Tips for Commissioning a Website

Terence Gray

As a business owner, there are most likely two main reasons you will be looking to commission a website: Either you are starting a new venture in which case you need a website to promote your business online, or your existing site is looking dated and in need of a redesign to better reflect and represent your company.

If you fall into the latter category then, to some extent, you are fortunate as your existing website will provide some content to work with - and in today's world Content is King, particularly if you are hoping to improve your standing in Search engines. Even if the website's look and feel needs a complete overhaul then the process should be faster, meaning you will be be online with your new site faster.

So, how do you go about commissioning a new website from a web agency ?

First – Know Your Budget

If you are commissioning a website for the first time, or it has been some years since your last update this can be a tough subject. It is quite easy to get a rough estimate of costs by performing a search on the internet, as a number of web design firms are happy to provide guide prices on their website. Remember though, the prices quoted for 'fixed cost' websites are usually for standard templated designs and if you are looking to utilise your website as one of your primary marketing tools then you should allow for more in your budget as you will invariably want either more functionality or greater customisation in the design of your final site.

Plan Ahead

Consider the long term needs of your business.  The last thing you want to have to do is have your website rebuilt in a couple of years because your business has grown or changed its focus. 

Consider what features and functionality you want from it. For example, will you be adding blog content regularly, do you want your customers to be able to interact with your site, if involved in eCommerce do you plan on integrating it with other multi-channel sales platforms such as eBay ? Your chosen web infrastructure, whether pre-build or commissioned, should be capable of handling your planned requirements over the coming two/three years at the minimum.

Choosing a Web Designer

Once you have set your budget you can start to wittle down the list of potential web design firms with the aim of finding the right web designer for your project.

Unless you are a international business, or have a high profile brand with specific marketing needs,  most likely a local web design agency will be able to meet your needs. There are a number of firms in and around Norfolk with experience of servicing both large and small brands, from micro enterprises to national brands.

Although I find that it is entirely possible to communicate with clients via telephone / email (and occasionally skype), dealing with a local web design agency will makes communication easier when you want to meet them face to face.

Having found candidate web design agencies, using either search engines or local business directories, the next thing to do will be to check their design portfolio. Ask yourself:

  • Do you like the designs they have created for other companies ?
  • Does the tone of their own company website resonate with you ?

These are signs that sugges be able to form a good working relationship. 

Having selected a shortlist of 3 – 5 firms pick up the ‘phone and speak with your web design firms.

Briefly outline your requirements for the website. Knowing your budget you can get straight to the point and ascertain whether the firm is likely to be able to fulfill your web design requirements within budget. Don’t try to nail the cost at this point as you do not have a web design brief in place, just ascertain if what you require is feasable within budget.

Write Up Your Web Design Brief

The purpose of a web design brief is to enable you to detail what you require from your web designer and how you expect the finished site to look. It should include any preference on the look-and-feel of the site, any branding guidelines and any specific ‘technology requirements’. The technology requirements may cover things such as how the website is handled on certain devices such as mobile and tablets (an absolute necessity in today’s multi-device world), as well as detailing the features you expect the finished site to include, from online shopping carts to content management systems. 

If the technology requirements are particularly complex or the planned website is particularly large consider separating the design aspects or 'Look-and-Feel' from the ‘Control‘ or functionality elements and write-up separate requirements for each.

If the idea of writing a Web Design Brief seems daunting, then speak with your candidate agencies. Your web designer will be happy to sit down and help you turn your ideas into reality, and provide input on the web design brief. Remember though that you should be in charge of the process as the brief is a key document for communicating your requirements to the web designer.

Contract a Designer

You may have already chosen your preferred web designer following your initial discussions with candidate firms, but if not now is the time to determine which agency or freelance designer to contract.

Provide them with a copy of your design brief. Both parties should now be in a position to agree on what you want the website to accomplish (your business objectives for the site), timetable for completion and cost. It’s now time to sign the contract engaging your chosen designer so they can start work on designing and building your new site. 

Bear in mind that you will be asked to put down a deposit before any work begins.  This may be 50% up-front but will vary depending on the level of work involved.

During the Design / Redesign

Once the contract is signed and work is under way you will need to provide any copy and corporate material (logo, brouchures, etc.) you want included. This can be one of the trickiest parts to create for some owners so allow yourself plenty of time to put this together.

During the website design and creation process, insist on seeing progress to ensure you are happy with both the work and speed of work.  Some agencies prefer to reveal the finished design once the project is completed but this seldom works well as it can lead to problems when your expectations do not match those of your web designer.  A collaborate approach  generally works much better so when selecting a firm, ensure that your preferred designers are happy to work this way.

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