This post is really geared more towards the Web client, though developers and designers can use it to guide their clients during the beginning stages of any project.

There are no hard set rules to Web development and this goes as much for how a site is built to how client relations are managed. Sadly, too many relationships begin without definition and they often end with resentment form the client and/or the developer.

Though it actually happens everyday, its not enough to ask what a Web site costs and to hire the person who gives you the most pleasing number.

Prior to seeking bids or any planning advise from a developer or designer the client should produce a scope of work that can be used by by the developer to start an estimate or even just start a conversation. To help start the process a client should provide the following items:

Site sections

Start with the home page and write an outline of the various sections of the site: home page, about us, contact, blog, etc. This is the first step to developing your information architecture, which is a fancy phrase for ‘outline’. Personally I think this outline is the strongest and easiest thing a client can do to get the project started out on the right foot.

Design

Do you have a design (template or previous site) that the site should be based on? How many unique templates will there be; home page, blog, general interior etc.? What are you expectations in regards to style; simple, lots of white space, application feel etc.? Are there any sites out there that you love the design of, hate the design of, if so share these with your designer if they haven’t already asked.

Number of Pages

At this point in the project any kind of estimate would be helpful as it might not be reasonable to have an exact count. Though number of pages does not always equate to effort, it is good to provide an estimate. Also let your developer know where this content currently exists;  is it in a older site, to be provided in MS Word documents or still be written?

What Will the Site Do

Oh yeah I forgot to mention, that we will be selling t-shirts of various sizes, colors and styles

Could you just throw in something that lets my clients review their bills and pay online?

Sure it will display content and images, but what does it do in terms of features and functions. Functions could be as simple as a contact form that emails the site owner, displaying a Twitter feed in a side bar, include an email subscription sign up, etc. Functions could also include more complex elements such as ecommerce, a sign in area, donations, scheduling, complex image galleries or video features. Create a list of all the things your site will do beyond display text and images. Don’t worry about the technical details or what technologies should be used, just a list at this point will do the trick. Give this some time and thought, because nothing throws a project out of whack faster than a client saying “oh yeah I forgot to mention, that we will be selling t-shirts of various sizes, colors and styles” or “Could you just throw in something that lets my clients review their bills and pay online?” once the project has started.

If you are seeking bids, don’t be shy to include wish list items. Maybe some features are out of your budget, but in the beginning stages it is very important that you start with everything so that an honest scope can be formed.

Technology

Be careful not to choose a technology because of what you heard from others.

Do you have a preference of the technology to be used? Have you used WordPress and love it, are you a Drupal fan or do you not even know what these are? Be careful not to choose a technology because of what you heard from others. Open source is not free (as in won’t cost you anything to have a site build), licensed software is not necessarily more expensive and just because a friend loves or hates one system doesn’t mean you will feel the same. I’ll talk more about technologies later but if there is a preference be sure to include it in your scope document.

Budget

If you ask 5 different developers for bids, you are gong to get 5 different prices.

What is your budget? This is a touchy one for many reasons. First, many clients don’t have a budget in this phase because they are trying to learn what it will cost. Here is the problem: If you ask 5 different developers for bids, you are gong to get 5 different prices. There is no exchange that determines what a site costs this week, there is no industry association that sets pricing and there are no laws and or regulations that guide what a project should cost. I have sold and worked on Websites that cost over a hundred thousand dollars, I have sold and built sites for tens of thousands of dollars and I have delivered sites for a few hundred bucks. What’s the difference between those sites? Sure it was scope, but even more so than that was who the client was and what people in their space were currently paying for services. Sucks I know. So do yourself a favor and figure out a budget. Ask people in your industry what they paid for their site, look at what you can afford and have some idea of what you are willing to pay. I would also encourage your to share this during the bid process. By letting developers know your budget they can basically tell you what they are willing to do for that budget rather than taking a wild stab in dark, hoping that the land somewhere between their livelihood and your current lowest bidder.

photo by Vancouver Film School / cc