Growing your website
Improve your site with help from a professional
As a small business owner with your own website, the time will probably come when you'll need to commission a website from an agency rather than relying on your own skills or favours from others.
Perhaps your site isn't getting the results you want, or you need to update your content more frequently. Perhaps you need a site that is more search engine friendly or need more flexibility. Whatever your reasons, if you want to move your website on, it's worth spending time on planning, briefing and preparing.
Unfortunately, it isn't a case of simply phoning up a website designer and telling them what you want over the phone. Commissioning a website can involve significant work on your behalf, so set aside enough time to seriously consider what you need, and why.
Before you do anything else, you need to plan your website. Consider the objectives and scope of the project carefully. The more time you spend planning, the better your brief will be. The better your brief, the smoother the subsequent development process will be.
Be clear about your reasons for commissioning a new website before speaking to the developer. Do your homework. Find out what your customers want from your site. (You can send an email survey to your mailing list or post a poll on your site, to see what your visitors like and dislike about your current site.) What are your competitors doing (and not doing) online? How can you better that? And remember, you're the expert in your field, so don't expect the developer to come up with all the ideas.
To start with, ask yourself the following:
You need to put all your answers to these questions into your website brief - the document you supply to potential developers.
Your initial brief to web designers is crucial and can save much wasted time in finding the right designer for your exact needs.
�Next time I will provide a more detailed brief�
Erica Smeed runs Bj�rn & Me, specialists in high quality maternity and children's wear. After emailing her website requirements to a few people she was inundated with emails and phone calls, mostly from developers who didn't have the ability to design the kind of site she needed.
"I wasted a great deal of time answering questions - next time I will provide a more detailed brief and only deal with people who can match my requirements".
Ultimately, the more the developer knows, the less chance there will be of problems arising.
Your website brief should include:
Finding a developer
The best way to find a suitable company is by asking for word of mouth recommendations from other people and finding out who built successful websites that you like. Review developers' profiles and seek references from people they've designed sites for. Remember, a web developer might design impressive websites but they might not be search engine friendly or they might not be good at maintenance. So make sure you ask the right questions:
�Look for someone who is enthusiastic about the project�
"The final choice is likely to be down to your personal preference for the way that each designer approaches your project. Ideally look for someone who is enthusiastic about the project and who you feel understands what you are trying to do," says Gill Hunt of consultant connection company Skillfair.
"Having made a choice doesn't mean your work is over though," adds Gill. "The designer will need your help in giving feedback on design options, checking the overall look and feel of the site and in providing text or copy. If you find writing a chore or are just too busy then you should either ask the web designer to help (which will cost you extra) or find a specialist copywriter who can do the job. Of course that means going through the whole briefing and selection cycle all over again! But then if you're having a new website commissioned, you need to be in it for the long haul."