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    42 Replies Latest reply on Aug 17, 2008 5:10 PM by xmlGuru

    What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?

    Adventurer
      Seeing as this is a SmallBiz forum, I thought I'd ask all of you: what is/was your criteria for selecting a professional website development firm? (NOTE: I consider myself one of the good guys, almost 9 years in business and doing well, for me AND for my clients)

      I have read a lot of posts about the bad ones: ripped off money, non delivery, poorly executed project, lack of support, months-long update cycles. I hear the horror stories myself, and can look at any dozen websites, and see 80% are so badly done, I want to light a match and start over! (grin)

      So, I gently ask, without casting aspersions, for the bad experiences, how did you select those firms in the first place?

      For anyone (burned or not), how might you go about selecting a webdev firm for your new website (or website makeover).

      DYI folks - why? (LOL, grin). Do you do your own taxes, court cases, and dental extractions too? (if so, SWEET!)

      I am serious in asking this, because even after 8+ years, I still don't have the best grasp of how to set myself apart from the eleventy billion or so mediocre at best web-dev firms out there, and insights are always appreciated.

      Thank you.
      Mike
        • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
          CorpCons08 Ranger
          I resent that comment. My last dental extraction went very well...
          • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
            LUCKIEST Guide
            Have you thought about visiting SCORE either online or in person. SCORE is FREE
            I am a SCORE Counselor and we can help.
            LUCKIEST
              • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                Adventurer
                Luckiest - did you READ my post, and note the fact that I am a web designer?

                Oh, and I did talk to SCORE in my area a few years ago - sorry, was completely unimpressed. All I got were the fumblings of a RETIRED (the R of SCORE) businessperson, clueless about the internet.
                  • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                    NatOnline Tracker
                    LOL, I agree with you on this one ;-)
                    • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                      NatOnline Tracker
                      LOL, I agree with you on this one ;-)

                      Oh, and I did talk to SCORE in my area a few years ago - sorry, was completely unimpressed. All I got were the fumblings of a RETIRED (the R of SCORE) businessperson, clueless about the internet."

                      Sorry for the double post, moderator can remove the first one.
                        • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                          Emile Yarder Adventurer
                          Only the founder of the subject can remove something here and we are going to loose all contributions. LOL. John.
                            • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                              instance Wayfarer
                              The criteria for selecting a Web design firm varies a lot depending on the customer needs and the segment of the market you are targeting.

                              Everybody have different needs for which you should try to adapt your business to them to some scale. It is very important that you try to differentiate your business from other Web design firms as well.

                              If your business tends to produce great looking Web sites then the customer that has a very low budget and does not need a great looking Web site should not be your target. Probably, you can lower the price for your customer and produce a cheaper and not so good looking Web site that will take you less time to develop, but it may hurt the image of your company and it may not be what you are look for.

                              I would quickly break down the criteria as follows (the importance of each criteria will depend on the needs of each customer)

                              1. Quality/Portfolio
                              2. Price
                              3. Customer Service/ Availability by phone/ Response Time
                              4. If it's a local company or an offshore company
                              5. Communication Skills
                              6. Timeframe to complete the Web site
                              7. Method of payment
                              8. Down payment requested
                              9. Professionalism
                              10. Your ideas/Enthusiasm (the ideas you give the client to develop the Web site)

                              I would say this would be the main things people analyze when choosing a Web design firm... I also operate a Web design company and that's what I could quickly come up with because of my own experiences.
                      • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                        Biz Online Adventurer
                        MTCreations: First of all, nice website!
                        How to separate yourself apart from the crowd.

                        First, and foremost, a website is a marketing tool, an
                        extension of the marketing a company does off line. The website should project
                        the image a company wants to project. Work with the client to come up with visitor personas, their typical, or target market visitors. Through the eyes of a visitor, you can develop sales funnels to answer the questions different visitors want to find on your client's new website.

                        For a website designer/developer, one of the ways to
                        separate yourself from the crowd is to truly understand the client's business,
                        their marketing, their target market, their perfect customer, and their goals. By understanding your client's wants and
                        needs, you become a business consultant, not a designer/developer. Design and
                        development is a just a means to an end.

                        Business people respect other business people. *A unique
                        approach is coming to the table as a business problem solver*, NOT as a website
                        designer. Let them know that you will optimize their site for the search
                        engines while you build it - this will also separate you from the masses! This
                        has worked for me time and time again. By applying my 15 years of
                        sales/marketing experience to a client's business problem, I form a solution
                        (or multiple solutions) that can be conveyed through the client's new website.

