Starting a project
To start your project – find a good web developer. They can guide you through everything else and so whilst you should keep reading, you’ll have professional guidance through the whole project. We'd advise you find a developer who can code - not just "someone who can make websites". There are lots of tools and pieces of software out there which make it very easy for people who can't write code to create great websites... but when you have a query or want something which the software/tool can't produce your project will come unstuck. So ask developers if they're capable of hand coding your project - and read our code page to understand the difference between front end and back end code.
There are pages on this site about hosting and domains, but it’s wise to speak to a web developer before you sort either of these options, as they are bound to have advice – especially on the topic of hosting, where your requirements will greatly depend on the final specification of your website.
Quotes, proposals and costs
A good analogy with regards to web development, is that it is like building a house – prices will rise along with the requirements. If you decide to add an extra bedroom over the garage, you’ve got to expect the end price to rise.
Web development is (generally) based on a time basis – the longer something takes, the more it costs. And if you add more features, or change features, then it will take longer and so cost more. If a price is agreed, it’s only agreed for the discussed functionlity. Adding to the specification will change the price.
This is where a detailed specification comes in – as well as being vital for the developer to know what they’re building(!), it’s also an important reference document for when it comes to pricing. If something isn’t in the brief, and then it’s added, then there may well be an additional cost. It’s important there is clear communication between you and your web team as to what is included – but as a rule of thumb think of it as: if it’s not written down, it’s not included. It may be that something you’ve always had in mind hasn’t cropped up in your discussions with the team, or a tiny little detail was misunderstood and under-planned. So make sure that if you haven’t seen it explicity described on paper, that you mention it incase it’s never actually been said/realised.
Before you approach any development agencies, do your best to write a brief. It might not cover everything they need to quote, or it might include things they don't need to know but writing out your plan can help your formalise things as well as giving a good starting point for a proposal. The Web Guild offers a brief writing service if you'd like a hand - without a good brief it's very hard to compare quotes as agencies may have different ideas of what you want and so quote quite differently.
Costs can also depend on the experience of a team – and that’s where you need to decide between going with a team who are relatively inexperienced but cheap and enthusiastic, or a team who are experienced and more expensive. Do you go for the £150 a day graduate coder, or the £300 a day coder who could do the job in half the time? Would the more experienced coder arguably bring more intrinsic knowledge of the web and processes with them to their work? (And just because they’re more expensive, are they definately more experienced? Or are they just being charged out at a lot?)
I’ve been asked before what the average contingency should be for a website development – how much does the end price vary from the initial price – but it varies so much from project to project. I’m currently working on a project where the price kept going up because the client was adding more and more substantial features – but then the company had a change of direction for a reason completely unrelated to the website – and the price went down to well below what it had originally been. It also depends on you to a certain extent, and the communication between you and your web team. If you’ve not discussed some ideas which you’ve always had in mind, then the price will go up when these are revealed. So, as above, you’ve just got to fully engage with any quotes you’re given and if it’s not written down, question if it’s included, because if it’s not, then there could be an extra cost when it finally gets discussed.
It can sometimes be more expensive to add something at a later date than during the main development, so whilst things can typically be added to well structured bespoke builds, it’s always worth giving your web team advanced warning of other features you’ve got in mind for the future. They can then suggest they’re brought forward, or at least build the rest of the site with that functionality some what in mind.
If you’ve come to this page looking for an answer as to how much your website might cost, then I’m afraid I’m going to leave you wanting more, as there is no default answer!
I can’t over emphasise how important the planning phases of your website are. Of course, some websites require more planning than others – but they all take a certain amount.
If your website is just a few pages of information about your business then the planning phase won’t be too long – you just need to think about what a visitor to your site might need to know.
Things like hours of business and directions to you (if you have premises) are vital. And don’t forget your phone number! Make sure it’s easy for people to contact you.
Technical Specification Gathering
As soon as you get into slightly bigger developments you need a technical specification. Everything needs to be noted and I mean EVERYTHING.
This is where you have to try really hard to write down, or tell your web developer, everything you need the site to do. And you have to be clear.
Of course no developer expects you to know the work involved with particular features, or how they’ll work particularly, but they can’t read your mind so you need to declare everything you ideally want/need, so that you and your developer can discuss what’s feasible within the given budget/timescale. Good specification gatherers will ask questions to glean as much information out of you as possible – but you need to give as much information as you possibly can. If your site is being custom built from scratch then it’s important to realise that absolutely everything will be built to your requirements.
There’s no such thing as a “normal website” so you can’t expect anything to be included by default. Don’t worry about stating the obvious – it’s better that way than the opposite.
