Getting into a relationship with a website design & development firm involves quite a bit of thinking ahead to the future of your organization, your goals and objectives, and your overall vision.
Often, we find that organizations will choose a design firm based on the fact that they’ve built a website for a competitor or another company they respect, or they choose the lowest bidder without considering the long-term costs associated with having to make big changes later, or the opportunity costs associated with growing at a slower pace than they would have with a better-performing website.
So before you sign that project agreement for your new website, be sure to ask these questions of the firm you’re considering working with:
What is your experience with similar projects, and what were the outcomes?
I don’t believe you should choose a website development firm based on the fact that they build websites specifically for your industry, since these end up being very similar in nature and yours can get lost in the mix of ‘law firm websites’ or ‘hospital websites’, losing the unique advantages that would make your organization stand out.
However, it is important that the firm has a working knowledge of the audience you’re targeting, and experience in reaching them with a similar concept. For example: a firm building a website for a consumer products company whose ideal customer is a women in her 20’s or 30’s should have experience in both reaching a female consumer audience and designing websites to sell products.
How will project management be handled?
Often, companies jump into website development agreements without having a full understanding of the project management process, how communications will be handled, or who they will be working with.
Will the person who handled your initial meetings be responsible for managing the project, or will there be a separate account manager? Have you met this person and do you feel confident that they understand your business and your goals? Will you meet with the design and development teams, or will all communication be filtered through the account manager? Will you be meeting regularly, scheduling conference calls, or communicating solely by email or within a project management platform?
Be sure you understand the entire process and are comfortable with it before you begin.
What will my organization be responsible for providing, and on what timeline?
Websites involve an amount of participation from the client that is not typically associated with other services they may have purchased in the past, and sometimes this comes as a surprise.
At the least, you will be asked to provide specific information about your organization, such as clearly defined goals, target audiences, details about your products or services, a listing of competitors, and your competitive advantages or disadvantages.
You may need to provide new copy for website pages and blog posts, photography, and other elements. You’ll need to provide feedback on concepts, the sitemap, page copy and more throughout the process. There also may be a specific timeframe your team will need to adhere to in order to keep the project on schedule.
Be sure that you have a clear understanding of what is needed from your team, when it is required, and who you will designate to manage this on your end.
What is included, and more importantly not included, in the budget?
Don’t assume that the budget encompasses more than what is included in the project agreement. As websites begin to take shape, organizations will sometimes decide to make changes from the original agreed-upon sitemap or design. While that comes with the territory, there can be expenses associated with making changes to the original project scope.
Be sure you understand how future changes could impact the budget.
How will you position our organization to meet our goals?
Are you sure that the team you’re working with truly understands your company, your products or services, and your vision?
In the early meetings, it is important not only to provide as much information as possible to the firm you’re working with, but also to ask them questions which will show you their understanding of what you do, and the market you’re trying to reach.
Now is not the time to keep information private; you should confide in your website developer and give them a clear understanding of where you excel, where you struggle, and where opportunities exist in the market.
If you need to ask them to sign a confidentiality agreement, most firms are happy to do so.
What do we have the ability to edit ourselves in the future, and which edits will require your support?
In this era of open-source programming and content management systems, most websites are built with the expectation that the client will have the ability to edit page content, add/remove or update images and videos, and write their own blog posts. Don’t assume this is the case, however; be sure you know what you’ll have access to edit and what will require the support of a developer in the future.
Additionally, you’ll want to know whether you are ‘locked in’ with the firm you’ve chosen for future development needs, or if you have the ability to bring on someone else to make edits.
How do you measure results and measure the user’s experience?
This is extremely important, and an area where marketing agencies who have all of the other factors covered can still fall short.
Here’s the issue: historically, marketing agencies weren’t tasked with delivering trackable results, they were tasked with delivering great campaigns. For those agencies that have been doing business for 20 or 30+ years, tracking results and the user’s experience on your website may not be an area that gets as much attention as it deserves.
Ask the firm you’re working with you to explain how they will measure progress for your website, and how they will ensure that website visitors not only find what they’re looking for on your site, but also find their way toward the action steps you want them to take.
A great-looking website that doesn’t deliver results for your business isn’t worth the time and effort it takes to create.
Ready to get started on your own goal-achieving, budget-meeting, competitor-overtaking website?