                        Many website designers fall into two groups: artist or programmer.
                        A starving artist turned website designer doesn't care about selling your
                        product or service, they just want to see their masterpiece. The programmer
                        turned website designer wants to display their perfect code, but are clueless
                        about marketing.

                        Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to be your
                        client's problem solver, their internet marketing department, their chief web consultant
                        that looks at all angles before making recommendations. Use your experience to
                        your advantage.

                        By doing so, your close ratio will go through the roof, you
                        will separate yourself from the crowd, and you'll have all the business you
                        want through client referrals.

                        And please, while developing a new website, do all of the
                        on-page search engine optimization you can during the design phase and
                        throughout the project. I'll post this short list in another post!

                        Good luck!
                        Cliff Koraska
                          • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                            Adventurer
                            Thank you for the kind words and advice.

                            Built in SEO - check (but I could explain that better on my website, will do)

                            Business Consultant - check: per my extended tag line: Great website solutions since 1999 (design, development, programming).

                            Again, will review the content and expand on that notion more.

                            Issue faced: do folks needing a website look for an internet consultant or a 'website designer'?
                            The SEO can be tricky - you have to attract people looking for your service, but in their words. I guess that's a different thread - how do you go about FINDING a web dev firm, and then return back to this one, after finding a bunch, how do you SELECT the one for you.

                            I do plan on asking that FINDING question in a different thread, at a later date.

                            And for the record, I'm came from the programming side, with a good eye for layout, and a non-geeky skill of speaking (and listening) with a client, not at them with my ears closed.
                              • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                Biz Online Adventurer
                                You are welcome, MT.
                                Let me know when you post the "finding" question. Just drop me an email through my profile. From an SEO perspective, you can target many keyword phrases on different pages of your website.

                                Getting away from industry jargon terms on your website like SEM (search engine marketing), SEO (search engine optimization), and PPC (pay per click advertising) is a wonderful way to speak in your customer's terms AND attract more qualified, relevant traffic. For instance, I did an article on local advertising, focused on my home area of Dallas. The article ranks #3 for Dallas local advertising in Google. This article helped me get a new client just last week, with a one year contract to manage all of their PPC advertising.

                                Talk to you soon!
                                Cliff aka Biz Online
                            • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                              Lighthouse24 Ranger

                              Excellent question! About three-fourths of the "eleventy billion" web-dev firms out there would have never asked it in the first place because they are already so certain that they are just terrific (often in spite of evidence to the contrary).

                              I have worked with a variety of web developers hired by client companies. My major complaint is the vast majority simply don't listen and don't "get it" when it comes to how a specific website needs to fit in to a particular business strategy. They seem to think ALL business activity resolves around an Internet domain. All too often, there is only one aspect of web-dev they actually know something about and they try to exploit that whether it's appropriate to the solution or not.

                              My analogy: A website developer is to business operations what a painter is to interior decorating. Just because a painter knows how to apply an attractive olive granite faux glaze finish doesn't mean every wall in the house needs to be painted with an olive granite faux glaze finish. And it sure doesn't mean the cabinets, bathtub, and carpets need to be painted with an olive granite faux glaze finish! Yet many freelance web developers seem to take exactly that position -- and do so proudly. In fact, they'll look at a website and offer the equivalent of "Your paint job stinks! That lousy painter you hired obviously left 90 percent of the house unpainted!"

                              To use one of your metaphors, my dentist supports my goal of having a clean and healthy mouth. I'm sure it would be possible (and profitable to him) to extract a few of my teeth, add some implants, and give me a big screen Hollywood smile -- yet he doesn't push me to do that. Nor does he insult or criticize me for being perfectly happy with my healthy, albeit slightly crooked, right incisor. He also doesn't try to lie to me by telling me I HAVE to have expensive cosmetic work done in order to have a healthy mouth. Yet many web developers DO intentionally mislead business owners by insisting that certain content attributes, design characteristics, automation tools, and functional technologies are mandatory when they are not. It depends on the business objective, and most rarely bother to ask or understand what that objective is.

                              As for DIY, I see the dentist once or twice a year -- he doesn't brush and floss my teeth every day and night for me. Likewise, there are some basic types of websites that I can build on my own, and I expect that one of my assistants or I will able to do the routine maintenance on anything. It's my mouth -- and my website.

