So ... you need a website. That's a positive because it means whatever you're up to, you're growing to the point where you need substantial web presence! The negative here is that now you have to figure out how to build the said website.
My peers will absolutely hate me for saying this but if you have less than $2,000 to spend on your website, the best route to take is perhaps building your own. You can use great services like Squarespace or Wix, which I recommend over WordPress. Sure, the site won't be as awesome as if an agency built it, but if you don't have the dollars to spend you can just stick to a basic template and get something online until you grow to the point where you can afford the bells and whistles. There’s no shame in this approach. You’ll have a functioning and well-designed site that gives your potential customers/clients the necessary information they need to make a purchasing decision. You likely won’t have any real funnels or a solid sales infrastructure, but with call to actions (CTAs) on each page, you can at least capture some leads.
But, for the sake of this article, let's say you have $2,000 or more to spend on your site. You could Google, "Website Development Company", "Website Design Company", “Hire a Website Developer”, or similar terms. But before you do all of that you need to look at the project and the company, then answer these nine questions.
1) How Much Will My Website Cost?
Unfortunately, cost is the most important factor for almost every client we’ve talked to in the last ten years. I say unfortunately because there are so many other important things to consider. Also, as we all know price determined purchases are often “live to regret it” purchases. At Sync Digital Solutions, we’ve had several clients come to us to fix the website they had built, and it’s almost always because of a price determined purchase.
Now, this doesn't mean that you should throw cost out the window. However, don’t go into investigating website development from the standpoint of, “what’s the minimum I can spend on my website?” Go into the project thinking about the maximum spend you have available and stay firm on that number. Go into meetings with web development companies unwilling to budge. This is the same approach we take to renting an office or retail space, and your website is the digital version of your storefront.
Our recommendation is to field quotes from four agencies unless you get a really great feeling from one that you meet with. Price quotes that are considerably lower than the median should trigger a red flag, as it is likely the agency is desperate for business or don’t understand the scope of work. Quotes that are higher than the rest are likely associated more with brand recognition more than anything. It’s why a Chevy is a great vehicle but much cheaper than Audi. Don’t pay for extreme cachet.
2) What Determines Whether a Website is $3,000 or $30,000?
This is more a question for you internally and leads to many sub-questions that you can ask the web development company you might hire. Lower cost websites use templates in the overwhelming majority of cases. Higher-cost websites build out from scratch or at the very least start with a template and then there are custom code layers on top of it. Quite often the largest difference is whether there are proprietary elements that the web development company would need to develop specifically for your website. Here are the sub-questions:
Does what I want require a template or custom code?
What elements that I would like are proprietary if any?
By comparison, are we going to be importing in a lot of content or is this a fairly low amount?
How many developers, designers, and content personnel will be working on my website?
If you’re going to use widgets to achieve a certain feature of the site, which ones?
Don’t be too alarmed if the answers aren’t definitive, but let the web development company know you expect answers fairly soon. They might have to do some research before giving you an answer. Also, keep in mind that you’re often dealing with a salesperson during your first conversation, so they may not have the technical knowledge to answer these questions.
Of course, you don't want to bankrupt your company, but working with a quality digital marketing agency is like working with a quality contractor on your home. The work completed will leave you with a feeling of satisfaction.
3) What Does the Future Look Like?
This is a pretty critical question and often will give you some great insights into whether your web development company understands your needs.
Ask for options down the road when there is more budget for the website and the expandability of the website that is being designed currently. A huge mistake many companies make is not exploring this in initial talks. This is a trap, in that you’ll get a website built and then when you’re ready to expand you’ll have to get your website moved over and a lot of the work redone. Sometimes this can’t be helped, but in the majority of cases, the future should be a consideration.
4) What Are the Plans for Scope Creep?
I guess I should start by explaining ‘scope creep’. Every project has varying degrees of creeping. This is when surprises and extra work creep up due to unforeseen circumstances. Circumstances are always different in regards to the amount of creep. For example, we worked on a website that had heavy Facebook integration when the largest social media giant decided to alter their API (application program interface), which is essentially how the integration works. Another example is, once a store was developed the client wanted to add a feature that they felt was critical.
There are certain elements that should never be considered scope creep though. It is important to know where the line in the sand should be drawn:
Website platform: If a web developer tells you that they need to change platforms that simply means they didn’t vet the platform properly. If this happens it’s not the end of the world but you shouldn’t have to pay extra.
On-Site SEO: If the content hasn’t changed then the on-site SEO price shouldn’t change either.
Template vs Custom Code: “We didn’t realize the feature would require custom code,” is something that you shouldn’t have to pay extra for. This is very common and you should stand your ground.
5) What About Intellectual Property & Ownership?
This isn’t a very sexy topic and I suspect that is why it’s rarely covered. Essentially, it comes down to this: you should know what elements on your website you own.
While I am no legal expert I have worked on hundreds of website projects and understand the acceptable practices as a result of working with a legal team for years.
One factor to look at is licensing. As referenced in the sections above, if your project requires templates, plugins, or widgets, chances are you can't legally own that portion of your website, or your entire website. It would likely require using it on an open-source model, which typically is licensed under a GPL license. If you are using a content management system, such as WordPress or Joomla, you are not going to be able to own that code. You can use it, but you can't own it.
