I‘ve written a few posts in the past with advice for businesses who are taking on web design and development projects. I have outlined our processes, advised on planning and given tips on how to give good feedback to your creative agency.
I have to admit, my reasons for writing these posts are somewhat self serving. Clients who understand and buy into our process will ultimately end up with a more successful project and it will allow us to do our best work. Expectations, responsibilities, communication, clarity and timings will be aligned in a way that the client and agency can collaborate in a very effective and efficient way. The end result will be a body of work with higher standards of quality and effectiveness.
I could write a medium sized book about this but I don’t have the writing skills and you don’t have the time or the will to read it. So to save us both pain, here are my 10 tips for businesses creating a new website.
Know your goals and objectives
Any good agency will help you with this, you will have your own ideas but its worth spending a bit of time exploring your goals and objectives with your agency for independent insight and advise. Why are you building this website. What are the KPI’s (key performance indicators). Who is the target market? What value does it have and how will you achieve a ROI? More often than not this process can change the focus of the project by the questions it raises and answers. Working on goals and objectives may end up being about more than just building a new website but how the company presents itself, how you talk to people and who your market is, keep an open mind and see where this goes. Its as much about the journey than the destination.
Work with an agency
Of course I would say this but how else could you build a website? We have seen a lot of home made websites out there created by company MD’s who have a passing interest in HTML or a in house print designer who wanted to try their hand at designing a website. There is information architecture, UX, understanding the CMS and the limitations of HTML and CSS to consider not to mention the need for a comprehensive knowledge of responsive web design and mobile breakpoints. In most cases a print designer designing a website is like an architect designing a jumbo jet. You are a professional business, you need a professional online presence.
Create a brief
Over the years we have seen briefs of all shapes and sizes. Even the most vague brief written on the back of a napkin gives us more insight than no brief at all. We are often commissioned to create briefs for businesses so they can put projects out to tender to agencies like us. Our approach is always to take a clients brief and work with them through our discovery process to uncover the detail, contribute our thoughts and ideas to add value to the project. We help shape the clients goals and objectives into a website spec or statement of work covering all the detail and requirements.
Understand the process
We have spent years working on our ever evolving process, we customise it for every client based on their needs to give the best results. Process promotes efficiency, understanding, clear lines of responsibility and a more collaborative project flow. Take time to understand the agency process, make sure it is comprehensive and compatible with how you like to work, one size does not fit all so work with the agency to tailor the process around your requirements.
Give content priority
We’ve all heard that “content is king” and I can only agree. Content will shape the structure of your website and its purpose. Users are not coming to your website for its nice design, intuitive UX or its solid code base. Copywriting and imagery need to be prioritised. Your agency can help with this, don’t try and write your own copy unless you are a professional copywriter with experience in writing for the web, the same goes for photography, that shot you took on the beach with your iPhone last summer looks great but should it be used for your company website? Time and effort are needed in this area and it will show in the end results.
Set realistic timings
Great work takes time. Don’t rush the process. Let the agency set out the timings and while they should be adhered to, make sure that you are comfortable with the pace as feedback and collaboration will need to take place within the process, the agency are not the only ones doing the work. A typical website for us would have a 12 week process (3 weeks planning, 3 weeks UX and design, 3 weeks development, 3 weeks testing and deployment). In most cases we can work faster than this, but we find clients can’t even if they think they can. Ideas need time to develop and collaboration with key stakeholders can cause delays. Give the project room to breathe.
Appoint a decision maker
The agency will obviously have a project manager working closely with you but you will also need a clear point of contact on your side for the project. We have all been involved in projects with too many cooks and it leads to frustration and poor output. When it comes to ‘design by committee’ usually the person in the room with the loudest voice gets their points across but they are not always making the best decisions. In most cases a website project should be managed on the client side by a small group of people, all of whom should be stakeholders and decision makers, I’d suggest 1–3 people depending on the size of the project. If the boss has the final say then the boss should be collaborating directly with the agency and attending the meetings and workshops.
Listen to your agency and your users
You have hired an agency because of their experience, approach, reputation and past work. Listen to them as much as they will be listening to you, they will have a lot more expertise than you do in this area. In general you wouldn’t tell surgeons how to perform an operation. Design and UX can be subjective but a good agency will know what works and what doesn’t. When it comes to your website and marketing it doesn’t always matter what you think, its all about your target audience, a good agency will be user focused and will have the confidence to push back on ideas they think will not work. In cases where you are not agreeing with your agency have the agency put the question out to your users and see what they think. User testing is essential and any good agency will work with testing as a central part of the process.
Form a good working relationship with your agency. The best work we have done has been and always will be the work where the client gets stuck into the project with us. Feed the agency as much relevant information as you can about your business and spend time understanding the process they are using. Sense check everything with them, ask questions, have debates and share your honest thoughts and ideas all the way through the project.
Set a realistic budget
The cost of a website can vary from agency to agency, its hard to compare one quote with another. Most of the time a quote will be created based on the interpretation of the brief and the process the agency is proposing. Its possible that a more comprehensive process will have higher costs but will often yield better results. My advise here is to go back to the brief, maybe hire someone qualified to help you write the brief so you can inform the agencies pitching exactly what your requirements are. This way nobody is in the dark about what the ask is, the quotes will be realistic and there will be no problems down the line with the agency looking for more money because a essential feature wasn’t mentioned in the brief. We tend to be upfront about money and ask clients for a budget if they have one, transparency about this can save both the client and agency a lot of time. From experience we tend to give lower quotes to potential clients who have a good brief, its shows they have spent time and effort putting the brief together which means they are informed and involved. This usually means the project will be well run from the client side and will make for smoother collaboration. Lastly, don’t forget to factor ongoing running costs into your budget, a website is not just for Christmas! There will be hosting, domain and SSL cert fees. The websites software will need to be updated regularly, backed up and scanned for malware or vulnerabilities plus you may need on going support and development.
As you can tell, my feelings are that a well run project is all about planning, good communication and transparency between client and agency. I could keep going but these 10 points are key for me. Let me know what you think and what else you would add (or remove) in the comments section below.