One of the benefits of writing for media publications is that you get valuable links back to your website.

So you can imagine my excitement when, after years of trying, I was finally just moments away from my debut article with FORTUNE magazine. FORTUNE’s Commentary column only publishes between one and three articles a day — it’s hyper competitive.

In my seven years of pitching media, which has helped me land about 200 unique articles and broadcast bylines in total, I’d still never been able to crack the “corporate four” of PR: Forbes, FORTUNE, The Harvard Business Review, and The Wall Street Journal.

Until now.

The day the article dropped, it likely was read by thousands if not tens of thousands of important decision makers, executives, and investors.

I’ll never know, though.

On the day my debut article dropped in FORTUNE magazine — and for nine days thereafter — clicking on any link to my website, from anywhere on the internet, led you to this.

screenshot of a red screen with an error message that says "site infected with malware"

My entire website the day my FORTUNE byline dropped.

No home page. No links. No way out.

My site had malware — and it had infected just about everything.

I Had Already Been Working on a New Website

But this was definitely the nail in the coffin for my old Wordpress website, which I'd had since 2017, and which I felt was now holding me back.

Not only was it not fast enough or custom enough; it was also too susceptible to paralyzing malware attacks, which have become an increasing problem for Wordpress and Squarespace websites.

Your website is your online business card — make it something you're proud of.

So I hired TJ Sullivan, owner of Civilized Savage, an SEO and web development agency, to take me through a rebuild. It included the big decision to migrate off of WordPress and onto Sanity, a headless CMS and revolutionary new way to create ultra-fast, content-centric websites.

You’re lookin’ at the finished product now. 👋🏼

Here’s a rundown of how I ended up working with TJ, how I came to the decision to redo my perfectly good website, and my honest review of the four-month package experience.

Key Takeaways

  • Timeline, from contract signing to finished product: four months.
  • Going in, I had to know what functionality I wanted and why to manage costs.
  • Being a responsive, available client was important for package success. I was weighing in weekly.
  • The site was my largest business purchase for 2022.
  • I was able to cut several monthly software expenses as a result.

How I Found TJ

I was first introduced to TJ via a former business coach in June of 2021.

A large ghostwriting client of mine wanted to revisit our scope and outsource more of their SEO strategy. I’m not an SEO agency, so I asked my network for a referral.

My then-coach referred me to TJ and his company, Civilized Savage. TJ subcontracted under my company and partnered with me as we re-pitched my existing client. We sold an exploratory session, then pitched a larger follow-up retainer to the client to continue working together on the execution.

After several months of back-and-forth, the client ended up going with a team from VaynerCommerce instead. VaynerCommerce is Gary Vaynerchuk's agency that works with consumer products and goods (CPG) brands.

There are certainly worse agencies to lose a client out to. And I was proud that TJ and I, both largely solopreneurs who engage contractors, had beaten out many other agencies to make it to the final two for this Request For Proposal (RFP).

More importantly, I saw how TJ worked

His process. How he and his team thought about and approached SEO. His continuous commitment to share his screen and “show his work” to prospective clients.

I developed a far deeper appreciation of modern-day SEO during this time. You know someone is great at SEO when they have literally no social media presence, yet have a waitlist of prospects ready to buy — that’s TJ. So I engaged his company for some consulting on my existing web presence.

As we worked together, he casually mentioned Sanity.io, a new way to build websites (new to me, anyway) that were really fast. A new build wasn't in my budget at the time, so he gave me some SEO action steps instead. When I followed them, my site traffic immediately picked up.

I also invited TJ to do a masterclass for my Camp Wordsmith All Access Pass clients, and he was great with them and their questions. Here's him doing a hot seat with one of my Camp Wordsmith clients, Gail, who owns and operates an equine guided learning center outside of Toronto.

My Pivot

That was all in late 2021 and early 2022.

During this time, I began to realize how tired of social media I really was.

I regretted not pouring more effort into my website over the last few years. Something TJ voiced to me in our consultation was that I had the exact skill set for SEO — writing, media, and email — which I hadn’t really ever considered before.

When you identify what you naturally do well online, you can use that information to form your content marketing approach.

So I went to him in the summer of 2022 and said “Look, I want to do this right. What will it take?”

We discussed, and came up with a scope to fully rebuild my site in the interest of SEO and overall reputation management. We also developed some pages that will help me receive media leads, such as speaking inquiries or quote requests.

Here's how it all shook out.

