Nine steps to developing and maintaining a website

by Mike Wills, Backbone (UK) Ltd

1 Seek advice before you start

Do not rush to use the first person who contacts you about building a website. You should expect to do some research before talking to suppliers - use the best sources of information. Speak to independent consultancy organisations and ask them to talk you through the issues you need to consider before you take the plunge. They will also help you to manage the project if required. It is also recommended that you speak to colleagues, associates and friends. The right advice will enable you to learn from the success of others and to avoid some common pitfalls.

2 Define your objectives

Write down your expectations so you can discuss them and agree your objectives with suppliers from the outset. Defining a clear set of objectives is an important stage in running a successful Internet project.

3 Write a project brief

A clear and concise brief with background about your company and your aims will enable you to get good quality responses from the suppliers you invite to tender for your project.

4 Find some potential suppliers

Based on local research identify some companies who have the capabilities to undertake your project. Once you have narrowed your list down to two or three, provide them with your written brief and as much background information as possible. Ask them to come in and talk to you and present you with their proposals.

5 Select your preferred supplier

There are many capable Internet suppliers and there are many that are not so capable. So how do you select the right one for your company and project?  Here is a list of things to consider when making your decision:

        try to find suppliers who are prepared to listen and understand your company - what will they add to your business?

        find out what they have done before and what the client spent, ask them to show you their previous work. What is their background?

        ask the supplier if you can talk to one of their previous customers. What did they like about working with the supplier and what were the problems? (But remember that few projects are without some problems)

        remember that many suppliers are small companies with limited resources - consider paying a small amount of money to a supplier to have them produce a full analysis of your options and likely costs

        find out their special areas of interest and expertise. Few companies can expect to cover everything, but do they understand your type of business?

        how do you feel about their working methods and approach? Are they people you feel confident about working with?

        find out who will actually do the work. Using sub-contractors or other companies for parts of the project can work well, but requires good project management skills.

        try to gauge the technical competence of the company and their ability to explain it to you appropriately. Avoid companies that seem to use technology for its own sake.

        some companies will have developed technical solutions that they re-use with all their clients. This can save you money, but make sure that the solution fits your business needs.

        be careful about people offering very cheap solutions - these may not fulfil your expectations or business needs

6 Agree a specification and work plan

Once you have selected your preferred supplier, ensure you have tied up all the loose ends before starting work. Make sure there is a documented project specification and work plan, especially if you are under time and/or budget pressure. Both parties will then be clear about exactly what is to be delivered and by when. A good specification should as a minimum include:

Now is also the time to finalise any outstanding commercial matters with your supplier, for example the final quote, payment terms and conditions. Build plenty of checkpoints into the project plan so you can keep track of how it is progressing.

7 Monitor and measure your project

Once your website is launched you need to know how well it meets the objectives defined in step 2. In partnership with your supplier, you can track how many visitors your site gets, which pages those visitors look at and how many contact you subsequently. Measurement is an ongoing process and should take place over a period. The results will help you determine how your site should evolve.

8 Maintain and develop your site

Keeping your site up to date after it has been launched is as important as creating the site in the first place. When information remains static, there is little reason for people to re-visit the site - and therefore the opportunity to promote new products and services is lost.

When starting the project, budget for the on-going maintenance and development of your site. The maintenance budget should cover routine updates to the site such as price changes and additional products. It is also worth assigning a budget for more radical changes to the site, for example the addition of e-commerce capability, discussion forums or multimedia applications. 

For maintenance, there are several common arrangements:

9 Write a good brief

A good brief is clear, concise and contains all the relevant information about your business and the project. It should cover:

Reviewed January 2011

last updated : 21/01/2011

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