How I Built My Brand New Website in 3 Weeks

Business, Marketing, Productivity · June 23, 2020

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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.

From nothing online to a published and functioning website — including the tech setup, design and writing all the copy.

PREFACE

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 my personal brand website — launched 1st May 2020
  2. Start a blog — launched 2nd July 2020
  3. Start an email newsletter — started publishing my weekly newsletter “Behind The Brand” on 19th May 2020

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.

My new website was going to be the foundation for my new business.

As I thought about the possibility of starting a new business again in March… the first thing that came to mind was to improve my personal effectiveness.

Because I knew getting back into the game of business means facing a mountain of projects and tasks I’ll need to do. I knew the more projects I can accomplish within a shorter timeframe, the faster I’ll get to launching an offer to the market.

Personal productivity is something I’ve obsessed about for a long time… 🤓

It’s a skill anyone can learn. I just wanted to keep improving my personal effectiveness so I can get more important stuff done, and be the best business woman I can be.

ACCOUNTABILITY PARTNER

Before the official start of BASB on 6th April 2020, I met a new classmate (Larry) on our on-boarding call. He recognised my name from online marketing circles.

Turns out we have a few ‘mutual friends’ on Facebook (small world), so I connected with him and we talked about our goals.

He wanted to organise new content on his existing website, so he can use his online presence to help him with his career transition. His website was in ‘maintenance mode’.

Me? I was ready to answer my calling.

See… I’ve been living in obscurity, on the search to find my path in life. I was bouncing between different jobs and starting various businesses…

Until 20th March 2020 — 11 days after I turned 39…

It was the day my purpose, vision and mission finally started coming together.

I found alignment.

I finally know what I was meant to do with my life, and how I was going to use my superpower, gifts and skills to serve people and make an impact.

The universe was calling.

And I needed to answer.

Pronto.

I knew my time has come.

To level up and step out in the world.

It was time to start my True North Business… which means, I needed to build a brand new website.

A personal brand website.

My “online home”.

I’d already bought my new domain name in early 2019 when I discovered it finally became available while I was renewing other domain names I owned.

JenKuo.com was previously owned by someone else. I was over-joyed to finally be able to claim the domain name for myself without needing to pay exorbitant fees buying it from the other party.

I guess some things were just meant to be. ☺️

Since then, JenKuo.com has been sitting dormant in my NameCheap account waiting for the day I’m ready to build.

So what were our goals with our websites?

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

We decided to publish whatever we had created at the end of 2 weeks. We thought 2 weeks was a good timeframe to aim for. It’s a good constraint.

It was serendipitous for me to find an accountability partner (and a new friend) at the very beginning of the course.

Because I know I have perfectionist tendencies, I was stoked to be accountable to make sure I ship my work.

I like to create environments for myself where there’s social pressure to ensure I perform. It makes shipping my work inevitable.

The 2-week constraint also helped inform my decision-making for the different phases of the project.

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

I’ve shared my Website Project Plan and Task List at the end of this article for you to use as a reference for your own project.

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 — My Criteria:

1. Easy To Learn and Simple To Use

I understand tech, but I’m not a coder. When I first started learning how to build websites in 2010, I learned WordPress.

Back then, I had to fiddle around with plugins, sort out conflicting issues, learn some basic html code and publish content with the built-in WordPress editor interface.

Website technology has improved a ton since then, especially in the last 5 years with the rise of numerous visual webpage builders.

I wanted a visual webpage builder because I don’t have the patience to fiddle around with code nor want to publish content using the archaic WordPress editor interface anymore.

After stepping away from digital marketing technology in the last few years, I knew I needed to research current marketing tech tools in order to choose the right tools for me. Because technology is always changing.

I also have the benefit of having friends in digital marketing who I can rely on for honest recommendations.

2. Flexible Enough To Design It The Way I Want

Even though I’m not a designer, I’m picky with design.

I intuitively know what looks good, what works and what doesn’t. I know how I want design to function as part of my marketing.

This rules out platforms like Wix and Square Space because they’re too restrictive for my liking. I wanted the freedom to be able to control and design layouts, elements and styles exactly the way I want.

3. Solid CMS (Content Management System) For Blogging Capabilities

I originally wanted to step away from WordPress, but in the end I realised it is still a solid CMS despite my desire to move away from the archaic editor interface.

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

Webflow also seem to be made for designers — it’s like their candy store. Their rich feature set is reflected in their steeper pricing ($16/mth) compared to other visual webpage builders.

Big feature sets also mean big learning curve. Looking at the Webflow designer interface may cause your eyes to glaze over if you’re not inclined to spend a few days getting cozy with all its features.

Even though they have a freemium model where I can sign up for a free account, I didn’t want to spend a week just learning how to use it.

MY FINAL DECISION

Because I’m already familiar with WordPress (it now has a new editor interface called Gutenberg), I settled on WordPress and Brizy as my visual webpage builder.

Considering my current situation where I don’t have an income…

I am being more thoughtful about what I spend money on to make sure I don’t cut my runway too short and feel pressured to launch a business just to make money in order to pay my bills.