However, if you have a custom solution built for you, and it is licensed in a way that passes intellectual property ownership directly to you upon completion, then you will own the project once the intellectual property and copyright pass and your investment will be a direct investment right back into your company. These custom solutions typically have a little bit higher of a price tag, but the direct ownership is one of the greatest benefits to getting a custom solution built it just for you.
To sum it all up: Make sure that you and the agency are clear on who gets to own what after the project is completed.
It's worthwhile to note that some agencies will charge you extra if you decide to part ways and force you to "buy" the website from them. To be honest, I consider this a bullshit approach. At SyncDS, if we build it for you, it's yours.
6) What is the Website Development Company’s History?
The Internet is a fast-moving target and it requires skill to keep up with. A young website agency that can keep up with everything and perform at a high level is the exception, not the rule.
To clarify, when I say “young”, I'm saying 3 years or younger in existence. The reason that I chose 3 as the magical number is that it takes a few years of solid experience to learn how to interact with clients, how to handle complex projects, how to handle scope and scope creep, legal portions of website development, marketing trends and analysis, SEO, and more.
There are just so many things to learn that it really is the exception not the rule for an agency 3 years or younger to be exceptional at developing a high-end custom website.
So the agency should have a clear track record, history within the industry, and they should be able to point to projects they developed years ago. At SyncDS, we keep many of our clients secret as announcing them opens the flood gates to spam messages but in one-on-one meetings, we detail our history.
To sum up the experience factor, just ask the question because it's very important. An experienced web firm can give you that “Oooh. Aaah.” feeling in your stomach. And who doesn't like that feeling before you start a project?
7) Is the Web Development Agency Insured?
This is another area of website development projects that doesn't get discussed much. But it is very important, just ask anyone who has been burned by an agency before.
An agency that has insurance on the work offers you two things. The first one is obvious—their work is insured. It’s insured typically through Errors and Omissions insurance. The agency should have at least $500,000 dollars of coverage for errors and omission insurance. That way, if they really screw something up for you and you lose a lot of money because of it, they have the means to cover you legally because of their insurance.
The other thing insurance offers you is not directly said at all. Any agency that invests in insurance shows you subtly that they care about having things done properly and being a sound and legit firm. Nobody would or should drive their car without insurance, so why would a business owner run a business without some form of insurance on his or her work?
All that said, the bottom line is that this is a good question to ask and it also gives you peace of mind when you get the right answer.
8) Does the Company Have References and Case Studies?
Never discount the importance of this question. The information you receive can help you in so many ways while weeding out some of those smoke and mirrors agencies I mentioned earlier. Here’s how you would use the information provided:
You can get this information directly from the agency’s website. If the agency has satisfied customers they will usually have a customer reviews or testimonials section on their site. Look at the quality of the reference and also look at the relationship of the reference with the agency. You earn bonus points if you find references from clients who are in similar industries as yours. You earn even more bonus points if the reference is specific, well thought out, and most definitely not influenced by the agency and original.
Look for legitimate negative reviews. Now, you should not let one negative review for an agency that has had hundreds of clients swing you in one direction or another, but do look out for red flags. Consistent patterns in awful reviews is a bad thing.
In addition, do some research on the CEO of the company, too. Try to see if there have been any complaints about that person. If you see a common thread with negative reviews, such as missed deadlines, long time to respond, poor quality, or bugs in the project, they’re probably running a lousy company. A good place to see how they run business is Glassdoor and additionally, Google. Doing a bit of Googling could save you potential headaches in the future. It’s important to note though, that a CEO’s personal life and views should not factor into your decision unless they are extreme and in direct conflict with your code of ethics. Sure, the CEO may get rowdy on weekends, but does that affect the work you’re seeing?
All in all, make sure that you look at the obvious parts first. Look on the company's website for testimonials and projects that they have worked on. Also, do a little digging for yourself besides having the company spoon-feed you a few of their favourite clients. Lastly, check that there is nothing bad being said about that company. Hearing what other clients say about an agency is a great predictor of how your potential outcome maybe with that company.
9) Who is Going to be Working on the Project?
This is a question you specifically want to ask if the agency is inexperienced or has a smaller staff. When I say smaller staff I mean three people or less. Why should you know who will be working on your project? Let me explain:
When a project is being proposed, work has to be done on both ends. It’s crucial and vital to figure out exactly who is going to be working on the project and what their roles are. This will allow you to flush out smoke and mirrors companies. The reason I say this is that some agencies try to look large and powerful but really they subcontract out a lot of their work to third party vendors, sometimes overseas, and the quality is just not there. If that's the case the agency won't like to admit this and you might find out that agency is not an agency you want to work with.
Full disclosure, SyncDS does outsource some work, but always to vetted partners in North America or the UK. One of our partners is in Ukraine. However, we only tap into these resources if we’re looking to expedite a project or if the workload gets to a point where additional personnel can stimulate progress. We never work with firms from India or China.
You should want to know whom you're going to be interacting with and who is working on your site. It gives you peace of mind. You can do some investigating yourself on the staff members of this company. For example, if you find out the same person does design, development, and copywriting, then you have a problem. I would take a specialist in each field 10 times out of 10 versus having somebody who is decently good in every area. Plus, you want to work with an agency that is fully transparent—it makes you feel like you are part of their team.
Web development can be complicated, and you need a team behind your website; not just a team, but a reputable team. At SyncDS, we have content personnel, web developers, designers, social media experts, and management. We’re not the biggest agency on earth, but we have defined processes and a great history in web development, SEO, and social media management.
If you need help with your website, let’s talk.