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Beginning a Website Project 101

I recently had the pleasure of joining my church’s technology committee as the group began the process of securing a total website redesign. The ball had already started rolling before I was asked to join the conversation, so of course, I did a lot of listening at first. However, when it became apparent that we’d unintentionally “put the cart before the horse” so to speak, we regrouped and headed back into the “discovery” phase. By carefully identifying our needs, wants, wishes and hopes for the project, the entire group was able to arrive at a decision we’re all comfortable with and proud of. I’d like to share more about what I learned through this process in a step-by-step guide to starting a web design project. My hope is that I can help others save time and navigate what could otherwise be foreign territory.

Step 1: Brainstorm.

If you’re a small business owner, ask a friend or employee to sit down with you and have a conversation. Larger organizations may have a creative team who can help. Throw out your pie in the sky ideas, talk about websites you find engaging, discuss why a new site will benefit your organization… Don’t worry about whether or not something is possible or how much it will cost. Talk about what you want your website to do.

Step 2: Identify what you need.

Once you’ve identified your wish list, think a bit more about what types of functionality your website will need. Are you hoping to sell products online? Do you run a membership organization? Will you need to upload videos or other media regularly? These are all very important pieces of information that should be communicated to the company who will be designing your website. Depending on your organization’s needs, features you might request include:

  • Blog
  • E-commerce functionality
  • Online donation functionality
  • Login/membership functionality
  • Responsive design
  • Events/calendar module

Step 3: Do some research and share your list.

Did a friend’s business just launch a new or rebranded site? Did you find an impressive portfolio through a Google search? Did you just land on Full Media’s blog about building a website? These are all excellent ways to find reputable web design companies! Collect contact information for these businesses (Find Full Media’s here!) so you can send your wish list their way. Be sure to identify a deadline (two weeks should be more than enough time) for folks to return proposals. If a company misses the deadline at this stage, it could be an indicator of their commitment to time schedules down the road.

In this step, you may also want to ask companies to answer questions such as:

  • Is CMS training included in the buildout cost?
  • Can you provide a projected timeline?
  • What CMS do you use?
  • Will I incur annual or monthly fees for:
    • Hosting
    • Plugins for open-source content management systems
    • Maintenance/customer support
    • Any other recurring cost

Step 4: Schedule meetings with your top companies.

Try to meet with the teams you are considering (either in person or over the phone).  By meeting with companies, you can better determine thier expertise, professionalism and customer service. When talking with them, consider the following:

  • Do they listen and do they seem interested in serving you? Unfortunately some creative and technical companies have gotten the reputation for being arrogant; at the end of the day, you want a partner that values their relationship with you.
  • Do they have a "teacher's mindset?" Some creative and technical companies want you to believe that what they do is beyond your ability to understand. But while website development projects do include a certain amount of technical know how, a good partner company that values you will want to be as transparent as possible and will try to help you understand as much about the process as you are interested in learning.
  • Does the company have the resources to complete your project? The web development industry is dominated by freelancers, and while there are good freelancers out there you need to ensure that the partner you choose has the full breadth of skills to complete the work, and you should be hesitant of being tied to one person who may take another job next month and disappear mid project.
  • Is the company focused on serving organizations of your size? Some traditional agencies will make a good sales pitch to win your business.  But once you begin working with them, you realize that you are a small fish to them and cannot seem to get their attention.  If you are a smaller organization, it is OK to work with a company that works with some bigger clients too. But you should be sure that the potential partner is committed to small companies like yours and that they have a proven process to deliver on those projects.
  • Be wary of any company that promises you miracles. The Internet is a powerful tool, but it is only a tool. At the end of the day, success through the Internet is just like success anywhere else.  You need to find a partner that is knowledgeable, that is committed to treating people well and that is focused on working hard for you and your organization

At Full Media, it’s our goal to ensure customers feel comfortable and well-informed as they enter the web development process. Our Full Process is one example of just how smooth the website design process can be.

By following these steps throughout each and every web design project, we are able to ensure professional work, excellent customer service and an engaging website that your clients and customers — not to mention you — are sure to love.