                              How do I select web-developers when a site requires more specialized expertise? Same way I select a dentist -- referrals. I ask people who have healthy mouths and similar concerns for oral hygiene (or great websites and a business objective that's similar to mine) who their dentist (or web developer) is. Then I make an appointment and if the person listens and "gets it," we have the basis for a continuing relationship.

                              I don't look at a developer's own website, I look at his clients' websites. I don't do Google searches for developers or follow up on their ads. In any profession, when someone is really good at what they do, they are busy doing THAT, not trolling the Internet for customers.

                              Judging by some of the posts I've read, for every web-dev in this community who "gets it," there are many who don't. Just yesterday, I received an unsolicited critique from one of them telling me that one of my sites was "unfriendly" to search engines and that he could increase my traffic. I politely replied, thanks, but no (the only people on the planet who had to find that site yesterday were already listening to me on the radio -- they needed the exact content that was there, and nothing else). The person then sent a condescending list of reasons why it was nevertheless essential that I butcher the site to attract the masses of stray visitors that he was apparently convinced I needed. Had I sent a reply to that, it would have read, "Here's your sign."

                              Thanks again for posting the question. (Are you sorry you asked now?)
                              • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                Lighthouse24 Ranger
                                BizOnline evidently posted his response while I was composing mine. Cliff "gets it."
                                • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                  maxamillion Wayfarer
                                  Sorry to come into this process a bit late, but before you go into the web design process, make sure what you intend to develop. The programming cost gets extensive if you are not decisive. Most e-commece systems come already set and dont need any programming. We sell shopping carts at $399.00 and professional e-commerece sites integrated with your accounting software for $999.00 Then take into account the website hosting costs. These range, depending on the number of people you estimate to hit your web site and the size of your site, between $ 14.95 to 29.95 per month. Then go looking for a designer. The designer should just design the pages and the images. You should make a layout that you need to fill for a web page. The designer should then give you costs of each image and the cost for changes. When you get designers to do the programming of the website, then the costs are extremely high. Most of the people on this online community are starters in business and dont have the funding to get a real high flown designed site. You should take this one step at a time and proceed.

                                  If you dont want a shopping cart or an e-commerce site and just want a regular site to my website, the layout is template based and I can help you set it up for free if you decide to host with us. You can hire a designer on your own to fill in the templates. The layouts are two column and three column based. You can completely redo the layout. My website is www.ledgerfolio.com. If your designer wants to host it on his own, I can help you ensure that your cost is being realistic, taking into account what you want. There are a number of people on this community site who can dole out their opinion to let you know whether you are doing the right or wrong thing
                                    • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                      Adventurer
                                      Thanks for the sales pitch for your own services. Completely not what the question was about, but rather indicative of the other 'eleventy-billion', is it not?
                                        • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                          maxamillion Wayfarer
                                          Sales pitch??? By the way I agreed to do it for free. He is going to have to host his site. The e-commerce sites from us are more expensive then the stuff you can get on the web. We do this only where clients want to integrate thier accounting into their sites.

                                          Firstly, before you get a web designer to "show you how to market your product", know what you want to do with your web site. The designer should be able to visulalize what you need not what the designer thinks is the best way to market it. Your product is your specialty not a designers. I have been in the IT business for over 30 years, I have yet to come across a designer, whose charges are reasonable for a small business client, be able to plan design and implement a professional based system. I could be bloody wrong if you if you are able to do this for a small business client at a reasonable cost with your services.

                                          My suggestion is that if you are able to pay for a professional design firm to sit with you and go through the process as MTCreations suggests, go fo it.
                                      • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                        Campbell Wayfarer
                                        I think that this is a terribly fascinating question for all of the right reasons. Web designers by their very nature are specialists who are looking to differentiate themselves from the pack in numerous ways, yet the simple truth is every day more and more of them commoditize themselves just to pick up business.

                                        Being that I handle development of social networks and e-commerce websites I consider myself part of the "designer rubicon" as that if you had little understanding of development and asked what do you do to me my answer may sound like that of a web designer. Yet, I've developed traditional websites and feel more than qualified to look at this from your side of the coin MTCreations.

                                        Every client who's chosen me or my firm has done so because of our marketing expertise, our ability to forumulate and integrate a marketing campaign into the overall design of the website and our strategic thinking. And most of our clients happen to be businesses who've been underserved by another "design firm".

                                        If a designer can't look at the development process strategically and can't effectively ascertain the situation at hand it's going to be a slow but sure disaster. The most important role of the designer is to educate the client on what to expect from the project, while at the same time making sure that their standards are upto par or better than the industry norm.

