Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Bullet Proof Web Contract Protects Both Parties

A bulletproof Web design contract ensures both sides -- Web site owner and Web designer -- get a fair deal. It ensures a smooth project, and avoids future disputes due to misunderstandings.

Here are 6 essential clauses for any Web design contract you sign.

1. Milestones and Deadlines

It's better to have a few milestones with concrete dates than one final delivery deadline. Having multiple deadlines provides for periodic checks to keep the project on track and moving along.

2. Specific Deliverables

Be very specific about deliverables. Examples of good specific deliverables are "Site works in top 5 browsers -- IE6, IE7, Firefox 1.5, Firefox 2, Safari" and "All code, graphics, mockups and other work product emailed in one zipfile before final payment will be issued." Spell out exactly what you expect to be delivered before the designer will be paid.

3. Number of Concepts

Also called "mockups" or "comps." The design process will start with the designer showing you concepts of what your homepage might look like. You'll work with the designer to take what you like from each concept until you agree on one look. In order to have enough choices in layouts, colors, and other variables, you'll want to have enough concepts to work with. Three concepts is a good number of choices that won't break the budget.

4. Number of Revisions

These are the rounds of notes and thoughts you give the designer to narrow down the 3 concepts to 1. Three rounds of revisions is a good number that will give you enough time to get a design you love without breaking the budget.

5. Payment

Paying 50 percent before work starts is a commonly accepted practice. Never pay the full amount up front.

6. Intellectual Property

You need to know who owns the rights to the design, including mockups, code and other work product.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Do You Really Need a CMS? Think About It.

One of the first things we hear from clients when discussing a new web presence is that they need a content management system (CMS). If I were an unscrupulous website designer, I would nod my head in agreement and add the costs for such a request to my proposal, without discussion. However, I am not an unscrupulous web designer, and will open a conversation with the client about the necessity of a CMS. In many cases, a CMS is not needed and can be more detrimental to a small company than beneficial.

A CMS allows you to edit your website without involving a website designer. This probably sounds great and now you’re probably asking, “Hey, why wouldn’t I want that? I can take care of my site by myself, without having to know anything about web design!” Take a look at a list of pros and cons.

Pros of a CMS
•Can edit simple content without your website designer
•Format of content will be uniform across website, controlled by a CMS template
•Allows different people to access the CMS for content updates
•Puts the website owner in control

Cons of a CMS
•The cost of adding a CMS to a project can be considerable
•Code tends to be bloated and opens a website to multiple security holes
•Design can be constrained and restructed by the CMS framework
•Unless used regularly, users may forget how to use the CMS; learning curve can be substantial

The pros of a CMS are what everyone knows, and what everyone is told. However the cons are often shuffled under the table. You should definitely consider both the pros and cons when considering using one with your project.

How do you determine if you really need a CMS? Here are a few things to consider.

How often will the website be updated? What kinds of updates will they be?
If you are updating your website more than once or twice a month, a CMS may serve you well, depending on the types of updates you are making. However, if you are updating less than once a month, you will more likely be better off simply working with your website designer to make edits. If time is essential, it is simple enough to require a specific turnaround time for updates from your designer.

Do you have sufficient resources to commit to a CMS?
Many of my clients are small business owners, non-profit organizations, or sole proprietorships. The last thing they need is one more thing to worry about. If you are going to implement a CMS, you need to make sure you have people who will be responsible for using it regularly, or can commit to that time yourself. Additionally, consider that there is a learning curve. Do you have the time and patience to learn the CMS? Or will you be faced, down the road, with hiring a web designer to make those WordPress, Drupal or Joomla updates for you?

Do you plan on having a blog on your website?
Blogging has grown exponentially in recent years. It’s a great way to keep website content fresh. If you are planning on blogging than a CMS might be required. However, do not believe that a CMS is required to include a blog in your website; any blogging site has the capability to be included into your website as a live feed, with an active updated presence on any page of your website that you desire.

If maintenance will be done in house, do you or any of your staff know html?
Contrary to popular belief there are ways to maintain a website in house without a CMS. If you have someone who knows HTML, he/she will be able to edit the website directly. A standards based website separates content from the design so basic HTML skills are all that’s needed. More substantial design changes and updates can be handled by your web designer.

The case for not having a CMS
I recently collaborated with a top-notch IT firm on a several projects. One of their people had a saying, “All content management systems suck. Some just suck less.” While “suck” might be a bit strong, I can say from experience that adding a CMS does limit a website’s flexibility. Many CMSs have a pre built framework that has to be worked around. By their nature a CMS is also template based, which can be limiting. A CMS is also not always SEO friendly, much less so than a standard HTML or XHTML site (although moreso than a Flash design).

A website built without a CMS does not have these types of limitations. It will also have a much smaller code base and be less susceptible to security holes. When I build a website from scratch, I am familiar with every single piece of code, because I wrote it. I also know how it can be changed or manipulated to get the results that I and my client desire. The same cannot be said when relying on a CMS.

