All you wanted was a good website to promote your business or sell your wares, but months down the line you have a semi-functional site and the web developer isn’t returning your calls. Everyone is pulling in different directions, the customers are unhappy, and the budget is blown. It’s all too easy for your new business website to turn into a seemingly bottomless money pit. If you’re not careful you can find yourself in website development hell. Here’s how to avoid it.
Put someone in charge
If you don’t have a specific person in your business taking final responsibility for the website development then you are going to have problems from the get go. You need to have a leader empowered with the ability to take decisions. Design by committee is incredibly time-consuming, wasteful of resources, and it rarely gets the best possible results.
Plan and agree requirements
The time to get everyone involved and map out exactly what you need from the website on paper is before you talk to a web developer. Get the key players and senior staff to sign off on what they need or expect from the website. Give them a clear deadline and make sure they meet it. Design the finished site on paper with everyone’s requirements so they can review the functional flow. This will help to identify any shortfalls and get things nailed down. The more complete your design is, the better things will go with the web developer.
Use a popular platform
Don’t get talked into using some proprietary software that the web developer has been working on. A popular platform that’s easy to modify makes far more sense for most businesses. Choose something like Drupal or WordPress and you have a functional website up and running in hours. It will be much easier to make changes, find useful plug-ins, and tweak the content or design, both for you and your web developer.
Ask the web developer everything
You need to build a solid agreement at the start before the development really begins. Make sure that you understand exactly what is being offered. What the ongoing costs, if any, will be. How quickly you can can expect a response and what kinds of changes you can make yourself. How secure the solution being used is. What the backup and recovery procedure might be. For larger companies much of this will fall under the IT department’s remit so keep them involved. Don’t make any assumptions.
Do your due diligence
Pick a web developer with a track record that impresses you. Do not hire the secretary’s cousin or the CEO’s son because “they know how to build websites”. You should be able to point to past websites that the developer has created that you feel would work well for your business. You can ask for mock-ups during the early stage, but don’t expect a finished design.
Beware of feature creep
Once you’ve pulled the trigger on a sitemap and a design aesthetic you need to sit back and let the developer do what you hired them for. Understand that making changes or new feature requests is going to extend the scope of the project and that means more time and money. If they come to you with a question then answer it immediately to avoid delays in production. Try to remember why you hired them in the first place and trust their ability.
Content is king
You’ve hired a professional to develop your website for you, but the main strength of any website is the content. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can write it yourself. Even if you have basic copy, hire a professional writer to polish it up. Even better get a pro to interview you and other staff so the content strikes the right mark and your expertise and passion comes through. Without great, engaging content on it, even the best-looking website in the world is not going to gain traction.
Test your website
You should test your website fully before launch. A professional outsourced team will deliver the most valuable feedback. Make sure you listen to customer feedback as well, and plan changes accordingly. You might consider a beta test period with limited invites.
Websites are not static
You also need to refresh content and upload new content on a regular basis to maintain good performance. Make sure that you can do this without having to get the developer involved. Even with a flawless website development you expect the site to evolve and improve over time. You need someone internal to retain ownership of the website and ensure that it continues to improve. They’ll also need an ongoing budget for changes and upgrades.
Plan carefully, choose proven professionals, and apply a little common sense and you should be on the path to website heaven.