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July 11, 2008

7 Strategies for Reducing your Website Development Costs (and headaches)

Completing the following steps prior to starting a new website development or enhancement project can ensure that your project stays on budget and on schedule.

  1. Identify the person(s) that will assist you in developing a detailed plan for your site. Before starting your project, ensure that you and your team are on the same page concerning the final vision for your site. This will minimize (eliminate) any mid-development confusion between your team members and ensures that once the development/design activities begin, they can proceed with a clear definition of the end product. Website projects that are less defined can incur unexpected expenses due to “scope creep”. Generally, scope creep occurs when unexpected tasks are added to a project. This leads to higher than planned project costs and an extension of the project deadline. When new tasks are added to your project, determine if these are necessary items to complete during this phase or if a second phase is needed. If you decide to increase the scope of your project, be sure to ask your website developer for a printout of the additional costs and an indication of how the new task will affect your deadline.
  2. Identify the person responsible for communicating with your website developer. Also, identify how often you need to communicate with the developer during the development process. Generally, the more meetings you have with your website developer the more it will cost you. If you have a well defined project, your meetings will be shorter meetings to determine if you’re on schedule. Particularly with short web development projects or projects with budget constraints, you want to avoid ongoing requirements gathering meetings. If the project is not well defined, you risks staying in the “requirements gathering” phase for the duration of the project. This is always more costly than identifying, approving and finalizing your requirements before any work is performed. For larger (and longer) projects, you should identify a requirements gathering phase at the onset of the project to ensure that the deliverables and phases are well defined.
  3. If your website project involves a site design or redesign, have a vision before you contact a website designer. Having a vision of your preferred site design reduces the number of revisions required. Design revisions can add to the cost of your site if you are unsure of what you want. Starting a design project with an “I’ll know it when I see it” approach can increase your project cost and timeline due to an excessive number of revisions or increased scope. If you absolutely do not have a vision, make a list of comparable websites that appeal to you. Be sure to note any required elements that you’d like to include on your website.
  4. Finish writing your content or have someone write the content just as you would like it to appear on the site. You can not (should not) launch a website with incomplete content. If your content is not ready, consider a brochure site (one page) website instead of investing in a larger inadequately defined website project. A website is meaningless without effective content. If your content is not ready, your website is not complete.
  5. Once your content is written in web-ready format, organize your content by function or section (e.g. company information, services, testimonials etc.). This will help determine the scope of your project (i.e. # of pages, navigational items etc.).
  6. Identify how you would like your visitors to interact with your website. This ensures that you and your website developer have a clear understanding of the overall scope of the project. A five-page static website is much different than a five-page website with interactive or dynamic features or a five-page website integrated with a third-party shopping cart. Generally, any feature that requires advanced scripting, programming services or integration with a third-party application will add to the cost of your project. Therefore, it is important for you to be clear about your requirements prior to signing the contract.
  7. Before you request or approve any new features, revisit your original scope and answer the following questions:
    1. Does this new tasks fall within the original scope of the project?
    2. How does this addition contribute to my final product? Is it important?
    3. How does this affect my deadline?
    4. What are the additional costs?
    5. Do I need to include this activity in a second phase?
    6. How does this addition affect other tasks? Does this eliminate another task or duplicate a previously completed effort (e.g. going back to drawing board on a completed and approved redesign)? If you find that the new task is a duplicate of an already completed effort, before any further work is done, take some time to rethink your project and ensure that money is not being wasted on an ill-defined product.

Performing these activities ensures that everyone at the table shares the same vision, allows your web professional to provide an adequate quote for your project and helps everyone stay on schedule.

Kishau Rogers – For additional articles, advice and resources for your small business website, subscribe to the Websmith Group Blog, Resources for Small Business Websites: