Working with an agency can feel a bit overwhelming, perhaps more that you initially thought. For those not really into the technical side of web sites, discussions can quickly become filled with jargon and concepts that are difficult to translate. In listening to clients, I have found a short, albeit core, list of recurring pain points. Here are those points and how our team solves these problems.
How much is it going to cost? Everyone wants to know this and for good reason. There is a lot of debate among the web community as to what is the best practice for charging on projects. Generally you see either an hourly cost model (you are charged by the hours of labor it takes to develop your product), or a fixed price model (you are charged by the type of product you receive). Both have merits and drawbacks from a customer perspective. It’s important to note that many projects may be difficult to estimate, depending on complexity and what systems may be involved. That said, whomever you work with should still be able to give a good idea how much a project is going to cost, along with a procedure if it begins to go over budget. The less experienced agencies or freelancers may have no idea how to answer your questions. The less answers you receive, the more red flags you should have in your mind.
Be clear about the cost before you begin a project. If there is something you don’t understand about the project, ask questions. Here are a few great questions to ask to get you started:
- How do you charge?
- How will you notify me when I am running out of hours on a project (for hourly pricing)?
- What degree of customization am I getting for this product (for fixed pricing)?
- What happens if you run out of hours (for hourly pricing)?
Communicating Requirements Up Front
When starting a project, it can be a bit daunting to try and summarize everything you want your new website to do. Will your new site need a store added? Do you want visitors to register in order to buy anything? Do you want the capability to have users sign up for a newsletter/coupons/etc? Do you plan on holding any sort of voting challenges as a means of engaging your users? For some sites, each section may have layers of functionality that will require a host of solutions to integrate with each other.
There should be a good amount of time spent up front on research and strategy for a project, and this means a lot of questions. It’s not that you need every detail of the project filled out, but you do need to have your goals. A firm project goal increases the likelihood that project components will meet their mark. Establishing an accurate goal for the site requires the client to know their users and (at least to a degree) know their marketing strategy. It’s also helpful to recognize what portions of your existing site just need to be ‘updated’ vs. ‘created’ (see ‘Updated vs. Creation’ below). Here at LevelTen we work with our clients to identify their target users and current users (for existing sites) and create personas. We perform audits on your current website to determine what assets are working for you. We do a complete competitive features analysis that allows you to see how you match up with your competition (and how to improve). And if you are needing help with developing a marketing strategy, we can help with that too.
Changing Priorities for a Project
No matter how prepared a client may be, there is a 99.99% chance that something is going to change in the project’s scope before it’s all over. Changes to a business model, marketplace factors, or marketing strategy can have significant effects on a website project.
This section could have fit under communication but it’s so important I felt it needed to be pointed out on its own. The key here is of course communication. If a model of communication is set at the beginning, it ensures a way for making allowances like these. Without a pre-determined plan for communication, items can be forgotten or changed at the last minute. This may delay the overall completion and launch of the website.
Feeling Out of the Loop
Once a project gets underway, the next thing that could happen is the client suddenly feels left in the dark. How is progress going? Have there been any challenges in meeting the project requirements? When can I see something? When can I start adding my own content? Keeping a client out of the loop on a project undermines their confidence toward the project’s progress and possibly even towards the company they have hired.
Keep the communication coming. If there is a question, ask it (whether you are the client or the developer). To enable communication at LevelTen we have two items that really help with our client communication. First, we use a system called Basecamp (https://basecamp.com) where clients have access via the internet to all progress on the project (status updates, training aides, visual comparisons, etc.). Clients also have the ability to post a message that will be sent to everyone within the agency who is working on that particular project. This gives the client a clear place to voice concerns, questions, etc. and each item can be set to notify the entire team so it cuts down on e-mails. Second, we use Agile project management where work in short periods of time called ‘sprints’ (which last roughly 2 weeks). Based on feedback from the client, we determine our priorities for each sprint. When the sprint is over, we review again with the client and show them what was accomplished. The goal is by the end of the sprint, we have something physical we can demo to the client. This allows timely feedback from the client (essential to developers) and a sense of inclusion and transparency to the client (also essential).
Every project has a deadline and just about every client is concerned about not meeting that deadline. Working with agencies can be a frustrating experience if you are not seeing progress as time goes on. Things can happen all the time that can throw a launch deadline off (on the client side and the agency side). It’s important to have a system in place that insures regular communication.
Keep showing progress and feedback throughout the process, especially the closer you get to the deadline. At LevelTen, our use of sprints helps us to closely monitor the progress of a project. We also have an established workflow for creating elements on a site (which is necessary when you work on any team). If you are looking to work with a web agency, it will be key to your project to establish the process for approving items and questions that your web agency may have for you. It’s also a good idea to establish the turn around time for your company to approve items sent by the web agency. Good communication will significantly affect a project's overall deadline.
Keeping What You like
You want a new website, but you really like your old website (or maybe you like portions of it). You want to have a new ‘feel’ to your site, but there are a lot of elements of your site that you really don’t want to change.
Labels help. Think of the website process like you are having a garage sale where someone else is coming in to clean everything out. Go to each page/section of your site and determine what is working and what is not. Determine what items you want to keep and what items you want to ‘toss’. We will also help with this process by performing a content audit. Evaluating each item on a ‘keep/toss’ basis can open up new insights for you and make you all the more educated to discuss the needs of your project. This can be very helpful with the efficiency of the project because you are letting the web team know up front the items they don’t need to spend time reinventing. It can also be helpful in narrowing specifically what items of your current site really aren’t working for you.
Working with a web design firm can have its challenges, but the more researched you are on what to expect, the better chance you have for a valuable experience for everyone involved.
Let us know how we can help! Contact us for a website audit today!
Photo credit to jayneandd.