Sometimes people getting a custom built site are moving from a software solution which they’ve outgrown – and this situation has advantages and disadvantages. In some ways it’s great because you know what features you’ve used most and so need in the new build, but sometimes it can mean you take some features for granted without really realising them and so forget to mention them in a brief.
Of course, a well constructed custom built site can be scaleable as you need new features in the future, but it’s always a bonus if you can give your development team a “heads up” on features you may need in the future, even if these are scheduled for ‘Phase 2′ or later.
A big thing to avoid is “scope creep” – a developer’s worst nightmare. If you wish to add things to a development because you’ve thought of new ideas as you’ve gone alone, then that’s ok – but please be prepared for it to have knock on effects on timescales and budget. It can also mean features that are already built – even on the most organised development – may need to be restructured which of course takes more time and costs more. Back to our house analogy – adding silver taps rather than stainless steel is going to cost more, and moving the bathroom after it’s been installed is going to cost money and take time.
One of the biggest issues in web development can be timescales.
I often hear of people who’s biggest gripe with their project was how long it took – or the fact that it was never completed!
When finding a web development company to proceed with, ask them how long they think the development will probably take from what they already know of the brief. Of course, this estimate will be as rough as the specification doc – if there’s lots of detail they don’t know yet, then the actual time will be longer when they find out the finer details. Ensure whoever tells you the timescale has had some time to work out what’s possible – and checked with the development team if they’re not a coder themself. A salesman in a shiny suit might promise you YouTube, Ebay and Amazon in a fortnight and that’s where disapointments can lie.
Timescales aren’t always dependent on the size of a team. It doesn’t matter how many developers a company has got – an army of coders in the background can’t speed up the planning and design phases of the project. It can also depend on how many projects the company are juggling – a small team working on 1 project can be as quick as a large team with a few on the go.
Whilst someone might be able to tell you how long the work will take, this can be different to how long it will actually take as it of course depends on the company’s other work commitments. If you discuss a project at the beginning of January, and they tell you they could get it live by March… but then for one reason or another you don’t start the project until February, it’s understandable that the web company may have different schedules to balance now. Similarly – if a month is named for launch, if parts of the project take longer than initially expected – due to scope creep or extra design work being required, then it follows that the deadline will be pushed back.
Do your bit by getting back to emails as soon as possible – as questions may arise that need your input before work can carry on. Try and supply required information – such as content – as soon as possible.
All parties need to be clear if there’s going to be a possible delay such as someone going on holiday – from the client or company’s side – so that plans can be made around that. For example, if you’re going to be away for 3 weeks during the development, then any required information needs to be gathered before you go.
As in any business, web companies have to schedule in work for the future. So if your site is supposed to be live in July, and it’s not, then you might run into problems if the team are supposed to move on to another project. This is where project management comes into play again, as your project manager will be able to tell you in advance that those extra features, or that extra section, might have to wait until “Phase 2″, or be able to juggle schedules of the team to make allowances for any over run. Sometimes though this can just be a tricky situation and so with a good company you’ll just have to work together to get around any delays. You should be prepared, though, that extra features you add to the development late, may need to be scheduled in for when your web team are next free.
A factor that can cause projects to run late is that the developer put on the job is out of their depth – so if your site is a complex build, try your best to be sure that the company you’re instructing will be able to manage the project. Ask to see sites of a similar level in their portolio – even if they’re completely different, you’ll at least be able to see that they’ve developed intricate projects. And check as to which members of the team worked on them and whether they’ll be working on yours. There’s no point in being impressed by a company’s work if that developer has since left – or was just a contractor brought in for a particular project.
Sometimes it’s not always about the size of the project – as you can get reasonably small sites that are incredibly complicated, and very large sites that are really quite simple from a technical point of view. So overall, just find a company you feel you can talk to and trust.
Web project management is crucial to a successful development. Good web project managers have an understanding of coding and how websites work so that if you ask them a question, they can help right away and discuss the finer details with you. Web project management by people who don’t work much in the online world can turn into a game of Chinese whispers.
I’ve known people say that they didn’t need any project management on their project – but I’ve never known a project that hasn’t included it. Design is design – working on the graphical look of the site. Development is development – writing the code and building the site. A project manager replies to your emails, answers your questions, keeps you updated on any changes in price or timescales after any changes to the spec. Of course these roles don’t have to be done by different people – freelancers will often do all the tasks on a project. But it’s still very much there / required. So consider when you’re choosing a company whether you feel there’s someone there that seems like they’ll be able to offer the support you need, and if they have the knowledge to make sure your queries can be adequately answered or at least thoroughly discussed with the developer.
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The Knowledge Base
Our knowledge base is split into categories, with an introdution to various differnt aspects of that category, followed by current topical articles which we constantly add.