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A website project, when done properly, takes a fair amount of time and budget, therefore you don’t want to be getting it wrong.  You want to get it right first time so that you can launch the website you need, on time, on budget and at the specification required.

In order to achieve this, you need to help yourself – don’t rely on a development agency to tell you what you need or what you want, you need to set out what you need the site to do and any specific functionality required.  You don’t want a web agency to impose their ideas upon you – instead set out your needs and encourage their expertise to highlight the best way of delivering it, but you know your business and your customers better than anyone.

A great base point is to create a professional and robust web development brief which you can send out to three (at least three but no more than five) development agencies to submit a proposal against.  To help you with the brief, here are some key things to consider putting within it.

What should be in my brief?

Who are you? – you want to start the brief by giving some reasonably detailed information on the business, the history and information on your market or sector.

Who are your customers? – it’s so crucial that you identify your market and who your customers are.  Also identify why they buy from you rather than your competitors, as your USPs are something to build a site around.

What is the purpose? – is the website there to act as an online presence in order to drive people to a physical location?  Do you want to sell things on the site via e-commerce, are you looking for it to be an information repository for blogs, downloads or a directory to other sites?  You need to be clear about what you want the site to do, and the more you want, the higher the budget you’ll need to attribute to it.

What functionality will you want? – do you want to gather e-mails before people can download things?  Do you want to take payments, show videos, have an online calculator or instant quoting system?  You need to think about specific features and functionality that might be required beyond the normal expectations.

Key sections – While you want a web agency to come up with a proposed site structure and site map, you can help by identifying some key ‘sections’ that you would want, the successful agency can then advise on the best way to structure all the key elements in a more detailed site map.

Who is running the project? – this is a big one.  In many cases the day-to-day management of the site project is handled by one person or a couple of people.  They make the decisions and give the sign off – that is until the CEO comes along and changes everything at the eleventh hour!  You need to be clear about who gives sign off and they need to be involved (actually involved so they get all the context around decision making) from the very outset.

What technology is being used? – make sure you get an agency to explain in their proposal exactly what technology is being used and why. For example the content management system may be WordPress or Joomla or something bespoke.  All have their merits, but get them to explain why they are using that technology along with the pros and cons (and then you go online and do some research too)!

What is their process? – with a project as complex and with as many moving parts as a website development project, you want to be clear on every stage of the project and when your input will be required.  Ask for details of a comprehensive project process.

When do you need it? – web projects are notorious for running over budget and over schedule.  The budget often swells when there is feature or scope creep – meaning you keep adding bits on.  The schedule often slips because no one is committing to dates for delivery and feedback – make sure these set out and respected.  Also don’t expect something to be done too quickly – designing a user experience, user interface and building the site is complicated – if it is being done quickly, it isn’t being done properly.  Set out timescales that you would like it by, but be realistic.

The bigger picture – make sure you give some context about your marketing strategy and how the website will fit into that mix.  The web agency might be able to suggest some ideas or scale up elements that will really play into your strategy.  Either way having the bigger picture will help with the site build.

Stuff you like – it is helpful to send across a list of sites that you like and importantly, why you like them.  This really gives an agency an understanding of what design touches and functionality resonate with you.  That said, be prepared to be challenged if what you are proposing is going to be too much style over substance for your audience.

Who is doing the content? – every site that we have ever built that has been delayed has been for one reason – content.  Clients always underestimate how long writing content for a website will take, let alone optimising it for search engines.  Identify who is writing the content – is it the internal team or an outsourced copywriter the development team will need to work with.  Also look for confirmation over who is uploading it to the site when built.

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