Preparing For Your Website

If you’re like many people when you finally make the decision that you want a web site or that you want your existing web site redone … you want it now! So, grab a cup of coffee and let’s explore what’s involved to give you some idea of what your web site adventure will entail and learn how you can have the power to make it happen with the least amount of time, effort and cash layout.

This may be your first web site adventure. Those that haven’t “been there and done that” aren’t truly prepared for all that’s involved and may be surprised to learn that a good web site isn’t an overnight event. Whether you’ve been through the process before or not, there are things to be learned for all here.

Why Do *I* Need to Prepare?

You’re the designer, aren’t you the one that needs to get prepared? In a word — no! We’re already prepared, we do this work every day. Not to say something won’t come along that we need to research or learn more about. However, the client in many cases, is stepping into unknown territory. In order to do your shopping most people make a shopping list. The same principle applies to developing a web site. You need to know what products you’re going to pick off the shelf before you can check out.

Responsible designers as a whole want to do a good job for you. Isn’t that what you pay us to do? Most will go out of their way to accomplish this. The best way to get what you pay for is for you to be prepared.

What’s With All the Questions?

If you contact a web designer before being as prepared as you possibly can, you (and the designer!) may become frustrated with all the questions we have to ask. This generally results in a back and forth “20 Questions” (sometimes 40 or 50 questions!) discussion between you and the designer while the designer tries to determine exactly what it is that you’re after for a final outcome. Think of it this way … you’ve hired us, you’re paying us … we want to give you a web site that you like and that works for you and your business. We simply cannot do this with a simplistic “I want a web site with a shopping cart” description from you. We don’t know you, we don’t know your likes and dislikes, we don’t know your business. It’s our job to create a web site for you that you’ll be pleased with and that functions the way you need it to. We don’t have crystal balls, so we have to ask questions. If we didn’t ask all these questions, there’s a tremendous possibility that you’ll not be happy with the end result. If you’re prepared, this process can be shortened tremendously.

I’ve found that what goes into developing a successful web site is quite often much more than the client might ever imagine. Web sites do not grow on trees, nor are they properly put together in an overnight session at one of those “do-it-yourself” web site making place or by using an “out of the box” software program. Yes, you can get a web site that way, but it takes more work than you may realize to develop a good web site. This work is not just on the part of the designer either! That’s right — it also takes your participation and plenty of it! The better the participation on the part of the client, the faster and more efficiently your web site will become reality.

A designer puts in many hours in every phase of the development process. In some cases there are significant hours expended that you’ll never know about nor be billed for. I’ll briefly go over some of the steps it takes to bring a web site to life. This by no means is a complete description but more the “Reader’s Digest condensed version”.

When reviewing these steps, keep in mind each designer has their own way of doing things. These steps are not set in stone for every designer but instead, a generalized overview some of the more common steps or phases of the design process.

Preliminary Steps

We must first perform what I call “pre-site research and preparation.” This is where your designer attempts to determine “what do you want in a web site?” and what is it going to take to get you there. This step is necessary to develop your estimate and proposal. In order to make this phase as quick and painless as possible, many designers use what’s commonly known as a web site planner. The more thorough you are, the more you know about what you really want, the quicker this phase will go.

The Proposal Phase

If you need a proposal vs. just a simple estimate, we prepare one which outlines the project specifications and the estimated cost. Many changes can occur during the production of your web site which may mean adjustments to the final cost become necessary. We don’t just give you a figure and that’s what you pay, so your final cost may be somewhat higher or lower than the original estimate. This is another reason your preparedness is important. If you’re truly ready, alterations to the “game plan” will be probably be minimal. If you aren’t really ready, it’s likely there will be many changes. I’ve known this step of the process to take anywhere from a few days to several months to complete.

Why the big time difference? Most, if not all designers, have proposals and contracts on hand that they edit on a per-job basis to meet each site’s individual needs. For the average site and a prepared client whose web site is a priority with them, this doesn’t usually take too long. If a client is truly ready to begin, they’ve been able to portray to the designer what their goals are and are eager to sign and return the documents. If a client isn’t ready or if their web site is not a priority, this process takes much longer. I’ve found that many client’s tend to ignore deadlines which may be spelled out in the proposal or contract. This can wind up costing you more money as some designers may offer a discount for proposals or contracts returned prior to a written deadline. If you wait to long you chance an increase in the designer’s rates and miss out on one way to help keep your costs down.