The WordPress + Brizy setup is a better financial decision for my needs as a start up. After the business is established and starts growing, I can always move to a more sophisticated platform like Webflow later if I choose to.

Styles and Elements Research

Because I knew I wanted to build a personal brand website ‘someday’… In the past year or two, I had already been taking digital notes of websites I liked as I came across them for inspiration purposes.

When I have a goal or project in mind, my peripheral vision expands as I become more aware of what “information” I want to capture.

As I came across websites in my day to day, I paid attention to elements and styles I liked such as fonts, colours, layouts and types of pages I could also build for my own site and captured them in my notes.

This is one of the principles taught in BASB — Just-in-Time Project Management, where you build a habit of ‘collecting information’ relevant to an interest, goal or potential project you have in mind. So when you’re ready to start bringing that project to life, you already have a bunch of relevant notes to work from at your finger tips.

Seeing Tiago explain this principle confirmed for me why I was able to execute quickly on this website project because I already practice the habit of capturing notes and I already have the organisation structure in my ‘digital workspace’ that allowed me to retrieve my notes quickly and easily.

Because I was not starting from zero (i.e. not knowing what fonts, colours or layouts to use), all I had to do was to continue adding notes to my existing digital notes to make sure I have enough ideas to look at, until I was ready to start building my website.

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

I used Plectica to map out each page of my site and added notes to each page I wanted to create. It allowed me to freely move the elements around and connected them how I wanted.

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

It’s way better than traditional mind mapping tools for a project like this that need complete freedom, and not tied to a ‘tree structure’ by design.

My Website Map in Plectica

Thinking and Planning

Questions I asked myself as I planned out my website 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 constrain myself to what is just enough to launch.

  • 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 build first. It also helped me think about the kind of content I wanted to write and share.

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 better?

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


Building and Designing

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

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
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 important for a new website in the grand scheme of things. If you’re like me, who’s a new kid on the block (no online presence at all)… no one really cares about your logo because you’re not a ‘brand’ yet! So don’t fall into the trap of thinking you need a logo to start. I've made this mistake in the past, and all it did was slow down my website project, which took MONTHS to finish. The ONLY reason I ended up creating a logo was because I happened to stumble across an existing logo design in Canva that deeply resonated with me — it matched what I imagined my ‘future brand’ would be. So in that moment, I decided to quickly modify it for myself. It took me about an hour to modify and I was done with logo creation. “Create a logo” was not on my original project task list. I only added it in later as a ‘task checked off’ so I could easily see and track what I’ve actually accomplished.

While I was in “design mode”, I pulled up old notes I already had in my PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) system on branding and design.

My notes included a short list of fonts that I liked and brand colours I have used in the past.

My style has slightly changed over time, so I was glad to have existing notes I could refer to and modify on the fly to reflect the current style and feel of my personal brand.

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

Once design work is done, I switched gears to focus on writing.

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 writing goal for that page.

I repeated this process everyday during the writing phase to keep moving down my project task list in order to complete the 5 pages I set out to publish.

Because this is a personal brand website, and I plan on writing about my journey and life experiences as a creator and entrepreneur, I didn’t need to do any research since all the content comes from me directly.

My vision for my personal brand website is for it to be a true reflection of me.

When people “check me out online” and decide to read through my website, I wanted them to feel like they’re getting to know the real me — just as you would if you met me in person.

So, with that in mind, I wrote what I felt I wanted to say, and referred to examples I saved in my notes for inspiration whenever I felt stuck.

Most of my writing is based on my intuition, my ideas and my feeling of how I want my brand (myself) to be represented online.

My writing skills developed over time from years of practicing how to think about copy/messaging and actually writing copy for myself, my past businesses and projects.

This website project has been quietly brewing in the back of my mind in the last couple of years as I daydreamed about what it could be.

It was time for me to bring it to life, when alignment finally clicked into place in March. I didn’t need to overthink what I wanted to write. I just allowed myself to write whatever flowed out of me.

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

Through this project, I started adopting the identity of a writer.

My thought was…

“If I want 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. So I spent the day at my sister’s place and gave myself a break. At this point, I’d been working 13 days straight.

I still wanted to finish editing the 5 pages I wrote, so I showed Larry my ‘good enough’ website on 18th April (1 day late).

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 wanted to follow my own intuition and work on the pages that came the easiest first, instead of creating unnecessary friction, forcing myself to write the pages I wasn’t yet ready to write.

It was important to keep the momentum going and keep checking off the finished pages on my project task list.

Also, writing is a form of self expression.

When you try to force it, the result is never as good. I was not willing to compromise on quality and wanted to stay in flow.

Accountability was over.

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

So I gave myself another week to finish writing everything I wanted on my website, to make it good enough to tell others 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 email marketing software, so I can publish newsletters and build my tribe.

I have known about ConvertKit the last couple of years, and saw them establish themselves as a solid contender in the email marketing SaaS space.

I’ve used Aweber and Active Campaign in the past, and I was ready to adopt something new that is a better fit for me going forward.

Ease of use and well-designed email writing workflow were important to me, so I did some research on ConvertKit to make sure it had everything I wanted in an email marketing tool to help me grow my audience.

