You’ve decided to take the plunge. People have been telling you for ages that you needed a website for your business, and you have finally decided that it’s a worthwhile investment.
However, before plunging into the world of having an online presence, there are several things you need to consider, and have firmly in place before you can even really think about hiring someone to do the work.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but the answers to these questions are a good place to start.
1. What purpose do you want your website to serve?
It’s extremely important to understand the web site’s role in your organization. Think of it as an employee – what is its job description? How will you objectively measure whether or not it’s doing its job? What resources do you have available to help it do its job? Any question you would have regarding an employee and their role within your company or organization should be asked of your website.
A designer can make a cool site that does interesting and interactive stuff. However, you as the business owner dictate what the functions of the site should be. Letting your designer know what you need the site to DO is just as important as letting them know how you want it to look. Good design follows function, not the other way around.
2. Who will maintain the site?
Some sites are simply online brochures. These will not need to be maintained or updated that often. (Except for the purpose of providing fresh content – but that’s a discussion for a different day.)
However, sites built with active content, or on a CMS platform like WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal may require software updates, backups, and other maintenance.
If you or someone within your company are not comfortable with these aspects of the web site, then it’s important to determine how best to accomplish these tasks.
Updates to platforms such as WordPress are crucial for the continued functioning of your site. Security breaches are often found and patched in these updates, and new functions and features that can improve your site’s performance are sometimes introduced.
Designers will sometimes include maintenance in their fees, but unless they are also charging for hosting, it’s possible that they are not. Be certain you understand whose responsibility it truly is, before you have a site meltdown.
3. Who will be responsible for content?
Content is the entire purpose of any website. The nature of that content depends on the role you have assigned the site.
From the initial information entered into a redesign or new site to updated data (everything from changing information about employees to blogging), it is incumbent upon the site owner to determine who will be responsible for the content.
Some designers offer copywriting services, or partner with copywriters to offer content management. Others only edit existing copy. Some don’t touch it.
If you decide to keep copy writing in-house, make certain that the people doing it understand your business model and audience, and are able to represent your company articulately and accurately. The same applies to hiring someone to do your content writing and editing. They should be well-versed in your industry, with a schedule for providing content.
The people responsible for providing content should be comfortable using the platform on which your web site is based. They should also be included in planning meetings, if possible. This helps ensure that the design serves the content, and not vice-versa.
4. What will the web address be?
If you have already secured a web address, then you can skip this question. If you have not, make a list of addresses you think you might like to use. There are a variety of top-level domains from which one can choose: .com, .net, .org, .ngo, etc. Research and secure your own domain name early in the process. New businesses launch websites daily. Your preferred name may not stay available for long.
Most web hosting companies offer the service of registering your domain name when you get hosting. Some even do it for free (so long as they host your website). This can be a good option for a company that wants to simplify billing. However, it can also be difficult to move a website from such a situation if it becomes less than optimal. Some services of this sort require that hosting stay with them in order to continue domain name registration. Be aware of all the aspects of any such package deals, and make decisions that work for your business.
5. What is your budget?
No one likes to talk money. However, the reality is that you will likely be paying someone to do all of this stuff.
Be real about what your budget is, and what it can realistically buy you. Depending on your market, an experienced web developer/designer can easily charge thousands of dollars for a quality web design.
Understand that web site design is not like putting together a layout using a template in a word processing program. Developers often need to know at least 3 or 4 programming languages, even when using a content management system. You may even need more than one developer, depending on your needs. It is not unheard of for a simple site to take 30-40 hours to complete, and more complex ones can easily take weeks or months.
You also need to understand the difference between a developer and a designer. Some folks do some of both. However, it is possible that a designer will only be responsible for the actual user interface design, and that you will need a developer to finish the job.
Finally, be honest with yourself and with anyone you hire about the true scope of the project. And be open to adjusting said scope if your budget doesn’t support it.