In my past life, I was a client of Clever Starfish and many other agencies and spent a great deal of my time sifting through website and digital quotes for employers and clients. I was given the task of shortlisting and/or ‘decoding’ what website companies were offering and why the cost of a website seemed to vary so much.
As I am now a quoter and not a recipient, I thought it might be helpful to share my personal approach (and opinion) to making the right choice for you and your company.
So where do you start?
Good question! From the hundreds of websites I have been involved in (as a client, supplier, collaborator, representative of the client) the most successful websites were produced by a website company with passion in what they do and show a true interest in your business challenges and goals with the talent to back it up. To find these companies you should Google, ask friends, ask colleagues and find sites that you like. I suggest that you get at least two quotes.
The checklist below is designed to help you once you have a shortlist of companies you think might be a good match.
The checklist is suitable for individuals, boards, committees and groups who need to make a choice on supplier with little or no knowledge of web projects.
If the final decision is in the hands of a group who don’t get to meet the supplier they should be able to use the checklist against the shortlisted quotes. All the decision makers need to know is what your company needs and what sort of supplier would suit you to provide this service. Easy, right? Well it is easi-er, with this checklist!
Part 1: Basic skills checklist
I promise you that the right company will demonstrate that they have considered your unique business challenges and should include some of these proposed solutions in the document. They should be a yes for at least 5 of the 6 questions below to make it to the next checklist.
- Have they included a suggested site map and does it look suitable for you?
If yes, this shows that they have taken the time to consider the structure of your website.
- Have they identified your business problems and suggested appropriate solutions?
For example, they have may suggest functions, features and sections. If yes, this shows they are focused on solving your business problems and not just making you a ‘pretty web brochure’.
- Are they a personality match for you?
This should be reflected in the way they have communicated the quote and how they dealt with the quote process.
- Is their business approach a match to you?
This should be reflected in the way they interact with you and their methodology or process. For example, if you like to work face-to-face and deadlines are your thing, did they come and meet anyone in the team and did they communicate well and meet all the deadlines? The approach to the quote process is often demonstrative of how they will continue to work with you.
- Have they demonstrated that they can design great websites?
You can often view these on their website portfolio or can be found by Googling the company name.
- Have they been awarded for their websites?
If yes, this may show that they are practicing good design and development that is endorsed by peers and experts. If not, sometimes its worth asking if they enter their sites in awards. Some companies do not choose to enter their sites.
*For reference, the Australian Web Awards is the most prestigious award in Australia.
Part 2: Budget and priority checklist
Web design companies vary in focus and expertise. The best companies have a balanced approach to content, design, development, project management, testing and training. Quotes usually reflect the balance of their skill set. A new website needs to have a holistic and balanced approach. A rejuvenation of a website might need a little bit of a different balance, depending on the issues that are being overcome.
- What is the balance of design, development, project management, testing and training? Are they too focused on one area at the expense of another?
This can help you to compare the approach each company will take to your project and make sure it with the weighting of what you see as your problem areas. If you don’t know your problem areas, look for a balanced quote.
- What is their ongoing hourly rate?
Sometimes the rate for the website build is low but the ongoing “maintenance” rates are very high and part of a 12-month contract. This may work for you, but in my personal experience it doesn’t.
- Have they included enough time to design a unique solution for your needs?
A low percentage of the overall budget is reflective of design being a low priority. This often means they intend to reuse a template for your site, which can be restrictive. To work this out, compare the actual hours (budget divided by hourly rate) being put to design for each web design company.
- Have they quoted for a responsive website that adapts the layout, content and interactions to the needs of tablets and mobile phones?
This increases the cost of a website by 20-40% so check that this is included in their fixed quote if this is a priority for you. Also, confirm that they have completed responsive site design projects before as this is a specialised skill set. Get them to explain what a responsive entails for them and what they have included. There are so many ways of designing and building responsive websites so be prepared.
- How do ‘apples’ compare with ‘apples’?
There is always a huge variation in costs for websites and the solutions put forward can vary. This is normal. When looking at the overall cost, try and compare a few features or skill sets to get a sense of how they quote. Cheaper quotes may have missed out features and more expensive ones are sometimes not tailored to your needs and are a broad stroke solution. If in doubt, most web companies will be happy to take 30 mins to present their quote to you and explain their approach.
- Is their quote a fixed quote?
There are many companies that offer packages, estimates and other approaches which are often rounded to $8,000 or $10,000 or $12,000. These aren’t always fixed. Be wary of anything with the word estimate UNLESS you feel they are the perfect match in every other way. You don’t want to find yourselves making a decision on price when they aren’t a match in any other ways for your website and regretting it later.
- What happens after the website is launched?
It’s important to understand what ongoing services are offered (for example: further design, content, backups, maintenance, additional development, strategy, content support and site performance reporting) and what the ongoing costs could be.
You will notice that the question “does this quote fit my budget” isn’t in the checklist. This is because quotes are often flexible. If they match the rest of the checklist, you should be able to approach them to discuss their costs.
Part 3: Customer Service checklist
Web design companies don’t all have a single person that is responsible for your project. If you want someone to help you through the process, make sure there is a person and budget allocated to this. Many web companies don’t offer this as a service because it raises the cost. If you want a person looking out for you from the inside, choose a company that cost this out as a service.
- Check that they have included a budget (or enough budget) for a dedicated project manager
This is not a sales person, designer or developer. This is an account manager, project manager (or producer) with training in this area. Many agencies do not see project management as a priority, but having a project without a manager will lead to delays and possible miscommunication.
- What do their clients say about them?
It’s really important to get a list of references and make some phone calls because good relationships make the project a positive and fun experience for everyone involved. If the person was recommended, approach the referee and ask if they are customer-focused and not just after a “sales success”. Social media is a good place to see if a company has advocates if you are too shy or time-poor to call references.
- What was the experience like during the quote process?
Did/would they come and meet the team to quote and who do you deal with? Is it a sales person or account manager or designer/developer direct? Many agencies send out a sales person and then move the project to a junior once the quote is approved. Be sure of how their process works.
So that’s it! Good luck and may you find your perfect match :)