I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with them during my research. I learned how Nathan Barry created ConvertKit, how he runs his company (something to aspire to), and who he built it for…

Their message spoke directly to me! They built it for creators. ☺️

To my delight, they’ve recently switched to a Freemium Model to help more start up creators like me earn a living. It was a no brainer to sign up to a free account to get started.

I love it when I find companies that align with my values! I’m a fan. 😍

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 in Active Campaign. I love and appreciate products that are well thought-out and designed!

Once integration was done, I continued with the same writing process and worked through all the remaining pages until there was 1 page left — the About page.

It was the hardest one for me to write. It took me 3 days to complete.

While working toward the new deadline, I faced another challenge…

My home internet went down on 23rd April for an entire week! 🤬 I had to tether off my phone, and just kept working.

I was proud that I did finish writing all 9 pages and published them on 25th April. 💪

But… before I could do my happy dance, it dawned on me that I needed to setup web analytics to track traffic before I can start telling people about it… so that’s what I did next.


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 — easy to understand tutorials for analytics.

In between learning analytics, I also felt a need to refine the content I wrote so I kept editing my work.

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

Enter: Imposter Syndrome.

Every creator’s nightmare… the shadow that stops us from shipping our work. 🙄

I realised I started using “learning analytics” as an excuse to not tell people about my new website.

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

She encouraged me to make a post and announce it in the BASB community forum.

It was the kick in the ass I needed.

The Result


1 May: Project Completion


Right before I was ready 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.

I thought “making an announcement that my website is ready for public viewing” didn’t seem very useful. I felt it didn’t really add value because the focus was on me…

I wanted to turn the focus onto other students… “What would most help them accomplish their capstone projects?”

That was a much better question to answer.

So I decided to write up a case study instead and post that in the community forum.

I thought it would be more valuable for people to see how I go about tackling a website project and all the decisions I made along the way to get a “minimum viable website” done in 3 weeks.

On 1st May, I privately announced my new website to a few BASB friends who knew about my project. I told 14 people on that day.

Then I went straight back to work, spent the next 2 days writing up the original version of this case study, and posted it in the BASB forum on 3rd May.

The original version posted in the forum had 2,407 words. This refined and updated version you’re reading has 4,724 words.

Why I Tackled My Project in Phases

The single biggest reason why I was able to 'finish' my website project in under a month is because I focused on 1 thing at a time. 

I batched all related tasks together.

Back in 2016, I learned one important lesson about the COST of multi-tasking (context switching).

Every time you switch tasks (and your focus) from one thing to another, you end up losing 20% of time.

Because it takes time for your brain to recalibrate and "catch up to where you were" before you switched your focus to something else.

Which means, the more projects you try to tackle in a day, the more time you lose. 

If at the end of month, you ever say to yourself "Geez... I worked really hard this month, but doesn't seem like I have anything to show for it" — This is why.

I used to think multi-tasking (the ability to juggle between multiple projects) was a good thing, until I found out it robbed me of my time.

Since then, I've trained myself to only focus on 1 thing at a time. I don't multi-task anymore simply because the cost is too high.

This one single idea is one of the biggest contributors to my speed of execution.

So simple, yet so powerful.

Below is my Website Project Task List in Roam. I am still fairly new to Roam as I haven’t had a chance to fully explore it yet.

I signed up to Roam on 20th March (my new digital brain) and just ran with the bare basics to help me manage this project.

As I find time in between my projects going forward, I will explore Roam more thoroughly to keep improving and refining my PKM system. I will definitely write more about my PKM systems, workflows and why I chose Roam as my digital brain.

Website Project Plan and Task List
My Website Project Task List in Roam

What I Learned

Here are my personal reflections (answers) to the questions asked at the end of BASB…

What results did you accomplish?

A beautiful, simple, modern website that is a true representation of my personal brand online.

My website is doing everything I wanted it to do:

  • my online home to house my body of work going forward
  • my relationship building process to repel the wrong people, and attract the right people into my world
  • build my tribe
What breakthroughs have you created for yourself?

When I enrolled in BASB, I was excited about improving my workflow and refining my PKM system, because I wanted to improve my personal productivity.

When I heard Tiago say “the point of having a PKM system is to help you execute on your projects to make sure they come to life” on the very first call…

I immediately shifted my intention from “learning and refining my PKM system” to “execute on my project”.

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 last 10 years. But I have never built a website this fast in my life. This is a personal best.

I surprised myself to see that I have the capabilities to pull this off in just 3 weeks. I’m amazed at the speed I can execute a project like this compared to before.

What new possibilities are you taking away from this experience?

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

They are inspiring questions for me to answer and explore.

It’s made me very excited 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 focus to execution in Week 1, you wouldn’t be reading this right now.

My Answer to Questions I Received

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. I literally got the idea as I was about to make a post in the BASB Forum on 1st May.

It didn’t feel hard to recall because I did everything in “phases” — I wasn’t jumping from one thing to another trying to multi-task.

The website project was my entire focus for 3-4 weeks straight (apart from learning 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, I remember what decisions I made as they were still fresh in my memory.

So that’s my process behind my “case study writing process”. 😉

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