Covalcomm news and thoughts

Emperor’s New Clothes

Does it always pay to get specialist web development support from outside?

I recently played golf with a friend who mentioned to me that they had sought the services of a web agency from the UK when doing their website design. After our round, I decided to take a look at the site – mainly from a comparison perspective as we offer website development at CovalComm too.

I looked up the website and was surprised by what I found; blurry company logo on the homepage, white spaces covering images, different fonts used, etc. This led me to ask myself a question, does it always pay to seek external specialists to do the work for you as a client?

Well, the answer to that is sometimes yes and sometimes a big ‘NO’ as it was in this case. I mean I for one would be a big hypocrite if I was to write here lamenting the fact that clients should look exclusively in-market to do such tasks. My developer for this website was a close friend from school and is now based in London having relocated from Zurich.

I also know for a fact, because I have been there, that quite often clients seek the services of web design agencies outside their market because they are not able to find the right solution inside the market. But in this case, I feel there would have been an agency who could have done a better job for this client from the local market (and probably charged a damn sight less money than what this client paid for their site).

Obviously, this was an extreme case as you would generally expect that if you are paying a premium for a service you would get better solution and delivery.

There is another side to this where clients go outside the local market to bring their costs down; sometimes to great effect! But we’ve all certainly heard of those horror stories on this side of the spectrum where clients look to web design agencies from outside markets, where design/ development is cheaper, only to find the site delivered is massively below the standard required for the project and that the only fix is to redevelop their site again (…and to stump up more cash for that!!). From my experience, I would generally recommend against using a web design agency through this route as the quality of output is not necessarily guaranteed.

Some of the difficulties you may encounter include:
– development costs may start to escalate due to the project overrunning
– additional costs may be applied to anything that was not included in the original scope of work
– your finished website might not have the full suite of functionality that allows you to maximise your sales
– the code used for your website may not be bespoke to your website (one size fits all, ‘square pegs into round holes’ scenario)
– inevitability you would have to spend more money re-developing the site to make it fit your needs
– in some instances, your project might be sub-contracted out to another developer
– communication can be fraught with misunderstanding

This made me start thinking about how any established client or startup should decide on a web design agency. Whether looking outside the market for an enhanced or cheaper solution, or in the local market for relevance and face to face development, there are some critical requirements that you should insist on to get the best out of the relationship and mitigate the risk of poor delivery:

a) Once you have shared your brief, make sure that your web design agency comes back with a detailed scope of work document (this details how they intend to build the site, the site functionality, software technology, key milestones for completion of certain aspects of the project, etc.)

b) Your web design agency should develop a site wireframe – this a visualisation of how they intend to build the site, how different parts of the site will look and work together, etc.

c) The web design agency and client should agree on the content management system (CMS) used to manage the site. The agency should be able to justify to you why they have chosen a particular CMS and the advantages and benefits that it will give to your business.

d) The right server solution for hosting the site should also be agreed between client and agency. Is it going to be privately hosted based on the nature of your business (especially important for businesses which store private data, or have transactions on site)? Have they selected a hosting provider who has servers based around the world? The last thing you want is to have a hosting service provider who has offices only in Iceland and your website traffic is from Indonesia…this would result in slow site speed as your web traffic will have to go from Indonesia to Iceland before coming back to your website which is based in Indonesia.

e) If you have an e-commerce business make sure that you get the best solution for your business. Ask your web design agency what e-commerce platform they will they be using; will it be open source e-commerce software which is repurposed for your website or a cloud-based platform? Will it be local market-friendly?

f) Outline what security measures will be included in the development and build to protect customer and business information?

h) Make sure that all development material is your intellectual property, do not agree to terms with a web design agency where they own the intellectual property therefore if you decide to make changes to your site down the road you have to do so through them and at the mercy of how much they want to charge for those changes.

i) Finally, think about the maintenance and support of your site after development. Are you going to have someone in-house who is going to manage this? Has the site been developed in a CMS which is user-friendly and easy to update? Is the web design agency going to be responsible for the maintenance and support of the site, and if so how much are they going to charge you for this and what support are they going to give?

Essentially what I want to convey in this blog is don’t be wowed by a web design agency promising you the ‘the emperor’s new clothes’ when it comes to developing your site. Whether the right fit is to look for a web design agency from an external market, or for a web developer in-market, what is critical to the success of your website is to ask the right questions. This will ensure that you get the best possible solution based on your business needs.

CovalComm delivers web design solutions for our client partners, please reach out to us on hello@covalcomm.com