The Design Phase

Once these documents are received your site will go into what’s commonly known as the design demo (or mock-up) phase which is where your designer will create a design and send it to you for your approval. A demo is generally one page and non-functional and shows you what your site will look like. Speak up now if you want changes. There are numerous ways in which designers allow for changes to the demo. There is generally a limit as to how many and what kinds of changes can be made before additional cost is incurred. If you were successfully able to give the designer what they needed, the demo probably looks pretty much how you envisioned it and there probably won’t be too many changes.

Upon approval the next step is to set up the database or install the CMS (if your site will be using either of these). Once that’s complete it’s then time to create the pages and to begin inputting content and the list goes on. If your site will not be database driven we will jump to the page creation and content input. You as the client, should be required to preview every page of the site in progress. The client is responsible for checking everything! After all, you know your business best. This stage of development can become a costly affair if you are not ready with your text content. If your designer has to continuously edit and re-edit the content, your bill will add up fast!

The Take It Live Phase!

When all of the following criteria has been met …

  • The look and feel is what you want …
  • The pages are in place …
  • The text content has been added and edited to perfection …
  • Most of the bugs have been worked out — and there will be bugs! …
  • The site look and pages have the client’s stamp of approval …
  • Pre-live testing has been completed …

It’s then time to take it live — where there may be even more bugs! This can be a smooth transition, a nightmare for any number of reasons or fall somewhere in the middle. There is no way to tell until the site is actually live because the server it’s going on may cause some bugs to crawl out of the woodwork. There always seems to be those last little details that need attention or that for any number of reasons, perhaps can’t be handled until the site is actually live.

A good designer will do everything in their power to make the transition go as smoothly as possible. But … not only are we only human … we are dealing with a huge world wide network of machines that we have absolutely no control over. A glitch in the works should be expected. If it doesn’t — it’s a bonus!

There are things you yourself may need to participate in when going live such as form testing, reviewing, checking pages and more. One of the big things is if you’re switching registrars or hosting companies. To accomplish a successful live site, quite often your designer will need login information to various places that you yourself or someone else may have previously set up. If you don’t have these handy it can delay your site live date for a little while or way too long. Your designer will be thinking ahead for this and may have asked you previously for this or other information. Don’t wait until it’s time to let the world see your new site to get this information to them. It will only delay things. Good communication and cooperation is essential.

The Art of Communication

The bottom line is that there is quite a bit of communication that needs to happen between you and your designer. Most designers I know either keep their eMail open the entire time they are working or they set aside several times a day to check it and respond. Now, that doesn’t mean you’re going to get an instant reply as designers must prioritize things if we’re going to get any work done! What it does mean is that our clients and their web sites are a priority with us.

Reasonable and timely communication in addition to cooperation between you and your designer is absolutely essential to develop your web site within a sensible, realistic time frame. If you are one to check your eMail on an infrequent basis or you are not prompt to respond to your designer’s inquiries, this is definitely a habit you need to change if you want to see your site progress in a timely fashion. If you currently fall into this category, eventually what may happen is that your site will go on the back burner and your designer will “get to it when we get to it”. If we’re waiting long periods of time for you to respond to our needs to complete your web site, you can’t blame us if we’re not likely to be in a big hurry to get the job done.

Is Your Website a Priority for You?

Most people lead busy lives. It takes time and effort on your part to venture into a web site. To be quite honest with you, if you are not ready to make your web site a priority, you’re not ready for a web site.

A designer may have any number of ongoing projects at any given time. Clients that consider their web site a priority and communicate with their designer on a regular basis are those that get the priority work time. It pretty much boils down to the cold hard fact that if you are ready for a web site, then you are ready to put in the time and effort it takes to get it done. If your site is not a priority with you — is there some reason it should be a priority with your designer? If your site is not progressing the way you wish it would, take a look at your participation (or lack of!) before you complain to your designer. I’m not saying you won’t find a lemon in the designer’s basket because like anything else, they’re out there, but unless you have looked at your own participation — don’t immediately and automatically blame the designer if things aren’t going as fast as you’d like them to.