Panic. Desperation. Despair. This is how it feels when you realized the website you just spent thousands of dollars on building is not at all the product your company needs.
You know you’re too far in the game at this point to abandon the project, so you’ll have to spend even more money and time trying salvage your investment and re-code to align with your business needs.
The additional code actually breaks the original unsatisfactory site, and now you need to spend even more money.
The bills pile up, while the whole time you a) still don’t have a functional website, and b) you hate the one you do have because it adds no business value and cost you a fortune.
Does this sound familiar? Sadly, this is the expensive, soul-sucking nightmare for many small businesses.
Here are 5 things I’ve learned from being on both sides of the development process that will help spare you unnecessary pain throughout your own website project.
1. MAINTAIN BALANCE OF PRACTICALITY AND CREATIVITY.
Your website should absolutely be beautifully designed and reflect the unique qualities of your business, which takes creativity. Practicality, though, is what will keep your project focused (avoid scope creep), on budget, and overall successful.
TIP: If you haven’t already done so, start writing a list of requirements – i.e. the things that are crucial to the success of your site in relation to your sales strategy. These will be the pillars on which you build your site.
Your website will likely look great, especially if you’re going with an experienced designer. Your requirements, however, will help guide you in decision-making throughout the project and help clearly establish mutual expectations with your developer.
“Web projects are successful when practicality and creativity meet in appropriate measure.”
– Christopher Butler, author of The Strategic Web Designer
2. CLIENT INVOLVEMENT THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE PROCESS IS A MUST.
Website development is not a spectator sport – a good website cannot be built without significant involvement from the client throughout every stage of the project.
“But Sarah, that sounds like a lot of work, and we’re already busy.” Yes, it will require work on the your part, but by being involved from ideation through implementation, you will save valuable time and money in the long run, and will likely be much more satisfied, confident, and excited about the end product.
TIP: Implement regular status meetings. If your developer does not have regular tag-up meetings scheduled through the life of the project, request a weekly or biweekly meeting to review the site thus far and check it against your requirements. The earlier and more frequent you can confirm design decisions, the more money will stay in your pocket.
Note: These meetings do not need to be long, they just need to happen.
3. HAVE A COMMON VISION.
I cannot stress this enough.
TIP: Before anyone starts to code, write down your vision for the company and its web presence and get approval/buy-in from each person on your project team (including the developer).
must be clearly communicated to all members of the team and the developer. You can even have everyone sign the vision/charter to incorporate into your website documentation.
It’s that important. After all, this is going to be the guiding principle on which you’ll make critical decisions going forward.
You’d be amazed at how many web projects meet their milestones but fail at launch because the purpose was not clearly agreed upon and communicated at the beginning. The result? A near useless website.
4. HASTE = WASTE.
If you’re trying to “just get it done” in order to meet a looming event (such as a trade show), be prepared for your project to be either impossible, expensive, disappointing, or in many cases all of these at once. Woof.
So how much time do you need to make a solid website? That’s what we all want to know, right? Not to be cheeky, but this will completely depend on the scope of your project – the general size of the site, the level of complexity, the existing state of the site (if any), and other functional requirements.
TIP: Trust your developer on the timeline they expect to create the website your company needs. You hired them because they are a subject matter expert, and you’re paying them a lot of money to get the project right the first time.
TIP: Build in slack. Know that things will go wrong at some point, naturally, so spare yourself some agony and build in slack.
TIP: Communicate timelines before signing the contract. Meet with your developer as soon as you decide to do your web project, and be very upfront about your deadlines, budget, and expectations. It may be that your current site (yeah, the one that you loathe) is actually a better option for welcoming traffic during that upcoming event rather than pushing out another underwhelming and ineffective web solution. The whole “do it right the first time” is well worth it when it comes to website development.
TIP: Your deadlines must be reasonable. Deadlines are absolutely necessary, but they are only effective when they are realistic and expectations are managed.
“…Anxiety is, without question, an unhealthy catalyst for a complex web project and a poison for one already underway. [These decisions] were made far too late to have any hope of satisfying anyone’s expectations.
By then, though the big event that got the ball rolling in the first place may have long passed, the stress remains. No matter what the new deadline becomes, it’s not likely to change the outcome: the launch of a mediocre (at best) website.”
Tip: Make sure to build in time for your company’s internal approval process. We all know it can take more time than scheduled to track down that CEO or business executive to sign the dotted line. This is completely out of the developer’s control – the project manager for your web project will likely be the one coordinating the reviews. If you don’t have a project manager, I highly recommend appointing one person to be the go-to for your project. But I digress5.
5. DON’T SKIP THE INITIAL DISCOVERY PHASE.
TIP: Build in time and budget (preferably one week to one month) for your developer to work with you on your strategic approach. Allow time for him or her to do some general market research to find best web practices in your industry, gain a deeper understanding of your business, and become familiar with your intended market/audience.
Even though many of these questions will have already been addressed when the project was initially priced and contracted, the more detail your team (including the developer) has before beginning the actual coding of the website, the better.
These are by no means all-encompassing, just a few things I’ve learned from my own experience working with developers and eventually becoming one. What tricks of the trade can you share with us? Is there something you recommend that will help set up small businesses for success in their website projects? Please share your insights in the comment section below.