A Play-By-Play of Our 4-Month Package

Before we dug into the site specifics, we need to identify how my personal brand, business, and Camp Wordsmith all fit together.

I didn’t want to create a whole new personal brand. Instead, I wanted to heighten my brand identity from 2018, which was closely connected to my French horn days.

Part 1: Scope Specifics

My scope with TJ's company was determined by how many pages I wanted. I decided to have static pages for the home page, about page, Camp Wordsmith page, and Speaking page. We also decided on a blog that would have three different article types, with a content management system (CMS) on the backend.

I completed an intake session that included talking through my goals, objectives, and wishes for each page. I also shared screenshots of site formats I liked and why, almost like a mood board.

screenshots of blogs from around the internet.

Screenshots from various publications around the internet, including The Verge, Fast Company, LinkedIn, Farnam Street, Investopedia, and David Perell.

Part 2: Design

Next, TJ paired me with a contract professional designer, who, after doing an informational interview with me, mocked up every page of my package scope in Figma, a design tool.

Here’s what that looked like:

screenshot of a Figma web page that has design mockups of several website pages.

I am now a Figma superfan, for the record.

This process allowed me to get very nitpicky about every detail on every page. It took about two weeks to get some initial designs, and then took about three additional weeks to iron out all the details.

Part 3: Development and iteration

Once the designs were set, TJ’s team began building my site in Sanity on a separate server. As web pages began to become functional, TJ shared the drafts with me, allowing me to request real time edits and adjustments to make the site really feel like me.

There were lots of fancy animation options, but ultimately I kept it simple: the only special effects on the site are the fade-ins on certain pages, allowing the site’s speed to really shine.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the old and new home pages.

screenshots of two website home pages side by side on a single image

Along the way, I was able to communicate to TJ and his team my tech stack “wish list” and trim out a few software tools, saving me money.

I knew I wanted to integrate my email service provider, ActiveCampaign, as deeply as possible to my website. If I could only keep one SaaS tool for the rest of my online career, it would be ActiveCampaign, hands-down — that’s how strongly I feel about email.

I also simplified my sales funnels so I could migrate off of SamCart and back onto ThriveCart, saving me about $2k a year.

Part 4: Migration and launch

Once we had everything built the way I wanted it, TJ’s team then migrated all my content to the new site — manually. Whew! Not having to deal with any of that was a huge relief.

What I Did During the Downtime

As we worked through development, I also took this time to do a hard reset on how I produce content and share it with my audience. I hadn’t really found my groove with balancing a full-time job, my personal brand, and my consulting.

I used the downtime to spruce up Camp Wordsmith, and work a full month ahead in my publishing cadence. I’m feeling more in the driver’s seat of my online business and personal brand than ever before.

The Results

After hitting a few snags in launch — which we accounted for, as you always should! — my new site went live in late November, about four months after I signed the initial dotted line. Here are the pages we decided on for my new site, and why.

Home Page

A new home page that is easy to skim and leaves you wanting more. It also connects to my main calls to action, which are my newsletter, Camp Wordsmith, and speaking engagements.

(Link)

Blog Pages

A new blog, where I can organize my material by categories. I also have three options for blog formats. Most will have a right-side sidebar so I can show my author bio and opt-in box. But if I want to do something really enterprising and editorial, I have that option too. Example here.

(Link)

About Page

A page where people can just get to know me and my story in a CTA-free environment. We did some cool fades and incorporated some old photos of mine for this page. I’m also obsessed with the shape of the hero image — feels edgy and exciting.

(Link)

Camp Wordsmith Page

A page where I can promote Camp Wordsmith’s free and paid tiers. I can add products to this page whenever I want, and it’s custom-integrated with ThriveCart, so I was able to connect both a pop-up and a sales page to every product. Buy my stuff!

(Link)

Speaking

I made more money from speaking engagements in 2022 than any other year of my career. This is something I want to explore further. I also want to pursue more media. And, for people trying to pitch me, I wanted to include instructions to do that.

(Link)

What We’re Up To Next

I have LOTS of homework after this buildout, believe me! Most of it involves writing and publishing new posts.

There are a few things I want to polish up on the site, so TJ and I are currently finishing up a follow-up scope. I want some more features for my blog posts, since that’s how most people find me now. And I also want to point to my core offer, the Camp Wordsmith All Access Pass, more prominently.

Working with a custom service provider is almost always an investment. If you’re very picky about your online presence, however, and want the absolute best, working with someone for custom web development might be the thing that helps you take your brand to the next level.

More information about Civilized Savage is available here.

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