Their rich feature set is reflected in their steeper pricing compared to other visual webpage builders.

Big feature sets also mean big learning curve. Just looking at the Webflow interface caused my eyes to glaze over. It’s a similar experience to looking at the Adobe Photoshop interface.

Even though they have a freemium model, I was not inclined to spend days getting cozy with all its features and learning how to use it.

FINAL DECISION

Because I’m already familiar with WordPress, I settled on WordPress and Brizy theme which was the best set up for my needs. I can always move to  more sophisticated platforms later if my needs change.

December 2020 UPDATE:

After using the Brizy theme for 7 months, I found it painful to publish my articles (posts) in using the new default Gutenberg Editor. It was causing a lot of friction in my workflow and was discouraging me from publishing.

I also discovered that “visual webpage builders” and the default Gutenberg Editor that comes with WordPress actually destroys website speed performance.

I care about website speed performance and ease of publishing so I switched to Focus Theme in December and rebuilt my website for the second time.

Styles and Elements Research

Because I knew I wanted to build a personal brand website, I’ve already been paying attention to elements and styles such as fonts, colours, layouts and types of pages from websites I come across over the past couple of years.

I captured them in my PKM System and took notes for inspiration so I’d have ideas to model.

My level of awareness naturally expands when I have a goal or project in mind. It’s like my peripheral vision widens as I become more aware of the type of information I want to capture in my PKM System.

This is one of the principles taught in BASB — called “Just in Time Project Management“, where you build a habit of ‘collecting information’ relevant to interests, goals or potential projects you have in mind. So when you’re ready to bring that project to life, you already have a bunch of relevant notes to work from at your finger tips.

Watching Tiago explain this principle in the course confirmed why I was able to execute quickly on my website project because I have already been practicing the habit of capturing relevant notes. I also had the organisation in my digital workspace that allowed me to retrieve my notes and files quickly and easily.

Because I was not starting from zero (blank canvas), all I had to do was to continue adding notes to my PKM System to make sure I have enough ideas to look at, until I was ready to start building my website and make it my own.

Just before enrolling in BASB, I discovered an awesome diagramming and concept mapping tool called Plectica.

I used Plectica to map out all the pages I wanted on my site and added notes to them. I was able to freely move the elements around and connected them how I wanted as ideas formed in my head.

It’s a great visual planner that allowed me to clearly see what I’m building.

My Website Map in Plectica

Thinking and Planning

Questions I asked myself as I planned out my project:

  • Do I need this page right now? Or is this a ‘nice to have’?

This question is key because my natural instinct is to want to do it all. I have an all-or-nothing personality complex, so I needed to create constraints for myself and be clear about what is enough to launch and complete the project.

  • Why do I want to build this page?

I wanted to justify my reasons for a certain page to exist.

This helped me prioritise and decide on what to create first. It also helped me think about the kind of content I wanted to write and publish.

Questions that helped me dig deeper:

  • Is this a page I want cus it’s ‘cool to have’? Or is this necessary to help the reader have a good experience?
  • If I landed on this website, what would I want to see?
  • What would I want to find out about this person to help me determine whether they’re worth following?
  • Will this page help people understand who I am and why I do what I do?

6 to 18 April: Building, Designing and Writing Phase (13 days)

Building and Designing

I installed WordPress, Brizy webpage builder and other essential WordPress plugins. These are the plugins I use:

  • Wordfence Security — firewall and malware scanner to protect your site
  • Classic Editor — enable the WordPress classic editor
  • Advanced Editor Tools — extends the classic editor
  • Contact Form 7 — simple and flexible contact form
  • Google XML Sitemaps — improves SEO using sitemaps
  • Instant Images — instant photo upload from Unsplash
  • Broken Link Checker — looks for broken links and alerts you
  • Redirection — redirect manager to reduce link errors
  • Smush — image optimiser and compressor to improve page speed
  • Yoast Duplicate Post — cloning posts and pages

I started writing the Home page, learned how to use Brizy by following their Youtube channel (they have easy to understand tutorials), and created my logo with Canva.

Important Note about Logos

I originally didn’t plan on creating a logo. I knew I didn’t need one and was more than happy to just use text for my name.

Logos are completely unnecessary to start a new website — it’s more of a ‘nice to have’ that can be added later.

Logos are not that important in the grand scheme of things.

If you’re like me — a new kid on the block without an online presence at all… no one cares about your logo because you haven’t established a reputation for yourself. You don’t have a ‘brand’ around your name yet!

Too many creators, solo entrepreneurs and business owners fall into the “design trap”, mistaking design with marketing and branding because of their lack of discernment. Many people think they need a logo to start a website when they actually don’t.

I’ve made this same mistake in the past many times over. All it did was slow down my website project, which ended up taking MONTHS to complete every time because I focused on the wrong things.

