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Where Do I Start? I Need a Website.

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You could just trust us to walk you through the process. Or trust some other design firm. More likely you will talk to several firms, get referrals from people you trust, compare different prices and features. You may decide to learn as much as you can on your own, doing whatever you can in-house, leaving the web design firm out until the final stage.

While we’d be perfectly happy with the first option, the recommendation we make to people we like is that you do some research on your own first. Go to our resources page and you will find links to some general information websites. Ask around. Try your local bookstore. If you know your way around discussion boards, you can ask the question there.

Hopefully you will come up with the right questions. Questions to ask yourself, and questions to ask a potential web design firm.

Examples of questions to ask yourself include:

  • What purpose or purposes will my website serve? Is it a marketing tool? Information resource? Does it serve my clients, potential customers, employees, or others? Do I want it to impress people visually or just be in the background while they get information?
  • Who will have a say in the final look and operation of the website? How will those decisions be made? At what stage of development will these decision makers become involved?
  • Who is paying for it, and what is the budget? Will it come out of advertising or marketing?
  • Who will be providing the content and how often will it be updated? Is there a news section? Events? Is the information permanent or does it date quickly?
  • How much expertise do we have in-house? Do we have people who cane work with html, or should we have some other means for making changes?

Your research will probably reveal many other questions and checklists you can use to prepare yourself. The more you have prepared in advance, the easier the process will be when you start identifying a firm to do the job. Here are examples of questions you might want to ask when you are looking for a web design firm:

  • How long have you been in the web design business? How many clients have turned to you for all their web design needs?
  • How much control will we have over the development process? How will we be able to monitor the progress of the website? Who will be our contact person?
  • Who has control over the finished project? Is the coding proprietary, or could we have another designer make changes?
  • What is the follow-up support? Do you have a maintenance package? Is there content management available?
  • Is the price quoted fixed, or is it dependent on any factors? How well is the scope of the project defined?
  • Which of the following are included/not included: hosting, domain registration, maintenance, database development, forms, static samples, dynamic samples, e-mail addresses, search engine optimization?

There are many other questions that could be asked. Some are other ways to ask these same questions. Once you have a list that you feel cover the subject, then pick a few firms to approach. You can generate a list using referrals, internet searches, or simply by looking to see who designed sites you particularly like. If the list is large you can reduce it quickly by looking at the portfolio almost every design firm has on its website. Choose two or three firms that seem to have the design capabilities and price range that best match your goals.

We recommend keeping the number of firms you actually interview down to two or three because it takes a lot of time on their part and your part to explore your needs. If you aren’t happy, of course keep looking. But nobody wants to spend several hours dealing with a potential client if they are only one of ten companies being interviewed.

Once you have selected a web design firm, hopefully Stratecomm, then things really start happening. You’ll work with the firm to come up with a proposal. You may provide them with a detailed Request For Proposal, or perhaps they have discerned your needs through a process of interviews and follow-up questions. They should provide you with a proposal that includes an estimate, a detailed scope of work telling you what is included in the estimate, a timeline, and some description of the process.

This proposal is usually the basis for a contract. There firm will provide you with a contact person, usually the project manager. This person will oversee the process. They will gather more information about your design preferences, and finally present you with at least one, possibly more sample designs. Further refinement of the design will occur, until you have approved a final version.

The final version will be the basis for site build-out. The rest of the interior pages will be created, and approved content will be loaded in. Any functional elements will be tested. Once everything has been finalized and approved, the site will be moved onto the public servers, and the domain name will be linked up. The site is now public. However, the job is not yet done.

Now begins the process of maintaining and updating the website. You may want new elements, and your specific goals may have changed. Other people in your organization will suddenly want to be more involved once they see it live, and clients may suggest new ways the site can work for you.

Another process that begins once the site is live is search engine optimization and marketing. If you really want your site to be noticed, you’ll want to rank highly in search engines, directories, as well as having links on related websites.