As the CEO of a large-scale website production company, I constantly get the same questions:
• How much does building a website cost?
• How long will it take to build my web presence?
• What are the advantages of working with an agency? Why not hire a freelancer?
I always answer: The best solution is the one that aligns with your business strategy.
For some clients, it’s best to launch a site quickly at a low cost and scale later. For others, it makes sense to invest more at the start, building a bulletproof platform that’s both scalable and flexible. In other words, the best solution depends on your short- and long-term goals and your budget.
Here are the steps I recommend going through as you and your team plan how to build your digital platform:
1. Clarify your platform’s objectives.
• What is the role of your website or app in your overall business model?
• Who is your audience? Are they mobile-first? What media do they consume — videos, articles, audio or a combination?
• What does success look like? What is the website or app’s main goal?
• How will you drive traffic to the website?
2. Build your content.
• Make an inventory of the content you currently have (i.e., copy, images, video, etc.).
• Map out the process for creating the content you know you’ll need in the future for you to reach your stated objectives.
• Brainstorm any ideas for new content — images, videos, podcasts or articles — you want to produce.
• Determine the time and cost for creating new content, and set aside a budget.
3. Organize your content based on your objectives.
• Review your content with an expert or a person you trust in your field. Take advantage of having an outside eye and do a preliminary organization.
• Do the same exercise with your developer. Note the differences between the perspective of a technology professional and someone in business.
• Work with your product management team (which might be yourself) to reconcile both points of view.
4. ‘Build’ your website on paper.
• Conceive of the site map with your developer — a text document, some slides or a pen and paper will do.
• Organize your content into this map and use this as the starting point for the site’s design and development.
5. Always remember the 1/10/100 rule.
The 1/10/100 rule is essential when budgeting for revisions with your designer:
• 1: Fixing a mistake during the planning phase will cost $1.
• 10: Fixing that same mistake during the development phase will cost $10.
• 100: Fixing it when the website is already built will cost $100.
Plan ahead to avoid costly changes down the line.
6. Finalize the home page design before starting any development work.
• Agree on how your brand will be represented on this website.
• Determine logo, buttons, CTA, images, etc. for the homepage.
7. Choose a development partner you trust.
• I recommend using agile methodologies. This approach allows you to iterate during the development process and make changes on the go. Keep in mind, though, that a set price for a project will likely limit your ability to make changes.
• Be sure your development partner has a quality analysis (QA) department so they can test across different platforms and operating systems before launching.
• Remember that in this business, like many others, you get what you pay for.
8. Budget for 25% contingency.
• Assume the project will go at least 25% over budget.
• There will be some changes and improvements you will not think of from the planning phase.
9. Create a monthly budget for maintenance and enhancements.
Adapting to technology updates and enhancements will be necessary if you want to succeed; plan for constantly optimizing the flow of your platform.
10. Use analytics to measure and improve your website.
• Review analytics and stats weekly or at least once a month.
• Try A/B testing if you can afford it and constantly tweak, test and review changes based on users’ behavior and trends.
One final note: Pay attention to partners and agencies that try to rush. It’s important to clarify objectives, establish the timeframe and propose a budget. At my company, we believe that investing time, energy and money during the website planning phase undoubtedly pays off down the road. An agency or partner that pushes to get a project off the ground without going through the proper process and planning is likely focused on one-off projects, not ensuring your site helps you reach your business goals.