How can you tell if a website vendor is any good? They all seem the same to me.
Approaches to Building a Web Presence
There are many ways to create a website, ranging from options that are free and DIY (such as assembling an email list or building a simple website using Google Sites) to massive custom consulting projects (an ecommerce solution like ATG or SAP/hybris has a one-time set-up range around $20 million and can require a dedicated IT team of over 100 people to maintain). Even for small businesses, there is a wide spectrum of website-building options. Here are some categories, from least expensive to most expensive:
- Email List
- Payment App
- Social Media Pages
- Simple Website Builder
- Website through a Partner Bundle
- Feature-Rich Website Builder
Since you are searching for a vendor, we will assume that you need more than just an email address and a payment app, and you are not considering getting your web presence via a social media page or a partner bundle such as Amazon Seller, Etsy Seller, Grubhub, or Doordash.
How to Build Your Web Presence
Implementing your website will have a one-time (setup or implementation) cost, and it will also have ongoing costs for maintenance (such as paying for your domain name, paying your web hosting service, and paying a vendor to update the site, if you don’t know how to do it yourself). If you’re not particularly tech savvy, or you don’t have someone on your team who loves digging into why something on your site is broken, consider moving farther up the website-building spectrum to create a simpler and less expensive website, for now. You can always go to a more expensive solution later, when you are certain of your website messaging and needs.
1. Document your website requirements
Before you start making decisions about how you will implement your website, spend some time thinking about the requirements for your site. Do you need one page or several pages? Do you need separate landing pages for different marketing channels? Do you need to be able to accept payments on the site, or can do accept payments separately? Do you need to be able to show images of each product (or “SKU”)? Do you need to be able to ship products? It is always good to prepare this information before you begin speaking with vendors. Make a list of features that are critical for your website.
2. Begin researching examples
Look for websites that you like. They may be competitor sites, or they may come from other fields entirely. What is the look-and-feel that appeals to you and why? What kind of information do you need to present? Again, the more prepared you are with examples, the more specific and helpful your conversations will be with vendors.
3. Set aside a realistic timeframe
It typically takes 3-6 months to build a new website because you need to write completely new website copy, select photos, and make all kinds of decisions about how your company will operate. So, set aside significant time to work on your site (especially if you will DIY), and be realistic about how long it will take to launch.
4. Leverage your network
Chances are that you have some friends or acquaintances who know a lot about building websites. Don’t be afraid to ask their advice. The more you know, the more you know!
5. Review the vendors, using your requirements list
Once you have located a few vendors, research what they have done. They should have a gallery or portfolio of their work on their website. If you don’t like their style, eliminate them from your list. Once you are ready to make calls, ask each vendor what is included in their prices. Use your list of features, and cross-match it against the vendor’s offering. You want to make sure not to be seduced by a particular sales pitch, forgetting your actual requirements.
6. Vet the finalists carefully
If the vendor has several employees, make sure that you talk directly to the people who are actually going to build your project, or to the person who will be your contact. You may think that you know exactly what you want on your site, but once you see the draft, you will almost certainly need to make changes. Be sure that the vendor allows for revision rounds and that the person you will deal with is reasonable. And, don’t forget to check references. Talk to each reference, asking how easy it is to make changes and how reliable the vendor was with deadlines.
You’ll be very excited when you first launch your website, and you should be – it’s a momentous occasion! However, your website is not a one-time cost or a once-and-done exercise. As you tweak your marketing messages, you will want to change the text on your website to match. If you make a larger pivot (changing an offering, or even the entire purpose of your company), you’ll likely make even more dramatic changes to your site. Know that this is perfectly normal. A website is a living thing that evolves and changes as you learn. Budget your time and money, knowing that your first launch will be far from your last.