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To ensure you get what you want out of your website, be actively involved from the requirements and needs phase, to the functional specification phase, to negotiating a tight development contract.
As website technology gets increasingly sophisticated with more capabilities every day, many groups and practices are looking to upgrade and improve their outdated websites. And without a solid web presence these days you could have a struggle with getting new patients and retaining old ones.
However, the horror stories of web development companies taking advantage of innocent groups and practices are endless. Websites many times come in over budget and expectations are not met. In many cases, the practices complain that they feel they are held hostage by the development company.
Having helped customers select and contract with web development companies over the years, I definitely understand how there can be a disconnect between customer and the company. By selecting the right company and holding them accountable, it is possible to have a much more productive and successful website development or upgrade experience.
Determining your needs
You can’t expect a great website meeting all your expectations if you don’t take the time upfront to determine what type of functionality you need.
For example, is it just a marketing oriented-site or is it an interactive site with such features as form submittal, online registration, Q&A, and other interactive features? What are your goals and expectations for the site? Are you upgrading what you have or redesigning your site completely? Would you like to be heavy with images throughout the site or have it be more informational in nature? There are many decisions to make when putting together a website that will serve your purposes for years to come. If you cannot convey those goals to a perspective web developer then how can you expect them to provide you what you truly need at the end of the day?
Think about how you work with an architect building a house. You can convey all your needs and wants regarding what you want in your new house. But until the architect puts the design into their CAD system and shares their architectural renderings with you visually, it is difficult to envision how the whole thing goes together including traffic patterns, flow of rooms, etc. The same rules apply when constructing a website. This is where the functional specifications come in.
A rendering of every page in the site should be presented to you, including images, copy, links, and buttons. In addition, the navigation and interaction between these pages should be spelled out. If you have any interactive functionality such as form submission, online registration, or other interactive components, the workings of these should be specified as well.
There is typically a lot of heavy lifting during this phase and a considerable amount of back and forth until you and your development vendor are on the same page and you agree that this is ultimately a look and functionality of the site that you are going for. The beauty of developing an agreed-to set of functional specifications is that you can include them in the contract and therefore, hold your vendor accountable.
Hold your vendor accountable
Now let’s get into the ultimate way you can assure you get what you paid for from your web development company. The answer is to have a solid contract or agreement that holds your vendor accountable for not just “talking the talk,” but also “walking the walk”.
There are so many balls in the air when developing a site that there is opportunity for a vendor to pull some “smoke and mirrors” where you think that you’re getting what you expected but in reality, you’re not. When developing or negotiating an agreement for web development services it is extremely important that you and your vendor develop and agree to a “milestone-based” schedule and associated timelines.
If you first develop functional specifications, which is a detailed look at what you are getting, then a web development company should not have any problems putting together a detailed project plan and associated timelines. This is where the rubber meets the road and gives you control over accountability of your vendor during the development project. If they don’t meet the schedule timelines, there are repercussions.
It is also critical to make your payments to the vendor dependent on reaching certain milestones per specification, as well as not making a final payment until the site is exactly as you expected. Finally, just because a website seems to be working upon Go Live doesn’t mean that you won’t run into problems down the line. So you need to get warranties on the vendor’s work as well as discuss what ongoing support would look like.
Building a new website or upgrading an existing one isn’t as simple as just turning everything over to your web development company and calling it a day. If you follow these steps and take control of the process then you’ll have a better chance of getting what you need and expect.