This past weekend was the final running of the Rocketman Triathlon at Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida. Aside from what was possibly my last chance ever to ride my bicycle up to the launch pads that took humanity to the moon and later to orbit with the Space Shuttle, it was also a great learning experience. Because the lessons apply to a healthy website as much as to finishing triathlons, I wanted to share them with you.

It’s not as hard as you think it is.

Let’s start at the beginning. You have to believe that you can do this. Somewhere around 2% of all people will ever complete a triathlon. Most of the other 98% don’t even know that there is an official sprint distance. (Only a triathlete would think of the experience as a “sprint” but that’s another post.) Before I was married, I dated a triathlete and I thought she had to be a superwoman, crazy or both. The truth is that a sprint distance triathlon can be completed by any reasonably fit person in 2 hours or less. Think about it. That unimaginable athletic achievement can be completed, start to finish, in less time than it will take to see the next Star Wars movie and the trailers that precede it. The “real athletes” do it even faster.

So, you’ve been thinking about that website project, starting a blog, managing your social media and you haven’t gone past that point because it just seems so hard and time consuming. Take a deep breath and find a single task to get you started. Like swimming laps or taking a long bike ride, it gets you moving and you can build toward your goal. Just like a race, you won’t finish until you start.

Have a plan and use it.

My first triathlon was chaos, but I muddled through. The highlight of the Rocketman Triathlon is the bike ride through the working parts of Kennedy Space Center, including the Vehicle Assembly Building and the launch pads. I knew I needed to have swim gear, a bike and helmet, and running shoes. As a junior high swimmer the only plan I ever had was to do what the coach told me to do, “go fast.” It never occurred to me that there might be more to a triathlon than “go fast.” The transition area of the race can be chaos or it can be choreographed and rehearsed to move you to the next event quickly without time consuming decisions. This year I took eight minutes off of my final time, just by being prepared and doing what I planned.

You won’t see your website finished or growing if you don’t know what you want to get from it. If you haven’t heard it before now, the 5 page (or any other fixed number) website is dead. It’s not about having an “about me page” and contact form. Your website is a publishing platform. Your website can be your functioning after hours office location. It can so many things, if you want it to be and you plan it that way.

It won’t get there, however, if you don’t make a detailed plan, write it out and then execute according to the plan. You can still change the plan, if you need to, but you won’t know if you need to change it if your plan is just a rough sketch in your head. As you work from the plan, you check things off the list. You can evaluate how your progress is going and keep moving toward your own finish line.

Decision making can be paralyzing, in a race or a web development project. If you make smart decisions at the start, you won’t have as many decisions to make as you move toward your goal. “This or that” decisions will stop you in your tracks, so make choices early. Flow charts are great tools for visualizing your way through a website workflow. Make lists and pare them down. Less is faster. Faster is better, on the race course or launching content.

There will be obstacles. They will be significant.

I prepared for eight months for my first race. I pulled my Achilles tendon. I tripped and banged up my knee pretty bad. I kept going and completed my first race. As you collect some success, you will probably want new goals, more demanding goals. Last year, I tried to get a national ranking as a triathlete. It only requires finishing three sanctioned races in the competition year. (If you can do one, it really is only two more.) I had a foot injury, ironically from yard work, that wouldn’t heal. I had sought medical attention right away, but my doctors and I decided after the second race that I had to put my goal aside because the wound would not close. It took just over a year and surgery. Not training for several months weakened my knee and it collapsed. Now I need to fix a ruptured ACL, but I finished my race and nearly beat last year’s time.

As you build your website, expect something to go wrong. Murphy had it right and after my past year, I am convinced he was an optimist. That doesn’t mean that you stop. Pick up your plan. See where you are. Determine if the problem was the plan or the execution. Fix your problem and move forward. Your goal is still there for the taking. Don’t believe that just because something went wrong (even horribly wrong) that you can’t pick yourself up and keep going. No one ever overcame adversity by quitting when it got hard.

Know your times.

You can’t watch the clock during the race, but you need to know your times. How fast do you swim, bike and run? How quickly can you put your shoes on your wet feet? If you know these things going into the race, you can get a sense of your progress as move through the stages of the race. I’ve improved in almost every race, because I knew where I should be and when I should be there.

Make a schedule and revise it as needed, but have a schedule. Are you on schedule? How can you push harder to make up time? Can you take a break. There’s no way to know if you aren’t tracking your progress.

You will start speaking gibberish.

It’s a new experience. It has it’s own vocabulary. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about planking, transitions, aero bars and fartleks, or going on about content scheduling, pingbacks and load times. You are doing something new. Expect to add new words to your vocabulary. Don’t assume you understand jargon from context alone. Get to know what you’re taking about. Expect that your friends and colleagues will wonder at the stream of new terms. Be their teacher.

It doesn’t end at the finish line.

The flow of pizza, doughnuts and power drinks at the finish line are one of the great experiences in life. You just burned more calories than most people need for a whole day, and now they’re giving you free food and it’s all the stuff you’ve been avoiding up to race day. It doesn’t get much better, except now you need to train for the next race.

Your website will be beautiful. It will have all the features you planned. You have your own bully pulpit. Don’t think that you’re done. It’s a great accomplishment, but what about tomorrow? You’ve only just begun. Like a return to training, it’s time to plan what’s next for your website. What are you writing about? How do you take your data and make it more productive? How do you move forward and grow this resource?

Unlike before you started, now you know the steps. You know what you want to improve. You can target problems or success and turn them to your advantage.

As always, if you need a website coach or if you need a little direction, let us know. We are here to help.

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