Launching a website is like an RV shakedown cruise

 KerryAThompson.com Blog: Launching a website is like an RV shakedown cruise

A few years ago, my husband and I ran away. We were empty-nesters and having looked around our big house being paid for by careers we weren't happy with, we decided to change it up. Big time. We put the house on the market, stuffed the last of our few possessions into a 5 x 10 storage unit, and quit our jobs. On the day we sold the house, our car was packed with a week's worth of clothes, two computers, one pot, two sets of dishes, some toiletries, and one confused cat. We were headed to Florida to buy an RV and our intention was to live in it full-time until we either grew tired of the lifestyle or the "be free" money we'd set aside for this adventure ran out.

We made it to Florida within a few days and headed directly to the small manufacturer we'd chosen, Coach House, to see what they had on their used RV lot. We chose the RV we wanted and waited in a Motel 6 for two weeks as they fixed some of the minor issues that my husband, being a former auto mechanic, had noticed. The day finally arrived to pick up the RV. Signatures and money were exchanged and the car was traded in and we became the owners of a 27-foot RV, our new home.

 KerryAThompson.com Blog: Kerry taking the RV out for a spin

Coach House offers an overnight spot with water and electric hookups to their new owners. Since we had never driven, slept in, or owned an RV, the parking lot was our preferred first-night spot while we were given a thorough tour of all the controls and then started reading the manuals and trying things out to be sure we understood everything. Armando, the seasoned customer "trainer," asked us where we lived when he was showing us the RV and we gleefully said, "Here!" and pointed at the floor of our new-to-us RV.

After our overnight stay, we were feeling pretty confident, but we had reserved a spot at a campground nearby to spend the weekend trying things out, just in case we had additional questions. Your first trip in an RV is known in the RVing community as a shakedown cruise. It's very common to plan a trip close to the dealer to make sure everything works the way it's supposed to. Whether the RV is new or used, a shakedown cruise is critical for revealing the things that aren't working. We would hear plenty of stories later on about new and used RVs having all sorts of problems that emerged during the shakedown cruise. So as we headed out of the RV parking lot, we were feeling pretty proud of ourselves that we'd had the forethought to arrange a shakedown cruise, even though we'd never known there was such a thing until we bought our own RV.

This is where this story finally begins to dovetail with the subject of launching your website. Making your new website public for all the world to see is a big occasion, a happy occasion. You've spent weeks or maybe months working on your website, adding the perfect text, images, links, and buttons and hooking up and testing all the connections to make sure everything is working. You've reviewed it time and time again and are sure there isn't anything that you've missed. And so you launch the website. What you don't realize is that you've just started your shakedown cruise.

So getting back to the story of our shakedown cruise, despite all the preparations, there were several things that went wrong. As we left the dealer's parking lot, we settled into our seats, my husband the driver and I the passenger. We started down the road with the cat sitting in the living area behind the driver and passenger seats, similar to how he'd learned to ride in the car. We had about a minute to congratulate ourselves on how well this was all going, when our cat, who up until now had been an absolute trooper, adapting to long car rides out of his carrier and days spent in a motel, freaked out in this big, bouncy new vehicle. And of the 27 feet our cat had to choose from to have a full-blown panic attack, he decided running up to the front of the vehicle, directly under the brake pedal was the safest place to be. So my husband was shouting for me to do something and I was out of my seat and trying to lean under the seat to grab this poor cat, who was holed up under the brake pedal and not budging. My husband and I were both thinking, "If we hit a a red light, there's going to be no stopping." The whole episode probably lasted 30 seconds and fortunately it ended before we had to put on any brakes. The rattled cat went into his carrier for the rest of the ride and that was our first needed adjustment that revealed itself during our RV shakedown cruise. There were other lessons to be learned and things that went wrong that fateful night setting up at the campground. The slide that pulled out to enlarge the living area suddenly decided to stop working correctly and the electricity went out because we had too many things plugged in at the same time. We finished out the weekend wiser and a little grayer and solved the rest of the problems on Monday.

 Our cat was happiest when the RV wasn't moving.

Our cat was happiest when the RV wasn't moving.

When my client and I launch a new website, I let the client know that we're in the shakedown phase. I caution them that despite all the testing we've done and reviews we've signed off on, there will probably be a few things that don't look right or that don't work as expected. What comes to light in the shakedown phase is just part of the creation process and I've come to expect it and hold aside some time after the website launches to make whatever minor adjustments are needed. Only then, after the shakedown phase has ended, is the website done, ready for the freedom of the open road (or Internet, in this case).

[Epilogue: My husband and I and our cat lived happily on the road for about six months before we started to miss having a fixed address and seeing the faces of our grown children. We now live in a non-rolling home. Our adventurous cat has passed away, but his ashes are spread in the woods behind our home, where he was happy to have one last year not traveling.]