Way back in the 1980s I read “Making Major Sales” by Neil Rackham. It still influences me today. He described the buying cycle for major purchases .. like buying a website.
Let’s take the example of a car. You start out happy but gradually new models come out, your car gets older, it gains a few dings, no longer has the latest technology and slowly your satisfaction decreases.
Until one day, something happens that moves you to the next stage: “I need to do something”. Maybe you get a dog and need to transport it around. In this new state, you start to think about the next step in very general terms. Will you buy a motorbike, pickup truck or annual rail pass? If a car, what sort of car? Just, in general terms.
Once you’ve decided on the sort of solution you want, you can start to look at products. Now, comparing features and prices makes sense.
Just before you make your final choice, there’s a checkstop. You ask yourself “am I going to look stupid if I buy this?” You do your final checks. If you’re happy, you buy it.
Then you’re off into buyer remorse, but assuming that’s properly handled you end up happy with your new car, and the cycle starts again.
Now we know this, we can use it to find you a perfect-match web developer without getting bamboozled by sales people, or worn out by the process. And even if “not irritating potential suppliers” isn’t your number one issue, if you communicate well and act professionally it keeps everyone sweet, protects your brand and makes the process run more smoothly and easily. Respect begets respect and makes everyone happy.
Here’s my 7-step process to finding your perfect web provider.
I’m going to go ahead and assume that you are in that woolly dissatisfied stage.
1. Before you talk to any agencies, decide what you want
It’s really important to think about what you want before getting blown around by agency salespeople. If you are not ahead of them, you’ll end up buying what they want. So let’s just take a moment.
Start by asking “what triggered you into deciding you need a website?” Do you already have a website, and if so, what’s wrong with it?
You might want to consider some of these broad requirements.
Obviously, you’ll want a website that works on mobile devices, looks good, works, and is relatively fast. I think those are obvious and certainly should be given nowadays.
Who is going to write the words for your new website? Many web design agencies will simply ask you for copy (and photographs for that matter). If that’s fine, fine. It’s probably best to decide and make it clear in your requirements document though. It’s the same if you have, for instance, product details in an e-commerce site that will need to be transferred. Who’s going to transfer that data across? There may be an automated way to do it.
Are your brand logo and visual design guidelines all set or actually do you need a new logo too? Is this part of a larger new look for your business? Will you be wanting new stationery and signage? A brochure?
If your needs are actually wider than just website design, then ideally you’ll need to find a company that does everything you need. If you try to buy the different components from different companies, you’ll end up in the middle trying to co-ordinate them all and .. that’s really hard work and seriously increases project risk.
Obviously companies buy-in services .. but it’s going to be a whole lot easier if you can find a team that already works together.
What are your thoughts about search engine optimisation (SEO)? Building a website that’s search engine friendly is one thing, but there’s a lot of specifically SEO work to do if you are in a competitive space and would like to enjoy profitable traffic from search engines. For instance, creating articles geared to specific customer needs takes a deep understanding and considerable skill. What about creating sharable graphics for social media?
Would you like a company to manage and optimise a profitable Pay Per Click (PPC) ad campaign, for instance using Facebook or Google search? Some agencies will offer that. It’s probably OK to use a separate agency for that but they will still want to develop and optimise landing pages and install tracking systems.
Is it important to you that you work with a local agency? Would it be equally interesting to you if there was an agency that specialises in your industry or your type of business, but was geographically distant?
An obvious question, but do you need ecommerce? That adds complexity.
Coding, too. If you need complex custom programming, that takes time.
Think about your timeframe and budget. The irritating rule applies that you can only have two of these three desires: cheap, fast, and good. Decide which two, and be honest in your requirements specification. Saying you want all three will simply make any non-desperate agency decline your kind offer.
On price, it’s obviously normal to try to get a good price, but I would ask you to consider that good agencies are by and large looking for clients and projects that offer the potential to do good work. I know one agency that wants to make a name for themselves in the non-profit sector, they are aiming high and if they don’t perceive that your project helps them get where they are going, they will either not respond, or try to price you away. I’ve had it happen to me when I was acting marketing director for a client. Agencies assess you as much as you assess them.
The absolute key, most important thing, is whether the person or team you are dealing with is listening to you and designing around your needs.
You might look at the £50 or £100 per hour price tags and think we’re in clover .. we’re not. There’s a lot to buy, and a lot of non-chargeable hours. Try to build a win-win partnership with your agency. This shouldn’t be adversarial. You wouldn’t select a lawyer or accountancy practice by locking horns with them about price. Web design agencies are your partners, on your side, just like those professional services are. A switched on agency doing great work helps your business too.
If you don’t want to spend a lot, that’s fine so long as you are clear and reasonable in what you want. Some web designers specialise in quick, affordable websites for local businesses. Every web agency has had an enquiry with a budget of £500 or so to build a website like Amazon. Yeah, no. Did you think? Yeah .. no.
More on price, there is a guideline of spending 10% of your turnover on marketing. Part of your marketing is your website. That rule is obviously questionable, but I mention it just in case you don’t know where to start with budget.
Finally on price, if things are getting out of hand perhaps create a minimum viable product spec. “At the very least, we need this, but could you also price for adding the following which we may include or come back to in a later version”. Websites should make money, so if you can identify what’s needed to make money, further improvements should pay for themselves.
Speed of development follows similar lines. A freelancer given a big task may take a while. An agency with ten staff might be able to work quickly in parallel, but they’ll have a work pipeline and you may have to wait to get on it. Then you may end up going nuts for three weeks answering all their requirements for clearances and materials. Some web development companies even fine their clients if they are late with clearances and materials.
On the subject of ‘good’, resist the temptation to just tick it off. Website, tick. Done. Next.
