5 Things to consider before building your web site

Save yourself a load of stress, hassle and time, by getting the brief right first

As a business you’ve made the decision to launch a new website. Awesome, so what next? Fire out a tender document to 15 different agencies and see who comes back with the best price and prettiest pictures? That’s one way.

Don’t get us wrong, we’re happy to pitch as most agencies are. It’s a necessary evil in our business. It is however, often rather a long-winded and unfair process — especially if more than five agencies are involved. Just flip the tables for a second… You’re asking five businesses to spend signifiant time and resources — and therefore money — in order that they might secure your work. That’s four teams of people focused on your project, that will never receive any remuneration for their work.

If this is the case, then at the very least, let’s make sure you’re sending said agencies a solid, consistent and relevant brief for the work, to give them all a fighting chance of winning the business, and to save you wasting your time reviewing pitch documents/sitting through presentations that simply don’t meet your business requirements.

The dream brief for a web project is to receive a detailed scoping document, produced out of the back of a dedicated planning and scoping process (we do this). However, if time is tight and you need to crack on with conversations, at least make sure you ask yourself the following before you send out your brief:

1. Why do you want/need a new website? (Actually, two questions in one here, as do you want, or do you need a new website?)

What’s the fundamental reason for entering into this process? Is it because you simply don’t like your current site, or because it isn’t responsive and you’re aware that’s a pretty big issue that needs resolving? Or, perhaps your competitor’s website is outshining yours and you’d like to up your game with a revitalised online presence.

They’re all seemingly reasonable arguments for commissioning a new website, however, they’re not focused around a business requirement. As part of building a new website; you’ll get a new design, you’ll get a responsive website, you’ll have the opportunity to do better than your competition. These are sub-factors though — things achieved along the way to achieving the main business objective. Simply put, what does your business want to achieve, and how specifically could a new website help you to achieve that?

2. Who is going to manage the project internally, and which key stakeholders need to be involved at key decision points?

A new website is an exciting prospect for a business, and it’s easy for everyone to get involved and have their say. It’s easy, but not productive. Think ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’. As much as possible, you need to remove emotion from the process. You’re not building a website for you, you’re not even building it for your CEO. You’re building it for your consumers, and to support core business objectives. In short, it really doesn’t matter if you hate a certain shade of blue (for example).

Identify the best people within your organisation to manage the project, identify the hierarchy. Who is going to be the day-to-day contact between your business and the agency developing the site? Who else will need to be involved in sign-offs at key project stages? Often, a senior director/board level member of the business wants to have final sign off, and just as often, they’re not really involved until days before go-live/a number of weeks worth of design work has been conducted. This can result in a lot of wasted time, as the head honcho turns around and changes the direction of the project, meaning hours of design and dev time are thrown away and the deadline disappears far into the distance. Get these people involved early on. Regardless of their hectic diaries, fight for that half an hour to run through the creative brief and get them to agree to what you’re creating. That way, if it is questioned later you can refer back to this and loop the whole conversation back to the non-emotional, businesses objective-focused brief.

3. Which agency’s work do you like, and which agencies would you like to work with?

There’s nothing wrong with shopping around. Before you even send out your brief, have a look at different agencies and their recent work. Meet a few for coffee. It’s standard procedure and will save everyone time! Agencies would far rather meet a prospective client and ascertain if they’re a good fit prior to spending the time pitching, because if you’re not a good fit for each other, it’s a waste of time for both parties. Just be up front and honest, it makes everything much easier.

4. Where does your website sit within your business strategy over the next 12–24 months?

Once you’ve identified how the new website can potentially support a core business objective, you need to think further ahead into the future. The digital landscape is ever-changing, so you need to consider how the new website fits in with the longer-term business strategy. You don’t want to build a website now, only to realise in 12 months that it simply isn’t fit for purpose. This should also be a key driver in your choice of content management system; it must be scalable and fit with your future needs and aspirations.

5. What’s the deadline? No, really… what’s the realistic (business-requirement-based) deadline?

One of the best ways to add unnecessary pressure to your project is to set the deadline before you have fully planned and scoped out exactly what you’re building. How can you decide how long it is going to take to build something, when you don’t know what it is you’re building? There’ll be internal pressures, and likely key points in the year whereby it would be beneficial to launch your new site, so make this clear when you brief your agencies, but make sure that it isn’t a stipulation. Some agencies will promise to hit your deadline to win the work, but will have no plan as to how they’re going to achieve this (how could they if they’ve not spent any time planning or scoping the project yet?!). If the agencies pitching know these key dates, they may well propose a phased roll out, so that your business needs are met, without the overall web project being put at risk.

So in a nutshell, website design & build projects require all the same strategic care and attention as any other marketing project. More-so in fact, since unravelling a web dev project halfway through will be a lot more complicated (and expensive). Sounds obvious? I wish. We’ve scoped and built sites for the likes of Aviva, Bella Italia, Emmett London and Aunt Bessie’s and trust me when I tell you that there’s always room for more planning up-front.