The only reason I ended up creating a logo this time was because I happened to stumble across an existing design that deeply resonated with me — what I saw gave me a great representation of what I imagined my ‘future brand’ would be.

So in that moment with a spark of creativity, I decided to quickly modify the design for myself. I was done with logo creation in about an hour.

“Create a logo” was not even on my original project task list. I only added it in later as a ‘task checked off’ so I could track what I’ve actually accomplished.

While I was in “design mode”, I pulled up my design notes which included a short list of fonts and colours I’ve used in the past. It was especially handy to have existing notes to refer to and modify on the fly, so I could quickly update them to reflect the style and feel of how I see my personal brand.

Once all my design decisions has been made, I applied them to my ‘page template’ in Brizy and built them out, so it’s ready to be used and replicated on all pages of my site.

I switched gears to focus on writing, as soon as the design work is done.

Writing

I looked at my project task list each morning to get an overview of what I still needed to do.

I’d either start writing up a new page or continue writing whatever I didn’t finish the day before. The page is only considered finished when I feel like I’ve achieved my goal for that page.

I repeated this process everyday during the writing phase to keep the project moving, so I can complete the 5 pages I set out to publish.

Because this is a personal brand website, no research was required. I already have all the content within me. I just needed to pull the words out and create my work from the heart.

My vision for the website is for it to be a true reflection of me. So when people land on it, they get a real sense of who I am and what I’m about — just as they would if they met me in person.

During the writing phase, I allowed myself to let the copy flow out of me, and referred to my notes for inspiration whenever I felt stuck. My writing process was mostly intuitive.

For years, I’ve been imagining what my personal brand could be. Because the project brewed in the back of my mind for so long, I didn’t need to overthink what I wanted to write.

The writing phase was mainly a matter of discipline, consistency and execution. My only job for the day during this time was to sit down and write until all the pages are checked off my list.

I started the process of adopting the identity and behaviour of a writer from working on this project.

I thought if I wanted to call myself a writer and actually say that on my website and social media profiles, then I need to start acting like one.

17 April: Accountability Publishing Deadline with Larry

17th April ended up being a complete write-off because I had a power outage at home. At this point, I’d been working 13 days straight and saw an opportunity to give myself a break.

I kept my word and showed Larry my ‘good enough’ website on 18th April (1 day late), because I wanted to finish editing.

The 5 pages I finished were not the same 5 pages I aimed for at the start of the project. Knowing I only had 12 days to write and edit the copy, getting it done was more important.

I worked on the pages that came the easiest first, rather than creating unnecessary friction for myself — forcing myself to write the pages I wasn’t ready to write yet.

Writing is a form of self expression. When you force it, the result is never as good. I was not willing to compromise on quality and wanted to stay in flow, because it was important to keep up the momentum and continue to check things off my project task list.

Accountability was over.

I was pleased with the 5 pages I produced as part of my “minimum viable website” but my project was not finished. I still had 4 more pages I wanted to write to deem the project complete.

I gave myself another week to finish writing so I feel like I have something good enough to tell people about.

My new ‘publish-to-the-world’ deadline was now 25th April.

19 to 25 April: Newsletter Integration and Additional Writing Phase (7 days)

It was time to decide on an ESP (email service provider), so I can publish newsletters and build my tribe.

I’ve used Aweber and Active Campaign in the past, and wanted something better as I establish myself as a creator.

I already know about ConvertKit for a few years, and saw them grow into a solid contender.

Ease of use and well-designed email writing workflow were important to me, so I did some research to make sure it had everything I needed and wanted.

I learned how Nathan Barry created ConvertKit, how he runs his company (something to aspire to), and who he built it for… creators like me. I wasn’t expecting to love what I saw.

To my delight, they’ve recently switched to Freemium Model to help more creators earn a living. It was a no brainer for me to sign up.

I integrated ConvertKit with my website, then tested it to make sure everything worked properly.

The setup, integration and email writing process were easy and intuitive unlike the painful email creation workflow I experienced in Active Campaign. I love products that are well designed and thought out!

Once integration was done, I continued with the same writing process and worked through all the remaining pages.

The About page was the hardest one to write. It took me 3 days to complete.

I faced another challenge while working toward the new deadline… My internet went down on 23rd April for an entire week! I had to tether off my phone, and just kept working.

All 9 pages were finished and published on 25th April.

Before I could do a happy dance, it dawned on me that I needed to setup web analytics to track traffic before I can start telling people about it.

26 to 29 April: Analytics, Tracking Setup and Refining Phase (4 days)

It took me 4 days to learn how to properly set up tracking with GA (Google Analytics) & GTM (Google Tag Manager). I watched and followed lots of Youtube videos on the MeasureSchool channel — they have easy to understand tutorials for analytics.

In between learning analytics, I also felt the need to refine my work.

The closer I got to tell people about it, the more I wanted to refine my work as self doubt and perfectionism crept in.

