online marketing, Technology

Tips for trouble-free website development for small businesses

Craig Reardon /

I would love to say that all of the websites my little web shop creates are completely smooth and trouble free. But that would be far from the truth.

The truth is that a number of the websites we create still have plenty of roadblocks, issues and problems, despite our 13 odd years in the game (not including my previous experience) and hundreds of successful website projects under our belt.

You might wonder how it’s possible to continue having these sorts of issues given we’ve been doing it so long.

But there’s a common thread to the vast bulk of any problems our projects encounter.

That thread is ‘client inexperience with professional creative or technical projects’.

Experience the key

Quite simply, the less experience our clients have with projects like websites, the greater the number of problems along the way.

What ensures the issue repeats is that we specialise in smaller business. And unlike clients in larger business, there are no skill benchmarks for smaller business operators around creative/technical projects.

Some have done it many times before and others are novices. That means that large doses of education come with many of our projects — no matter how hard we work to simplify the process.

So if you are new to professional creative and technical projects, heres some tips to reduce what can be dozens of potential development issues.

1. Ensure you are crystal clear on the deliverables

No website project should commence without you understanding exactly what the end result, or ‘deliverables’ are.  Your work agreement should stipulate exactly what you will receive at the end when it comes to all of the creative work, the content development, technical specification and so on.

If you don’t understand any aspect of the work agreement, go back to the provider and get them to explain it until you do. It’s important that you don’t feel embarrassed about technical terms. It’s up to the provider to outline it to you in a way that makes sense to you.

2. Check drafts with a fine tooth comb

Be very thorough when it comes to checking any design or content drafts that are provided to you as part of the process. While there may be opportunities to check again at a later stage, it’s better to capture all changes in one sitting than constantly be going back and forth with unnecessary revisions.

3. Understand that alterations take time and money

Most web development professionals will have factored in contingencies for reasonable alterations during the course of the project. But making alterations expends labour time, so if there are too many too late in the process, the provider may make a valid case to charge for any changes that should have been captured earlier in the process.

4. Make as many changes ‘on paper’ as possible prior to development

Professional providers understand that changes made when a website has already been constructed are going to be far more expensive to make than alterations made to ‘on paper’ drafts. So they will provide you with drafts, concepts or mockups that provide visual representations of the final product prior to moving into this more complex and expensive process.

Therefore, it’s important that you are absolutely satisfied with these drafts before going into this expensive development time — or be prepared to pay extra.

5. Allow sufficient time for draft reviews

Projects like websites can be cumbersome if they’re not part of your day-to-day work. Essentially you have to find time to attend to the latest draft or document provided if you haven’t already scheduled it.

If you don’t allow sufficient time to review alterations, you risk your project being pushed back in the provider’s work schedule.

6. Don’t get bogged down with editable content

These days the vast majority of websites come with editing capabilities by way of a content management system. This means that you can alter your website content any time you like following its publication to the internet — unlike print where you are stuck with the end result for the life of the print run.

So don’t get too bogged down with this part of the process. It’s one time where close enough is good enough. Just ensure you know which parts of the website are editable by you and which aren’t.

7. Don’t go backwards in the process (without expecting to pay extra)

The website creation process is like a funnel: you start with a bunch of design and content ideas and narrow them down until you reach a final version.

Where the process comes unstuck is where you change your mind about an aspect that was previously approved. This essentially means the project ‘goes backwards’ and expends unnecessary additional labour which the provider may rightly charge you for.

It’s no different to building a house — you refine and refine until you come up with a finished product. But alterations to something you have previously agreed to may take significant re-working to achieve your new result.

There are many more problems that can occur with your website project. However, if you stick to these key guidelines you can expect a much smoother and ‘on budget’ result than if you didn’t.

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Craig Reardon

In addition to being a leading eBusiness blogger and educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs around Australia.

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