Too often, people see a CMS as some kind of magic bullet. But it really isn’t. I think there is something to be said for having an expert handling all your updates. Your website designer will ensure the quality of any edits and will also have ideas to share with you regarding making improvements to your website.

There are definitely websites and organizations that require a CMS. However, there are cases where one is simply not needed or necessary. This decision should be made in consultation with your website designer rather than you simply making it a requirement because it is something you heard about, because it is the "new" thing, or because CMS is the latest buzzword. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous website designers who will be quick to add that cost to your proposal even if it isn’t necessary.

Friday, August 6, 2010

How Much Should a Website Cost?

How much should website cost? This is the most frequently asked question of any website developer or designer.

To establish the cost for a website without knowing the clients' basic needs would be like a contractor quoting prices for home renovations without knowing what work needed to be done.

Complexity of website features you require will usually be the determining factor for the actual cost of your website.

When considering the total cost of a website, please keep the following in mind:

Customers most often turn to the internet when they are searching for a product or service, far more often than the yellow pages.

Many people have found the initial cost of a website to be less than the cost to their business NOT making their presence known on the web. The cost of investing in a professional website is comparable to the cost of advertising in periodicals. In fact, many websites can cost less than one display advertisement in a major big city newspaper!

There are 4 main components to any website:

Domain Name

Your first step is to purchase the right to use "" on the web. The is the domain name. Purchasing a domain name ranges from $5 - $35, depending on the type (.com, .org, .net). Your webmaster will have a relationship with a reliable place from which to purchase your domain name and will handle the set up of your domain if necessary. Note: You can have several domain names all pointing to the same location, and this can be an inexpensive way to increase your website traffic and search engine placement. Your domain registration fee is an annual cost.


You pay a website host to keep your website online. This cost can be billed monthly or yearly. They host your graphics and html files on their server, and keep it running 24/7. Your web designer can add code which will log visits to your website, and run software that allows you to know how many people have come to your site, from where, what pages they visited, and so forth.

Hosting can be included as part of your web design package, or can be charged to you separately from your provider. This cost can range from $20 a month on up to hundreds of dollars a year, depending on how much information you're going to have on your site, how many people will come to it, and the other services provided along with the hosting.


Most of the start-up costs are going to be involved with the design and development of your website, both front end and back end. What type of graphics will you have? Are you providing graphics, or will your designer need to create custom graphics for your site? How involved are you doing to be in writing the copy? Do you know how you want the pages set up? Do you need help gathering information and content? What extra features do you want on your site, i.e. blog feeds, calendars, Flash elements, photo galleries, etc? Will your website require a database? A standard small business site could cost as little as $500 from a freelance designer, or as much as $5,000 from a large web agency.


How often will your site need to be updated? Will you offer interactive pages on your site that need to be monitored, such as blogs and forums? Does your business have consistent news and information updates or will your website remain relatively static for long periods of time? This is another area in which costs can be included in your initial design contract. Contracts can be written to include one year of maintenance and updates as part of your start up costs.

Some people choose to update their own site once it's been built. Letting your webmaster know this upfront can help everyone do a better job. A professional can update an entire site in less time than it probably takes the average computer user to figure out how things are set up, where they are, and how to make changes and publish them. If you feel qualified to make your own updates, that will be an additional consideration to be made in the development of your site. Maintenance costs can be included in your contract, or charged separately by your web designer, at hourly costs that range from $35-$150 per hour and higher.

In conclusion, it is important to remember that a professional business website reaches a worldwide audience, and promotes your company, your services or your product 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The cost of a web site can vary greatly, depending upon the site's features, needed marketing services, aesthetic qualities, and the design firm, advertising agency, or freelancer creating the Web design.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

How to Hire the Right Web Designer

Websites don't just build themselves. A small business owner will find that there are many choices to make when establishing an online presence.

A few of the critical questions a business owner needs to answer immediately include: "What kind of website do I want for my business?" "Do I need outside help building my site?" "If I need help, how do I go about selecting a website developer?"

Your first step will be answering these three questions:

1.Does my website need to have a one-of-a-kind design? Would a template do, and do I have the skills to edit and alter one for my needs? Am I willing to pay monthly fees to one of the large "hosting/template" companies for a "do it yourself" website? Am I better off hiring a web designer with the skills to alter and customize a template without all the additional time and fees that a "do it yourself" package entail?

2.How complex will my online business be? Is it merely a website to promote my company, serving as a marketing tool for my brick-and-mortar business? Will my website need to have an online store or be integrated with third-party tools such as auctions or blogs?

3.Do I have the technical capability to do any of this? Do I have the time to learn? For most businesses, the answer to No. 3 trumps the preceding questions.

Once the early decisions have been made, there are additional questions to be answered.