                                        I also found it interesting that most business owners wish to make sure that a website needs to be updated frequently because I couldn't agree more, but since every customer we have has the ability to edit their own website or delegate usernames out to employees it's something I've taken for granted. I think the best thing you can do as a business owner is contact as many designers as you can and talk to them and just try to understand how they look at the world.

                                        Do they share the share the same philosophy that I do when it comes to doing business?

                                        Do they understand what my customers want or show a geniuine interest to learn?

                                        What's their track record? Can I see any previous work they've done?

                                        What about marketing and copy writing? Do they understand the nature of salesmanship and how to induce catatonic-like jaw dropping amounts of sales?

                                        These are all things to consider. Your website needs to be the focal point of your direct marketing efforts, it needs to be scalable and able to evolve with the everchanging marketplace. You also need a designer that has a true understanding of your product offering as well as how to best articulate the benefits of your offering to the end user.

                                        And most importantly make sure they stay on time and are reliable. You don't just want a website that is easily updatable, you want a website that's self-sufficient.

                                        As for DIY, I've ranted elsewhere already.

                                        -Campbell

                                        (sorry for the spelling, I'm at the desk trying to type while eating between phone calls)
                                        1 of 1 people found this helpful
                                          • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                            Lighthouse24 Ranger

                                            Gosh Campbell, I was right there with you until, "your website needs to be the focal point of your direct marketing efforts." For a legitimate business, direct marketing is about generating leads, qualifying prospects, building trust, converting to sales, leverage relationships, and getting referrals. A website is just a tool -- one of many, in fact -- that might or might not be used to support a given stage of that process. I see real problems when the web developer views a website as the nucleus about which all business activity revolves -- but I can also see that when a small business owner instructs (or allows) a developer to try to jam the entire marketing process into a couple of mouse clicks, then he or she is just as much to blame.

                                            Looking at the various domain names and websites owned by about 200 of my clients (a fairly representative cross-section of American business overall), 70 percent of them are not even accessible to the general public. Another 20 percent support one or more aspects of a marketing strategy, but not an aspect that relies on any type of search engine visibility to be effective. About 5 percent support a marketing strategy that does rely on search engine visibility. The remaining 5 percent are true "e-commerce" sites where any shortcomings in accessibility, display, performance, functionality, security, etc. would be costly.

                                            The point is that 90 percent of these business websites are there primarily to share information, and most of those to a very limited audience. They don't need all the things that are critical to an e-commerce destination. Web-developers who don't readily grasp that are not only missing out on a TON of freelance work, they're essentially inviting business owners to explore DIY solutions.

                                             

                                            I do concur with everything else in your post. Thanks.
                                          • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                            Emile Yarder Adventurer

                                            Hello Mike,

                                             

                                            I want just say: know your clients well. You could make some scoring. when you know your typical customer, try always to be at 'his place' when you're shopping around for web designers. Browse around. And feel it with the eye of your customers. After that ask and make a test. with other different people you found with the scoring you made. And decide. That the way I think; It was tested by a multinational company. One software was made for. John
                                            • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                              instance Wayfarer
                                              Sorry I am posting this twice but I intended to post it for MTCreations! so here it goes again...

                                               

                                              The criteria for selecting a Web design firm varies a lot depending on the customer needs and the segment of the market you are targeting.

                                              Everybody have different needs for which you should try to adapt your business to them to some scale. It is very important that you try to differentiate your business from other Web design firms as well.

                                              If your business tends to produce great looking Web sites then the customer that has a very low budget and does not need a great looking Web site should not be your target. Probably, you can lower the price for your customer and produce a cheaper and not so good looking Web site that will take you less time to develop, but it may hurt the image of your company and it may not be what you are look for.

                                              I would quickly break down the criteria as follows (the importance of each criteria will depend on the needs of each customer)

                                              1. Quality/Portfolio
                                              2. Price
                                              3. Customer Service/ Availability by phone/ Response Time
                                              4. If it's a local company or an offshore company
                                              5. Communication Skills
                                              6. Timeframe to complete the Web site
                                              7. Method of payment
                                              8. Down payment requested
                                              9. Professionalism
                                              10. Your ideas/Enthusiasm (the ideas you give the client to develop the Web site)

                                              I would say this would be the main things people analyze when choosing a Web design firm... I also operate a Web design company and that's what I could quickly come up with because of my own experiences.
                                              1 of 1 people found this helpful
                                              • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                                LUCKIEST Guide
                                                Another 35 posts (before this on) and the question is NOT ANSWERED??
                                                  • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                                    Adventurer
                                                    Well, seems Luckiest has decided that an open ended question needs an answer, not a discussion.

                                                    There is no 'answer', just positions and opinions, since each person has their own set of criteria. Granted, many will be common and overlap, and that's great. Others will be narrow focused on their own personal experiences or special needs.

                                                    My intent was to fluff out some of the different angles, and see what people are looking for.

                                                    I have marked this reply with 'my question is answered', so as to not anger the forum gods.
                                                  • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                                    Excellent Adventurer
                                                    That's a tough question to answer. It's difficult because the criteria isn't something that can be explained or written down on a piece of paper. A website, in my opinion, should be the place where a customer sees and feels a mirror image of the physical location. In other words, the virtual resembles the actual. I suppose a criteria would have to be a web designer who conjures up the same feeling (of passion) that the owner has portrayed in her place of business and can re-create them on a website.

                                                    Have you ever gone to a place that took your breath away and gone on their website and the same feelings came back to you? If the physical location is that amazing an experience, you want to exude the same. Isn't that what keeps them coming back?
                                                    • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                                      Anindianspice Newbie
                                                      I think you must opt for an Indian company like MiracleStudios.in

                                                       

                                                      The reason they are best for your web designing project :

                                                       


                                                      Fifteen reasons in detail.........
                                                      1. Timely delivery

                                                      We deliver what
                                                      we promise to our customers, on time and at the committed price.

                                                       

                                                      *2. Fixed price on project basis offer *

                                                      We give a fixed price offer to our clients based on their
                                                      requirements. We do not bill our customers on an hourly basis, as many other
                                                      companies do.
                                                      End result - no cost overruns.
                                                      You know your financial
                                                      commitments exactly right at the beginning.

                                                       

                                                      3. Require only deposit upfront

                                                      We
                                                      collect a 50 % deposit upfront before starting on the design. The rest of the
                                                      payment is collected after delivery and your complete satisfaction. No other
                                                      hidden charges to inflate your budget.

                                                       

                                                      4. Money back guarantee

                                                      We offer an
                                                      unmatched 30 days money back guarantee. If you are not satisfied with the
                                                      website we designed for you, contact us and we will refund your money.

                                                       

                                                      5. No page content limitation

                                                      We do
                                                      not impose any rigid restrictions on the content in a page as other designers
                                                      do. This means that the website page content can be planned to suit your
                                                      business needs.

                                                       

                                                      6. High professionalism

                                                      We plan and
                                                      design the website to suit your specific needs and purpose. We show you several
                                                      basic designs so you can make your own selection on how your website should
                                                      look.

                                                       

                                                      7. Source code

                                                      We will give the
                                                      complete source codes and files after completing the project, unlike other
                                                      website designers. This means that you have complete control over the design
                                                      once the project is delivered to you.

                                                       

                                                      *8. _Regular interaction and
                                                      flexibility_*

                                                      We believe in regular interactions with the
                                                      customer to help deliver the best possible product. Unlike many other web design
                                                      companies, we are flexible and accept design changes during the development
                                                      phase.

                                                       

                                                      *9. _Direct contact with
                                                      designers_*

                                                      You can call our designers directly and discuss
                                                      your project. No intermediate layer for communication as in many other
                                                      companies. This means you are completely in sync with the person who designs
                                                      your website.

                                                       

                                                      10. Large portfolio

                                                      We have a large
                                                      active portfolio. This means we understand your business and can supplement your
                                                      ideas with our suggestions.

                                                       

                                                      11. Large database

                                                      We have over a
                                                      million authentic pictures and images in our database. Thus, you have an
                                                      unlimited supply of images to select from and incorporate in your website to
                                                      make it unique and attractive.

                                                       

                                                      12. Based in India

                                                      We are located
                                                      in North India but out clients dot the globe. So, we can understand your
                                                      business needs and culture better than any other web design company as we have
                                                      experience which counts.

                                                       

                                                      13. Toll free phone number

                                                      We
                                                      extend a toll free telephone facility to all our customers. You can call us any
                                                      time from anywhere. The calls will be attended to individually round the clock
                                                      on all days of the week.

                                                       

                                                      14. Large clientele

                                                      We have a large
                                                      number of satisfactory customers who can vouch for our work. Their testimonials
                                                      are real and you can contact them directly to confirm this.

                                                       

                                                      15. Repeat orders

                                                      Satisfied with
                                                      our quality work, many of our customers come back to us for their further
                                                      website development needs.