Imposter Syndrome is every creator’s nightmare… it’s the shadow that stops us from shipping our work.

I realised I was “learning analytics” as an excuse to not tell people about my new website because of the fear of not knowing what people will think about my work.

During the BASB Women’s Group call on 29th April, Alina (my BASB group mentor) asked me about my progress with my capstone project. I told her I finished the project, but haven’t told anyone yet cus I was busy learning analytics.

She encouraged me to create a post in the BASB community forum. It was the kick in the ass I needed.

The Result

1 May: Project Completion & Case Study

Right before I was about to create a post and announce my completed capstone project in the BASB community forum… a thought entered my mind that stopped me in my tracks.

“Making an announcement that my website is complete and ready for public viewing” didn’t seem very useful. In my mind, that kind of post wouldn’t really add value because the focus was on me…

I wanted my post to be valuable to others, and turn the focus away from me.

So I asked myself…

“What would help my fellow classmates the most? To help them to accomplish their capstone projects?”

That was a much better question to answer. So I decided to write up a case study of how I completed my capstone project and post it in the community forum.

I thought it would be more valuable for people to see how I go about tackling a website project since my knowledge and expertise is in marketing. So they can see all the decisions I made behind the scenes to get the project done.

On 1st May, I privately shared my new website with 14 BASB friends who knew about my project. Then went straight back to work, and spent the next 2 days writing up the original version of this case study, and posted it in the BASB community forum.

The original forum version had 2,407 words. This updated version you’re reading has 4,200+ words.

As promised, the Website Project Plan I created in Roam Research is below. I only signed up to Roam on 20th March and didn’t spend much time exploring all the features Roam has to offer.

I ran with the bare basics and knew just enough to help me stay organised with my project.

Website Project Task List

My Website Project Plan in Roam

Focus = Speed of Execution

Apart from my existing knowledge in marketing… The single biggest factor that contributed to my ability to create a new website from scratch and complete it in under a month was my focus on doing one thing at a time.

I made sure to tackle my project in phases, and batch all related tasks together because I learned about the cost of context switching in 2016.

I was shocked to learn how unproductive multi-tasking is, and how much time it robs you from your day — every time you switch your focus from one thing to another, you end up losing 20% of your time to complete that task. Because it takes time for your brain to recalibrate and “catch up” to where you were before you can refocus on what you’re doing in front of you.

Which basically means, the more projects you try to tackle in a day, the more time you lose. It compounds! Isn’t that scary?!

If you know you’ve put in a lot of effort and say to yourself at the end of the month, “Geez… I worked really hard this month, but doesn’t seem like I have anything to show for it…” — This is why.

This is a simple but powerful concept.

What I Learned

Here are my personal reflections, and answers to questions asked at the end of BASB…

What results did you accomplish?

A beautiful, simple, modern personal brand website that gives people an insight into who I am and what I do. I am pleased that it’s designed to do everything I wanted it to do.

What breakthroughs have you created for yourself?

When I enrolled in BASB, I was excited about learning new skills, refining my PKM system, improving my workflow and boosting my productivity.

When I heard Tiago say “the point of having a PKM system is to help you effectively execute on your projects to bring them to life” on the very first call…

I immediately shifted my intention from learning to execution.

What new abilities have you developed?

Websites used to take me ages (months) to complete. I have built a hand full of websites in the past for my own businesses, and I have never built and launched a website from scratch this fast in my life. This is a personal best.

I was surprised to be able to pull this off in just 3 weeks. I’m amazed to see the difference in my speed of execution compared to before.

What new possibilities are you taking away from this experience?

Seeing myself bring my vision and creation to life in 3 weeks has made me wonder “What else can I achieve? What other ‘seemingly impossible’ things can I do?”

They are exciting questions for me to answer and explore… to see what else I can create for the rest of 2020 and beyond!

How did you fulfil on your intention?

I am so glad I did not fulfil on my original intention of improving my workflow and refining my PKM system!

If I didn’t switch my intention and focus from learning to execution in Week 1, you wouldn’t be reading this case study right now.

My Answer to Questions I Received About This Case Study

How did you go about documenting this case study? Did you document your process as you were going along or did you write it all up at the end from scratch?

I wrote this case study at the end from scratch. The “case study idea” literally popped into my head as I was about to make a post in the BASB community forum on 1st May.

It didn’t feel hard to recall my process because I did everything in phases — I wasn’t jumping around trying to do different things and executing things out of sequence.

The website project was my entire focus for 3-4 weeks straight (apart from learning BASB course material and participating in BASB). I wasn’t working on anything else. I made sure I wasn’t distracted.

Because the project was completed in a fairly short time frame, the decisions I made were still fresh in my memory.

  I’m Jen Kuo — A brand strategist, holistic business coach, consultant, designer, writer, aspiring music producer and personal growth enthusiast.

But really, I’m a multi-passionate creator.

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