The process of developing a new website can seem overwhelming to many small business owners. There are so many variables, and most small business owners are not website development experts. During the redesign of the SBDC website in early 2014, our staff learned several valuable lessons that we wanted to share with our clients.
In this two-part post, we will outline some of the things we found most helpful and some of the lessons we learned along the way. The first post will cover the process through selecting a vendor, and the second post will cover working with the vendor to complete the redesign. We hope you will find some helpful information as you consider redesigning your own site.
1. Recognize that this process is going to require a significant amount of planning up front.
A website redesign will require a substantial amount of time and effort on your end, and it may impact your day-to-day activities for the duration of the project. We don’t say that to scare anyone, but it’s good to be prepared for the realities of this type of project. As the client, you know your users and customers best, so you are the content expert, and you need to bring that information to the table. Of course, you will have the support and guidance from the experts at the design firm, but a team effort will yield the best results.
2. Before doing anything else, figure out why you think you need to redesign your site and what you want to accomplish.
We started out the process by considering these five basic questions:
- What is our overall vision for the website?
- What is the purpose and desired outcomes from the new site?
- What is our wish list of items that would make our current website more effective?
- What are some best practices from other websites, both within you industry and beyond, that could be incorporated?
- What essential tools and functionality need to be included in the new site?
We started out by putting together a big brainstorm wish list of all of our ideas. We looked at our current website to determine gaps and areas for improvement, and we also talked more broadly about what additional information we could incorporate. We visited other websites, both general sites and other SBDCs across the country, to get ideas. After looking at all of this information, we narrowed down our wish list to the things that were most important and that we felt would best help us meet our mission.
As the client, you need to have a clear vision for what you want your site to be before you look for a design firm. Yes, they will give you recommendations and help you shape that vision, but you need to know your core requirements before the project starts. Otherwise, you may end up wasting time later going back and forth about different decisions.
3. Determine how much you can afford to spend on your website redesign.
The price of website redesigns can vary from several hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Part of the price of the design will vary based on how much you need your site to do. For example, a simple site that lists a business’s contact information will be much less expensive than a site that includes the capabilities for customers to buy things online. A simple site that is well-designed and attractive is better than an overly-complicated site that has lots of bells and whistles but does not give users the key information they need.
As the business owner, it is up to you to determine how much you can afford to spend on a website. You can choose whether or not to share your budget with potential firms. Recognize, however, that if you choose not to share even a ballpark budget with those firms, you may get proposals that are significantly over your budget.
4. Write a detailed Request for Proposals (RFP) to send out to potential firms.
Using the information that we gathered during our initial brainstorm and research, we put together a very detailed RFP to send to local web design firms. This included our mission and vision, a project overview, specific tools and features that we wanted from the site, other considerations for the project, our expectations for specific deliverables throughout the process, and our budget.
The more specific and detailed you can be in your RFP, the better. This helps web development firms understand what you are looking for so they can prepare a thorough response. The more they can clearly grasp what you’re looking to do, the more likely it is that their proposal will be on target. This makes it easier for you to evaluate whether you think the firm will be able to meet your needs.
5. Do your research on potential partners before sending out your proposal.
For us, collaborating with small businesses in Alexandria is very important, so we started by looking for website firms in the City. We recognized the value of working with a partner that was familiar with the local business community, and we wanted to take advantage of our local resources. We used a list of all of the web design firms in Alexandria and started by visiting their websites. We also asked some of our partners and contacts for referrals.
We looked at each company’s website to gain insight into their past clients and examples of their work to determine who might be a good fit for our vision. We immediately discounted companies that didn’t have an updated and professional website that included examples of past work. This isn’t a necessity, but we felt more comfortable being able to see these examples. It also helped us judge whether or not the company would take on a project of our size. As a nonprofit organization, we are very budget-conscious, so there were also companies that we simply couldn’t afford. Otherwise, we kept an open mind during this process.
6. Interview multiple firms and prepare carefully for the interviews.
Ultimately, we were able to narrow our list down to about five firms. We sent our prepared RFP to these companies. We had preliminary meetings or phone calls with these firms where they gathered more information about our project. Each of the firms then submitted their proposal by our deadline.
After submitting the proposal, each firm came to our office and presented their proposal. We were able to ask questions, which we had prepared ahead of time. Try to ask the same general questions to each firm so that you are able to compare all of the firms on the same information. If you have any follow-up questions, feel free to email the firms or call after the proposal presentation.
7. Evaluate each firm on the same criteria using a quantitative scale when possible.
We found it helpful to develop a matrix and rank each firm on a variety of factors. These included past experience, cost, capabilities, perceived ability to understand our business, and a variety of other categories. We also did a pros and cons list for each company to help us make a decision. After evaluating all of these options, we came together as a group and selected a company. It is important that everyone feels comfortable with the final decision, even if the company was not everyone’s first choice.
Find a firm that has a strong track record, that you feel comfortable with, and, most of all, that is willing to give you honest, constructive feedback. Sometimes, you may have “pie in the sky” ideas, and it’s helpful to work with a team that can (gently) bring you back to earth! This is the sign of a good working relationship and will lead to a better final product.
8. Notify your company, sign the contract, and begin the redesign process!
Next week’s post will cover the remainder of the website redesign process.