                                                      Don't belive in my words .......but you have belive your eyes..........

                                                      Kindly take a glimpse of our portfolio at portfolio.miraclestudios.in

                                                        • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                                          Adventurer
                                                          Hmmm. I actually like these outsource firms, as I must get about 1/3 of my projects from clients who have been burnt by overseas outsourcing. I wish there was a way to help save folks earlier, but sooner or later they realize the so-called cost savings are illusionary, and the support is non-existant.

                                                          The cheap comes out expensive. (I wish I knew the exact words in Spanish for this phrase).

                                                          Bad design costs you far more than good design, and a great website design is a Mike Truese Creation!

                                                          www.miketruesecreations.com
                                                        • Re: What is your criteria for selecting a website design firm?
                                                          xmlGuru Newbie

                                                          In doing this sort of thing since the Internet was new (and even before that), there are certain criteria a Web design/development firm should embrace. Unfortunately, as has been previously stated, umpteen billion of them don't.

                                                          First and foremost, as was so rightly pointed out, it's about their business. Not how well you can design or code. First, understand why they do business. Understanding why drives the how. How do they perceive themselves and their business, as well as how do their clients perceive how they do business?

                                                          That's when your light should come on and you can start the nuts and bolts process of modeling that how.

                                                          Next thing is: what do they know and how do they know it? Any company's biggest asset is knowledge. Whether it's widget production or rocket science. How much of that institutional knowledge is captured? How is captured? Are they leveraging it?

                                                          That brings us to content. Content is king. Presentation is the glamour queen. A pretty Web site that says absolutely nothing is just that, a pretty Web site. It won't keep their customers coming back.

                                                           


                                                          Now you have the pieces to go forward. As was also mentioned, gathering those pieces means that you ask lots of questions. Not only does it help you, but it also helps them ... too often companies proceed onward, their original vision clouded by day to day necessities of running a business.

                                                           


                                                          Now the developer hat comes on. By this time, I've generally gotten a good idea of what technology pieces will work for this particular business. Because in my two decades of doing this, one thing has been driven home time and again: there is no one-size-fits-all solution. So you put serious effort into system analysis and design: what works to your convenience might not work to theirs. Sometimes out of the box solutions work just fine, sometimes not and you write it from scratch. Personally, I've always been highly amused with the Programmer Wars ... Java vs. the Evil Empire, vs. PHP vs. any number of solutions that died along the way. You should find what works for your client, you owe them that much.

                                                           


                                                          In this phase, you answer questions about extensibility, data repurposing and ease of maintenance. And you aren't working in a vacuum, at every step the client's input is a critical component. Which brings me to an important point ... probably of such importance that it should have been mentioned sooner: Communication is the key. If your client is doing fruit, but you're thinking apples and he's thinking oranges, you've clearly not communicated.

                                                          Now that the nuts and bolts of modeling how they do business are gelling comes the time to dust off the glamour queen and start primping her for the big show. But even here, it's about standards. In business terms, there is a cost benefit for complying with W3C standards: compliant XHTML 1.0 Strict, compliant CSS; and in the XML realm, an wide array of other standards. Here too is where you weigh other standards - compliance with ADA and WAI and how it will fit into the overall design.

                                                          Lastly comes the part we all dread: browser compatibility. Adherence to standards actually makes this simpler, though no less onerous. A few ungainly (but unfortunately necessary hacks usually resolves this).

                                                          The design aspect is the tricky part. It's an "eye of the beholder" thing. What is snappy, cool and loaded with wow for one company just won't work for another. The design has to fit their image. Branding is very important, and it is easy to let your vision of what they should be outweigh their vision of what they are.

                                                          SEO, SEO, SEO. Besides XML, probably the biggest three letters you need to concern yourself with insofar as importance and relevance (no pun intended). Good SEO takes work. Not necessarily back breaking work, but work nonetheless. It is something all too often glossed over by all too many "Web design" companies. Unlike Field of Dreams, if you build it, they won't necessarily come.

                                                          The rest is mundane site setting up and maintenance. But that is importance too. Hence the system analysis regarding extensibility. The goal in all this is simple business: your solution and approach should provide the best ROI (Return on Investment) and provide the lowest TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) ... forget the high-tech geek speak ... this is what matters most to business managers who hire consultants to do their company's business.

                                                          Brian Milbank
                                                          Chief Information Technology Officer
                                                          XTechnology Associates, Inc.
                                                          http://www.xtechassoc.net