I have an interesting perspective on this topic because I have been on both sides of it. I went from someone who needed websites built to being the one building them and the view from this side is much different. I hate to see people who end up having a website built for them and then are unhappy with what they got. In a lot of these cases there are minor things that could have been done to avoid the situations getting to where they were. I’m not saying this is the definitive list but from my personal experience in having websites built for me and now building websites for other people these are a few tips that I think can help things go a lot more smoothly for you. I exclusively build WordPress based sites but these tips can apply to any kind of site buildout.
1. Have Clear and Specific Requirements – This is probably the #1 way that site buildouts go wrong and responsibility falls to both parties but primarily to the client. You need to know what you want and be able to articulate it, preferably in writing. Even if you aren’t sure of everything, if you can at least write the basics down it will give you a starting point to work from and usually the person(s) building the site for you can help you flesh it out. Personally, I won’t even quote a project until the client has some hard requirements down on paper and we have had a chance to discuss them. Also as the client, you should have in writing what will be delivered to you as the finished product and clarification on what is outside of the scope of the project that may cost you additional.
2. Be Realistic About The Time And Cost – This is perhaps in a tie with the one above. I always hear people lead of with, I just need a simple website built. By their nature, websites aren’t simple, not good ones at least. You need to have a budget and you need to have requirements commiserate with that budget. Don’t try to lowball people, it will only result in you getting a less than quality person who won’t give you what you are looking for. Even very simple websites take quite a few hours to build and the more you want done the longer it could take and the more it will probably cost you. If you want tons of social integration, e-commerce, membership, etc this WILL increase your overall cost.
You also need to remember that it is possible to have a website build expedited, but it will cost you more. If you don’t mind that then it is a viable option. In the end, you should agree on the cost before hand and have a contract stating as such. Personally, I prefer to keep it simple, I provide my clients with a quote and outline of the work to be performed, half of the project cost is due upfront and the other half is due upon delivery. I think that this protects the both parties, the half upfront shows that the client is serious and the half upon delivery ensures that your project gets completed to your satisfaction.
3. Evaluate Your Site Thoroughly Before Accepting, But Don’t Nitpick – This is one that probably drives the people building the site for you the craziest but most of us understand that its part of the process. Inevitably, as the project nears completion the client will find things they don’t quite like and would like changed. Here is where I mean be thorough but not nitpick. This is why for site builders it is important to be clear about the primary deliverables. It is imperative to understand the complexity and limitations of the platform you are using. For instance, some advanced WordPress themes have the ability to change the color of different objects, words, links or even backgrounds with the click of a button, for others it requires modification of code. In the end as the client you should get something you are happy with, but don’t take advantage of your site builder with a million tiny changes at the end of the project that really weren’t in scope. The best way to avoid this is to make sure you follow step #1.
4. Get Either A Thorough Tutorial or Detailed Documentation BEFORE Project Completion – I personally pride myself on insisting that a customer take one of these options, no matter how technically competent they say they are. My #1 is that the customer should be able to manage their site WITHOUT me. They might need to call me for a major upgrade or capability, but they should not require me for the day-to-day running of the site. If they do, then I haven’t done my job. Your site builder should explain to you how to do basic things like post to your site, update the homepage, change things in your sidebar if you have one, add links, etc. They should work with you until you understand the basics of how to do anything that will be required for daily site operation.
Alright, that’s all I got folks. As I said this is by no means everything, but I think it’s a damn good start. If you guys can think of anything else, feel free to leave your tips in the comments to help others out.