Blog / Website Development

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Preparing for Launch (of Your Website)

Apollo 16 Launch

(Insert various movie quotes, pop culture references, and anything else related to launching things here).  Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the purpose of this post is to get us thinking about the website launch planning and process to ensure that we aren’t mentioning any of those “Houston we have a problem” quotes.  While no lives (typically) are at stake during a website launch there are often many risks that can impact a business’s bottom line. Read More…

Voltage Creative Receives BMA Fountain Awards

The Voltage team was honored to receive two Kansas City Business Marketing Association Fountain Awards recently at the 2014 awards ceremony and dinner celebration.  The wins both came in important award categories of focus for Voltage as they accounted for two of the three total website award categories recognized by BMAKC including websites under $25,000 budget and websites between $25,000 and $50,000. Read More…

What’s in a Budget?

dollar signWe’re often asked by clients, “how much does a website cost?” To which we respond, “it depends.” Sadly, this conversation can often times be a non-starter on both ends of the phone:

From the client side …
The client can interpret this as a shakedown … a “how much you got” kind of question if you will, where they inadvertently spend $X on a site that should only cost $Y, because they tipped their hat on their budget.

From the agency side …
It tells us the client has quite possibly given little (or no) consideration to how valuable this kind of investment is to them, or has little knowledge of the costs associated with developing a custom website.

We often liken the “how much does a website cost?” question to asking a home builder “how much does a house cost?” Most people can relate to the “house” question because we all know houses come in a wide variety of sizes—from the 2 bedroom / 1 bath starter home to the 10 bedroom / 5 bath / custom kitchen / 3 car garage / in-ground pool palatial mansion. Websites are much the same: the larger and more complex they are, the more time and thus money they take to build.

You may now be saying, “this is all entertaining, but how exactly do we go about determine a website budget?” Good question, and here’s what I recommend considering:

1) You Get What You Pay For
You’ve undoubtedly heard this phrase and it applies to building websites in a big way. Good developers and designers are expensive and this is reflected in the price of their work. So do your best when reviewing a proposal to NOT go straight to the price.

2) Cost Benefit
How valuable is a website to your organization? If you plan to sell products through your website or utilize the site as a lead-generation tool, then you can directly attribute revenue to your site. In this case, it’s much easier to justify a higher budget. Conversely, if your website serves simply as the “YellowPages” ad from the days of yore, then a low-cost “templated” solution may be your best bet.

3) Agency Referrals
Don’t just rely on an internet search to locate an agency for your website project. Rather, ask for references from other business, friends, etc., who’ve hired an agency to build their site. This will help you locate an agency that has a track record for actually delivering a quality product. And see if your contacts can share their budget … or at the very least a ballpark.

4) Marketing Budget
Ideally, if you have a marketing budget, then consider the above three items and determine what portion of that budget your team is willing to allocate to a website.

And finally …

5) Share Your Budget:
At this point you may be wanting to tune out, but stick with me. Once you’ve determined a budget or a range you’re comfortable spending, share it with the agencies you’ve located through your referral network. At this point, you’re talking to trustworthy agencies who have the chops to build what you need. Now, what you need to do is compare everything they can deliver within your identified budget. In this instance your agencies are not focused on being the cheapest (which you don’t want) and instead are focused on giving you the most for your dollar. In addition, this will help you weed-out those resources whose minimums are simply too much for your organization.

In the end, a good business deal is defined when both parties (the buyer and seller) win. The buyer gets a product that meets their needs and for a budget they can afford. And the seller makes a profit on the service in which they’re in business to provide.

Keeping the above in mind will not only ensure your “new website project” is not a waste of time and money, but a venture that returns on the investment for your organization.

The 2-Year Web Project

T is for time.

Internally at my agency we now have a running joke – the two-year web site. This is mostly based on our experiences of the past six months.

Since mid-2011 I’d estimate we acquired ~six new clients who were escaping bad situations with other agencies taking excessive amounts of time to complete website development projects. And in the cases we experienced, the timeline always seemed to be around two years.

The conversation kind of went like this:

Client: “I’d like to see if you could help us out.”

Voltage: “Sure, tell me what’s going on and I’ll see what we can do.”

Client: “Well, we hired this agency to build our website and it’s been in development for about two years now, is XX months past due, and $XXk over budget.”

Voltage: “I’ve heard this story before.”

On the upside for my agency, a pretty low bar has been set. On the downside for my agency, we are now starting in a position of distrust and we’re immediately on the defensive.

My point is this … I understand. I understand where the client is coming from: why they’re distrustful, why they’re hesitant to start over, and why they’re considering just giving up on the project altogether. And while I thank the other agency for practically handing me business, I’d like to give them the “what-for” for making my job harder.

So why does this happen? In our experience, it seems to follow a standard formula. Here are the things to keep an eye on when starting any website project:

  1. RFP:
    Many companies initiate a web development project by issuing an RFP to agencies. They collect estimates form those agencies and then select an agency for the project. Make sure your RFP is written in a manner that will garner apples-to-apples pricing and deliverables from your potential vendors. Too many open ended requests (etcetera and miscellaneous items) and little specifics leave room for speculation and great variation in deliverables and pricing. In the case of some larger projects it’s well worth the time and money to hire a technology consultant to help with this process.
  2. Requirements:
    Whomever your vendor may be, make sure they plan to detail the requirements of your website project in a written format. If they don’t plan to do this, run. These requirements are essential and should be based on your goals for the site. By their very nature website requirements will be highly technical, so if you’re not technically savvy then make sure to ask lots of questions. If your vendor can’t explain the document, then run. If they can and you still don’t understand, then seek the assistance of a third-party IT professional who can check the validity of the document.
  3. Revisions and Approvals:
    Make sure you understand how revisions and approvals will be managed. Most agencies allow for two rounds of reviews and revisions on project deliverables – it’s an industry standard. And if you go beyond two rounds, you’re looking at change orders. This responsibility falls on both parties: a) the agency is responsible for communicating to the client the phase of revision being reviewed, and b) the client is responsible for making sure all decision makers provide input before submitting revisions to the agency. Change orders are not unheard of, and certainly not the death of a project, but run-away change orders can sour a relationship.
  4. Realism:
    You’ve probably heard the term “You can have it cheap, fast, or good. Pick two.” This truism never fails in the website development business. For example, good and fast work will be expensive, and fast and cheap work will be bad. Unfortunately, some agencies will tell you what you want to hear to get your project (it’s hard not to). If your website project is large and complex, then be prepared for more money, a longer timeline, and more in-depth discussions with your agency – it will pay off in the long run. And if that’s not possible and you need something cheaper and in short order, then consider a phased approach where you launch a minimum viable product and phase-out the less essential items for post-launch.
  5. Vendor Lock-In:
    Beware of systems that you don’t own, must license, can’t access or that beholden you to the agency that developed them. This is not always a bad situation, especially if you have an a-typical need that requires the application of specialized technology like vast e-commerce installations or CRMs (and even then, many open sourced solutions can be modified to fit your needs). But if you’re building a primarily content-driven website that sells products in a standardized fashion, accepts donations or allows users to register for an event (to name a few), then you probably don’t need a proprietary system. Some estimates state up to 80% of websites are powered by open source technology systems or are hard-coded in a standard programming language like PHP or ASP. Chances are you fall into this category.

In the end, consideration of the above will go a long way in keeping your project on time, on budget and you and your technology partner on speaking terms.