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Setting up or improving on an existing online presence for a small business or startup can be a daunting experience. This is especially true if you don’t have a trusted in-house team to rely on to build a great web or mobile site.
There is a minefield of designers and developers out there who can take you for a ride and exploit your inexperience for their own gain if you’re not careful. Here are some tips for negotiating the minefield without wasting time and money, and coming out at the other end with an effective base for your online marketing strategy.
1. Do your homework
No matter what your line of business, it’s worth taking the time to research the options available to you. Get your head around the basics of online marketing best practice, what a good website should look like and do for you, and what technology and software is out there. The more you know, the easier it is to define what exactly you need.
2. Be as specific as possible
Before you start ringing around for quotes, decide exactly what you want, down to as much detail as possible at this stage – it helps to gather some examples of other websites you like. How many pages will the website have? What do you want the design to look like? Do you need them to handle the domain name purchase and hosting as well? Do you need to update the website frequently? Will you sell your products directly off the site? A good designer/developer will demand all this information and more from you before supplying a quote, so have it at the ready, and it will save you a lot of time and money
3. Shop around
Take the time to gather a wide range of quotes. Watch out for very cheap freelance developers who produce poor quality and don’t offer much by way of support. Also watch out for developers who string you along for months ‘tweaking’ errors, or charge a fortune to build a bespoke content management system that they insist on fully controlling, when you don’t need one. As a rule, it’s probably better to go with a more expensive developer or web design company who won’t mess you around. Also consider using open source content management systems; that way you escape paying for bespoke back-end development, and only pay for installation and template design.
4. Review portfolios
Once you’ve narrowed down a list of potentials, make sure you have reviewed the developers’ portfolios of work. Demand demonstrations of back-end functionality to make sure you are happy with the quality and that it’s user friendly. Don’t be afraid to ring around for recommendations.
5. Clearly define project milestones and costs
This is related to the second point, make sure that you get a detailed cost breakdown and accurate projected time schedule for the development project, from start to finish. Confirm ahead of time what payments are due when, and what the extra charges might be if you change your mind later on and want to add other features to the site, not part of the original spec.
6. Don’t forget about support
Make sure you find out in advance whether the developers offer support once the project is complete and what the related costs are, and if they provide basic training on how to use the CMS and make updates yourself if relevant. Make sure you know where you stand and who to contact if there’s a problem, you may be able to negotiate discounted support with your chosen developers.
7. Think about promotional strategy
It’s all very well having a lovely looking site live on the web, but unless your existing and potential clients know it’s out there it won’t do you much good. The first step is making sure the site is fully optimised for search engines. Make sure the developers handle this correctly, and be aware that some may charge extra to do this for you.
8. Establish ownership
Make sure you are clear from the start on who owns the intellectual property, and what can or can’t be altered. Be clear on what you are planning to use the web or mobile site for, who owns the domain name and how much control you have over the design and back-end.
9. Document everything
The scope of the project, time schedules and agreed upon price should be formally documented at the start of the project. Make sure you clearly communicate any changes to the developer and get confirmation from them – in writing – and that they understand and agree to these changes. Similarly, keep a record of any agreement changes requested by the developers and whether you accept or reject those modifications. Save copies of any email exchanges that you have.
10. Anticipate problems and delays
Lastly, be aware that no development project is free of “bugs” which can surface at any time, and often tweaks and adjustments need to be made to get the website functioning correctly. Make room for these tweaks in your budget so that you aren’t surprised with a nasty bill for extras.