So, your business needs a website. Now what? Websites can range from overly simple to technically complicated. Few businesses possess the skills to design and develop their own website. Therefore, as with any other important business step, you need to contract a professional or team of professionals. But where do you start? What kind of site do you need? And, what kind of website professional should you hire? How much information must you provide? Knowing some basic terms and steps will help you begin the process.

Know Some Important Terminology

Before entering into the search for a website developer, it’s important to know some correct terminology. There are fundamental differences between a developer, a designer, and an implementer. Each of these professionals play an important role in creating websites. Some businesses or individuals provide a combination of these roles as part of their basic service. However, knowing the difference can help when it’s time to decide exactly what you need.

  • A web designer does precisely what the name implies. They create the look and feel of your website. This involves choosing colors, creating logos if needed, picking layouts for page designs, and creating mockups. These and other tasks include organizing the site’s content, calls to action, and creating layouts that help the site achieve your goals.
  • A web developer takes the designer’s work and builds a functioning website. This may involve building a custom theme from the designer’s mockups, as well as adding components to provide functionality and security. A good developer is also a good troubleshooter who can discover potential problems in the development stage and forge a solution.
  • A web implementer is somewhat of a hybrid designer and developer. This person can help with choosing themes, installing plugins, and providing instructions regarding site use and updating once the site is completed. This may be a cheaper route, depending on your needs; but, there are design concepts and technical skills an implementer cannot provide.

All too often, consumers believe they need a web designer when they really only need an implementer, or they may actually need a web developer. In many cases, they need the services of all these professionals to complete their website project. Before you begin the hiring process, you must decide what skills and services are needed for your unique project.

Know What You Want

Knowing what you desire your site to achieve is crucial to the design process. You will save countless hours of time and many headaches if you have a clear idea of what your site must do before entering into the design and development process. The most important work of a website comes in the planning stages. Follow these steps to determine the basic needs of your business website.
Define your customer’s needs – You need to have a clear idea of why people will visit your website. When you know why people visit your site, then you can craft the site so it will speak to them concerning their needs. For what are your customers searching? How do you meet their need? This provides foundational purpose for your site design and functionality.
Design a basic website architecture – Sketch a basic outline of your proposed website, including all desired pages and where they are linked in the overall site. Each page should have a purpose and a hierarchical order. A good architecture is the basis for good search optimization, and it helps visitors navigate smoothly through the site. Having a written plan allows the developer and designer to grasp a better understanding of your needs.
Develop content and conversion elements – Content is what drives people to follow through with action. Providing as much information as possible concerning your business services and/or products will enable the designer or developer to produce engaging content. In addition, you must have a very clear idea of what people should do on your site. This includes the home page and as many pages as possible. How will you present the call to action on each page? Having a clear idea for each page will help the site designer and/or developer to emphasize the goals of each page on your site.
Determine a basic level of functionality – What do you wish your site to do? What, if any, interactive elements should be included to engage consumers? Are you offering services or products? Can appointments be set through the site? Is other information to be gleaned through the site? Are you conducting financial transactions? What level of security is needed? All these questions must be answered in order for the designer and developer to construct an adequate site for your business needs.

Know What to Ask

Knowing the best questions to ask before entering into a design contract is crucial. While many more questions will arise during the design and development process, asking these basic questions beforehand will allow you to choose the best team to meet your needs.

  1. How long have you been in this business? Nothing beats experience, especially when a development team has invested years to specialize in a particular platform. Some other questions to ask would be why they chose this business, why they chose to specialize in a certain platform (if they have), and if they handle all their work in-house. A seamlessly working team is vital to producing a successful site.
  2. How do you determine pricing? Are projects billed hourly, or priced at a flat fee? How frequently do projects go over the budget set in the contract? Is payment required at certain milestones or all at completion? Is there a clear procedure in the contract for billing extra features or work outside the initial scope of the project?
  3. What kind of warranty is included? Is a warranty on design and development offered? How long is this warranty and what does it cover? What does it not cover? Does it include upgrades, regular maintenance, and hosting? Are there additional fees for these services? Is an extended warranty or service plan available for additional cost?
  4. What is your estimated timeline to build my site? This question is directly related to question one. A seamlessly working team with experience working together will have worked out many bugs over the years and can regularly complete projects on time. Also, providing quality information to the team at the beginning contributes mightily to a seamless project. Ask about previous projects that went beyond the projected deadline. What caused the delay?
  5. Can you walk me through your development process? Process is an important sign of professionalism. Thorough processes and systems are a sign of quality, consistency, and reliability. A team with a proven process for design and development success is worth the cost.
  6. Will I have access to all my design source files? Don’t be held hostage by a designer or developer if the relationship goes south and you need to break things off. The site is yours, and so should be all design and source files. Determine this requirement up front before entering into any contract. If there is any question regarding ownership of these files, cross this design candidate off your list and move on.
  7. What kind of content management system do you use? There are many content management systems available, but they are basically either proprietary or open source. Proprietary software is owned by the developer and costs a fee for usage. These can often be complicated to use and even more so when problems arise. Open source systems are created and maintained by the developer community and are free to use, although some costs are necessary for implementation. These are often easier to use and more common as well as much less expensive. Look for the most affordable, commonly used technology that provides the functionality you require.
  8. Will my site be mobile responsive? With a solid half of all websites being viewed on mobile devices, this is a point on which you must insist. In fact, if should be a basic part of programming and not an add-on function. Do not sacrifice this important feature. At least half of your possible audience requires it.
  9. Will my site be upgradable? If the design or platform being used is not conducive to any future upgrades you foresee, this means trouble and large costs in the future. While no one can see far enough into the future to anticipate every needed upgrade, some ideas of where your business is going can indicate some needed improvements in the future. Ensuring that any upgrades can be easily implemented into your existing site will save time, money, and headaches in the future.
  10. Can you provide references? Always ask for references. Especially look for dated references, businesses who have been operating their site for some time. Contact them and ask about service, functionality, and their overall development experience. Ask references for more references and check with each. A solid background of good service is a good sign you will also enjoy a great experience.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list of questions and concerns, following the basic blueprint above can help you enter into the design and development process with some level of what your business will require. Stay involved in the process and do not be afraid to ask questions or offer suggestions. A company website is an integral part of your overall business strategy and cannot be done haphazardly. By using this blueprint, you are well on your way to enjoying a viable and engaging website that will drive increasing levels of customers to your business.

About the Author: Donna Amos

I believe you can achieve anything you truly want to achieve. “It might sound trite, but time and time again, I’ve seen it happen with my clients. They overcome the fear of exposing themselves to the possibility of failure to creating profitable exciting businesses. My clients do great work, and sometimes it only takes someone else believing in them to give them the confidence to step out and take the chance.”