Your website should be the centre of your online marketing efforts. Think creatively and engage with what your website could be.
Think about the different stages prospects are at, and how you can best move them through your sales funnel.
There are people who have never heard of you. Perhaps Pay Per Click ads would reach them. With what? You’ll be wanting to bring them back to a landing page on your website. Once there, what do you want them to do? Sign up to your mailing list? You’ll be wanting a mailing list then. Do you want automated email sequences that move people to the stage of buying something small?
Having got their credit card out, can you upsell them with your main offer? Shall we customise that with upsells and downsells?
What about reviews and testimonials, would you like a system to ask for those and include them on your website?
Might there even be another level where satisfied customers actively recommend you? Even an affiliate system.
How do sales come in and get fulfilled? Would it be good if your accounts package was automatically updated and stock handled properly?
How do things flow if people have complaints or need support or want to know about delivery times? Could that be more efficient so you have a smooth business .. you know the whole ‘I’m making money while I sleep’ thing? Think about communications flow and data records .. who needs what where? How can you create a really excellent and real FAQ?
Having thought about all of this, write a specification. It doesn’t have to be detailed. Probably shouldn’t be. But if an agency can see what you want by when and your budget, that’s a really good start.
2. Get some expressions of interest from web design companies
Now you can get in touch with some providers, but be clear that at this stage you are not looking for detailed responses or proposals, just expressions of interest. I would outline how you intend to proceed .. basically once you have expressions of interest you will discuss the specification with everyone and then issue a revised specification and then you’ll ask for quotes.
OK, so where are you going to go looking for web agencies?
- You could ask on social media for recommendations, that certainly works.
- You could search for web designer, web design agency or web developer plus your location. And the same but with your industry or application.
- If you look around at competitors’ websites, if there’s one you really like, check who it’s by and get in touch.
That’s a fair shortlist. Send them an email, set a deadline for responses.
3. Invite questions & ideas
Once you have your list of companies who might be interested in your project, give them the opportunity to question you about your requirements and to suggest other possibilities. You don’t know what you don’t know, someone might have a fabulous idea.
Whether you do that by phone, meeting or whatever, that’s up to you. But be clear that this opportunity is for the company to ask questions about your specification and to suggest things you might have forgotten. It’s not yet a proposal, it’s just an exploration and refining of the spec.
4. Ask for quotes
Alright, with that done, revisit your requirements, include what you want to from the meetings you’ve had, remove what no longer seems important, and send it to your potential suppliers. Ask for proposals, set a deadline more than a week away.
Go to the pub while you wait. It could take a while, get crisps.
It’s the morning after a deadline and you have a bunch of proposals. It might be reasonable to just throw away the cheapest and the most expensive. Maybe I’m being flippant, I’m not sure. It seems reasonable to me.
The temptation is just to go for the lower price, and I really, really, really just want some systems to be in place to stop your subconscious driving you there, because a lower price is likely to increase the chance of a project failure. Projects do fail. All us developers have had failed projects. Some things are hard to do. Let’s just make a good decision here.
Have another meeting or conversation. Check things like development stages and process. Aftercare .. be sure they’ll still be interested in you afterwards. Who owns what when it’s done? Who do you call if it stops working? How does training and support happen. Check also who is really in the team, and what are they outsourcing? Listen for honesty.
The absolute key, most important thing, is whether the person or team you are dealing with is listening to you and designing around your needs.
I’ve had a designer give me three template logos he knocked up in five minutes with the instruction “choose one”.
I’ve had a designer so full of ideas and possibilities I felt I was in a whirlwind.
If you feel you are getting bamboozled, that’s a reason for disqualification in my book.
Given that you have to feel right about your potential new relationship, don’t schedule back to back meetings. Give each meeting space and let yourself have the time to feel whether the relationship is right or not.
6. Run final checks
At this point you should have a favourite two or three agencies. It’s time for the “will I feel stupid in the morning” test.
Check things like testimonials, how long the agency has been going, their portfolio (yes, check the portfolio now not at the start). Maybe check out individual team members on LinkedIn.
It’s pretty dastardly but you could run technical tests on some of their portfolio projects.
Anyway, just get happy that there’s nothing lurking and you are happy to go ahead.
One thing I’ve noticed, there’s a trend in web agencies to move upmarket by having client clearouts. They analyse their clients and sack the least profitable ones. That gives them space to move up to higher value work .. it’s an established growth strategy. So if you are at the cheap end of things, perhaps factor in whether you feel like a web agency you are talking to seem to be happy to continue working in this space or whether your instinct tells you they will try to move up someday and send you a “you’re fired” email.
7. Do it
Once you’re happy, do it. Choose one. Press the button. Launch the project.
And be nice to the ones that didn’t make it. If they ask why, gently let them know if there’s something they could improve.
Alright, what have I missed?
I guess I should pitch myself, so if you’re sitting comfortably: I’m a freelance web developer, I’m really keen on the marketing message and on moving people through sales funnels and processes. I’m not the hottest on graphic design, but I’m red hot on copy, email sequences, landing pages, ads, content and SEO and how all that fits together to make a profit system. That’s why I’m so keen on you not going for the cheapest quote because all that stuff costs real money, but it also makes real money so overall you come out way better. Just don’t get a tickbox, placeholder website .. you know where someone’s done just enough .. ughh, they make me shudder. Be the best you can be, OK? Make a difference. We only get one life & all that.
If you would like to ask me if I might be interested in your project, ideally you’d be at step 2 above but either way, since you’re here I ask all prospects to fill out this short questionnaire. If you do that we’ll be connected and I’ll let you know straight away if your project sounds like something I would be interested in.