The site ends up costing two or three times more than expected, causing all-important post-launch marketing activities to be cut back or eliminated.
The site ends up having half or a quarter of the desired functionality due to planning and pricing oversight.
The site ends up with a series of compromises in design, content and functionality, making a mediocre impression on customers and prospects.
The underlying problem, as these three scenarios suggest, is under planning and under budgeting — or not planning or budgeting at all. What’s the best way to set a budget and lay the groundwork for a site that meets your expectations?
Step 1: Create Site Specifications
Setting a realistic budget starts with having an idea of what you want the site to do. Important things to consider include:
Design. How much customization do you want? Will a standard WordPress theme suit your needs? Do you need a custom design from the ground up? Something in between? Do you have imagery for your new site, or will photos need to be taken? If so, how many photos (or other imagery such as charts and diagrams) will be needed?
Content. How much unique content will your site need? 10 pages? 100 pages? Will it be easy or hard to write? Do you have the content ready or ability to write it, or will you need to outsource copywriting? If outsourced, will the writer need to do extensive research to write the copy properly?
Functionality. Do you need more than a basic contact form? Do you want to offer downloadable PDFs or other information? Do you want leads from various forms to be tracked? Will you need e-commerce, and if so, what type of payment options? Are there any other functional requirements, such as integration with internal systems or third-party e-commerce sites? Do you want to optimize your site for search engines (SEO)? Do you want a customer portal?
Step 2: Seek Proposals
Once you have a rough list of desired site specifications, you’re in a position to solicit proposals. A web development agency (or freelancer) will need these inputs from you to provide a reasonable estimate. The proposal might match up precisely to your specs, but more likely, it will have modifications based on practical considerations or the agency’s capabilities. This is OK; often, a developer has ideas that reduce cost and yet meet your needs.
Considering three proposals on the initial go-around is best, because you’re apt to see a fairly wide range of prices and approaches.
Step 3: Align Expectations and Costs
A likely outcome will be the realization that your desired site costs much more than you expected, but this is OK, because you’re now in a position to have a meaningful review of development options, their real value, and their real cost. The biggest disconnects that are revealed by following this three-step approach include:
Design disconnects. Creating images is expensive and time-consuming. Often, people don’t care about images in the early stages of a project, but later on, when they see boring, text-heavy pages on the test site, they desperately want a lot of customized imagery. Another option would be utilizing stock imagery, the usual Plan B, however this can result in a generic-looking, unimpressive site if popular stock images are used.
Content disconnects. Content is far more expensive and time-consuming to create than most people realize. People often assume they can have an employee or have themselves whip up content at the last minute, and learn too late that it’s a daunting task.
Functionality disconnects. People typically have no idea what pieces of site functionality — some of which were detailed above — actually cost. They become frustrated in mid-project when they ask the designer to “throw in” a little e-commerce and discover it costs $5,000 to do so.
By using initial proposals to set a budget for your site project, you prevent unpleasant surprises down the line. In addition, you’re more likely to find the right developer for your project and create a site that is truly right for your business in terms of overall performance and cost.
Following this plan takes serious upfront strategic thinking and grunt work, but the payoff is big because you’ll have a website that you love that didn’t break the bank.