1. How many pages will comprise your website?

What kind of functionality do you intend to feature on your website? In addition to an ecommerce store, a business could offer features like email newsletter sign-ups, product demos, blogs, calendars, product photo galleries, etc.

2. At some point, however, you'll have to decide whether you're up to creating this website by yourself.

If you don't have a technophile within your reach, or on your staff, and if your site will be more complex than a couple pages of content, then hiring a web developer is in your future. It is recommended that you begin by setting up a budget upfront for the entire project, considering costs for design and development, hosting, SSL certificates, hosted or licensed shopping cart solutions, blogs and photo royalties.

3. Choosing a designer/developer. Opting to hire the lowest project bidder merely because he/she is the least expensive is possibly the most serious selection faux pas possible. You really get what you pay for, and may be spending additional funds for a second designer/developer to repair the low ball price website.

Presuming you've budgeted for a developer, consider these rules-of-thumb:

•Knowing what functionality you want from your site up front will help you get a more accurate quote from a web designer. The more information you can give a designer, the better qualified they are to give you a quote that reflects your needs.

•You can work with someone who does not live in your town, state or country, but it's important that there is clear, constant communication. This communication can be by email or by phone, but be sure that there is a consistent flow of information in both directions. This can determine project success or failure.

•Look for a long-term partner because it's likely you'll need tweaks to your site or tech support. Once your site is completed, you will need someone to make updates, changes, add features, etc., and if you have hired a designer/developer to create your site, you would be better served keeping that designer/developer available for long term maintenance issues.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Benefits of a Web Presence

Just ten years ago most people had not even heard of the Internet. In just a little over a decade it has grown from a very simple way to send email to a sophisticated form of communication. Today everyone is at least aware of the Internet and the majority of people use it on a daily basis.

A few of the benefits for a small business with a business website include:

Increased Market Size: A business website presence broadens the market reach for your business from local to global.

Reduced Information Distribution Costs: Practically every business distributes some sort of information -- product sheets, technical specs, catalogs, brochures, order forms, proposals, etc. A business website allows you to provide that information to your customers in real time when they need it.

Expanded Availability to Customers: Your business website gives your customers access to your business 24/7 with very little increase in overhead or employment costs. Having your information available allows the customer to review the services you provide at their convenience.

A Step Up on Your Competition: As a business owner, the last thing you want to do is to give your prospective clients a detailed list of your competitors, including addresses and phone numbers. But that is exactly what the Yellow Pages do. Using the internet, you can differentiate yourself from everyone else, so that when your prospective clients come looking for what you do, they find you, not all your competitors.

Increased Sales: If your small business website includes an online shopping cart or e-commerce solution, you can increase your sales with little additional cost. Photo galleries, portfolios or samples of your work and the services you provide gives potential customers increased confidence in the support you can provide for them.

Customers Require It: This is probably the most important benefit of having a business web site. If you own a business today, your customers EXPECT you to have a web site. This expectation almost requires you to have some sort of interactive, dynamic web presence.

The Internet makes it possible to communicate with your customers on their terms, within their time-table. It makes it possible to automate the distribution of information and provide your customers access to 24/7 customer service. Even if you don't use the Internet to increase your market reach and revenue, the Internet has made it possible to keep your customers happy.

Why Hire a Web Designer?

Many on-line business owners start with very little money. They have to do everything themselves; preparing their product, developing a marketing strategy, building their website. However, they often find that their simple "homemade" web site might not be enough to cover everything, and they will have to take days or weeks away from their business to dedicate to website expansion.

How many business owners have the ability to take that much time away from building and running their businesses?

When you hire a web designer, you are doing more than just handing over work that you do not have the time or inclination to do. By investing a little money in a web designer, you will be more focused and have more time to spend on your actual business strategy.

The designers you hire are professionals, and should be experienced at what they do. By outsourcing your web design projects to them, you won't have to worry that you will spend time away from your business when problems surface; you have someone that will fix them for you. They have the expertise to pin point any problems that may come up, and will be able to fix it in a minimum amount of time.

The most common aspect of marketing your business online is to brand your company, and to look professional as a business. The problem with starting a business online is lack of resources, such as creating a website for your business, and other essential resources that you need in order grow your business further.

When you hire a web designer, you are hiring him to do what he does best, a professional job that can have a dramatic affect on your business. A designer will save you the time in creating and putting your web site online, and provide you with the originality you desire.

Experience and knowledge is what the average person lacks in designing, building, and maintaining a web site. Hiring a web designer saves you the time you would spend with trial and error design -- Such as learning software, html, css, SEO, and other coding required.

Web designers wear many hats -- Web Design, Development, Programming, Graphic Artist, Management, Maintenance, Marketing and more; skills and services that you may or may not have the time and expertise to perform.

Can you do it all yourself?

Maybe. But how much time do you want to invest before you decide that the answer to that question is no?