What To Know Before Looking For A Website Provider
Before you begin looking for a provider you really need to know what your requirements are for the website and where you will be going in the next 5 years. Ask yourself, who will be visiting this site? What will they be looking for? How will they use the site? These aren't simple questions all the time as you may need an employee portal for special functions, a place to track customer invoices or even a simple blog with social media links. Keep the roadmap of the business in mind while answering these questions as you do not want to have to rebuild your website in a year. Expanding an existing website can be more costly that building a new one from scratch.
Next you can start looking for a provider (company or developer). There are lots companies that let you build a professional looking website like SquareSpace (I'm not plugging them, just saying they do a good job for a lot of lightweight purposes) that can cover the basics. Make sure that the company/developer/provider (whatever you want to call it) can fulfill all your current needs and your future needs.
You will then want to interview each of the companies focusing on their work. Ask if they can provide samples from their portfolio of work. This is where that list of requirements that you made at the start comes in handy as you can give that to them and ask for samples that are similar. Tell them specifically what you're looking for, such as: a website that looks sleek for new customers on the front, has a blog, can integrate with social media and will provide insights with analytics and more. You'll be able to narrow them down pretty quickly after that. They may be able to provide some wireframe mockups of the website after that to give you a general idea of what they are thinking. Ask if the website will be viewable on mobile devices. Can they make an App for you business too?
Weekly checkins are important to monitor progress. The company should be willing to work with you and provide weekly demos and updates of whats going on with the website. They should also be able to give you a time frame of when the project will be completed.
The next item is hosting and support. Who is going to support the website when it is done? You? What happens when something breaks or when security or maintenance patches get released? Are you going to wake up at 3am to fix the website or will the developer or IT staff. Most customers like this to just be handled as this is not their focus and their concentration is on the business. Make sure you ask for details in what happens in different situations such as data loss, hackers, security threats, DDoS attacks and more.
Social Media can be tricky and simple at the same time. Ask about their strategies and things that they will do to promote your business. This isn't always an easy sell since many social marketing companies provide difference services of differenct quality.
A great custom website can run you about $1000 to $5000 depending on the feature requirements and time to deliver the project. Websites are a critical tool for businesses and can directly impact your relationship with existing customer and potential customers. It is better to do it the right way one time then poorly several times.
You may want to start with some usability exercises at first to define who your users are and what they will be looking for. For example, if you determine that main demographic of users will be male and female (higher percentage of female) between the ages of 30 to 50 with low to moderate technology experience. Now you'll need to decide what percentage of those people will be new potential customers and what are returning/existing customers. This will drive parts of the web page design based on their purpose for using the site: Are they looking to hire you or get something from the website that you and the client are actively collaborating on? In turn, this drives some difference responses from the user such as: "I found what I'm looking for to feel comfortable hiring them or at least continuing to find out more by speaking with someone (Here is your opportunity for a sales pitch)", "I can always find the resources I need", "I can't find want I need, I'm moving on to search google again." The easiest way is to draw actor flows which represent different use cases. Give them fun stories with a background and objective (this helps those who aren't tech savvy relate more easily to the development process and participate more -- feedback is a critical piece ).
Some Actor Flows with User Stories might look like this:
- Richard is a Director of the english department a Will Rogers High School. He likes to fish on the weekends and coaches the Track Team. The school district wants to improve SAT scores and is relying on Roger to help his teachers and students meet that objective through XYZ. He is looking to a company to help him with just the strategy.
- Carol is a professor at Roger Williams University. She hates camping but really enjoys university sponsored trips because of the free bag lunch policy. A new standard requires the Physics department meet a safety specification in their Nuclear Laboratory. She has been tasked along with a committee of 5 other people whom she dislikes to implement these changes successfully. She shopping for a company to help with this effort initially but is really looking to outsource the task entirely.
- Marlow can only think of his retirement next year in 2015. As president of R.W. Hall Prep, he merely wants things to stay consistent, but he is required by the board of directors to ensure a 5% increase in grades and 10% increase in athletics for the upcoming year. He thinks a few minor tweaks may help. He is an existing customer and merely wants to present his metrics to the board in a different way.
- Pat likes long walks on the beach but despises joy in any form when it is raining. The teachers union must come to an agreement regarding testing standards and peer review. She has an idea to improve both although needs some solid statistics to build a foundation before proposing her idea. She shares this idea with the principle of the school which she is having an affair with. She wants to hire the an outside company to help her if the principle can find some funding for the cause.
Some example type of questions you want to ask and answer in these actor flows are: Why did this person come to the site? What are they looking for? How did they get here? Then draw your actor flow.
With these tools you'll be more prepared to approach a developer and get a accurate price of how much it will cost to develope a website for you.