If you’re planning on hiring a Web design firm or freelancer to build you a new business website, then you ought to read this article before you make the hire. One key concept that many would-be entrepreneurs and business people miss is understanding market needs in advance. In other words, many people make the mistake of developing a product or service before they know if there is a need for it in the marketplace. This can be extended to websites as well.

Since a website is an extension of your business, and in many cases the only representation of your business, be sure you know there is a need for your business before you invest time and money building one. If you’re re-vamping an existing site, be sure you understand in advance what the new site ought to have to better serve your market. Don’t build a website before you nail down exactly what you want it to do for you in advance. What is its purpose and how is it going to help you achieve your business goals?

There are four main questions you need to answer before you begin your search for a Web designer to do website creation for you. If you’re not armed with the answers to these questions in advance, you’re going to waste your time and money, experience unneeded grief and possibly risk creating a complete dud.

I recommend that you create a document that has the answers to these questions in it, along with a rough outline of the features you want to include in your website. I’ll call this your Website Plan Document.

By having your Website Plan Document in hand at the onset of your search, you’ll be able to narrow down the field of possible Web designers to hire and you’ll have something to give your prospective vendors to help them come up with an accurate proposal and an itemized price quote. This way, you’ll be able to compare their price quotes better since they’ll all be bidding on the same specifications.

Another reason this is important to do is that without it you may end up having to pay the Web vendor you choose to create this document as part of the proposal, so you’ll save money by doing it yourself.

Here are the first two questions I ask any potential client when they seek out my business to help them build a website:

– What will be the site’s goals and purpose?

– Who will be your website’s audience?

These are the two most important questions you need to answer before you do anything else. The last two questions are also important to determine in advance:

– What is your budget?

– What is your timeframe?

Record your answers to these four questions in your Website Plan Document. Now let’s look more closely at these questions.

Question 1: What will be the site’s goals and main purpose?

The first item to write down in your Website Plan Document is your site’s goals and purpose. If you’re hiring a Web vendor (a freelancer or firm) to build your own new website or if you’ve been tasked by a superior to hire someone to build one or revamp an existing one, here are the questions you need to answer:

1. Why do we need a website?

2. What are the ways in which this website is going to make us more money?

3. How will it make our business run better, faster and/or more cheaply?

4. What are the results we expect to get out of it?

Question 2: Who will be the website’s audience?

The second vital question to answer and record in your new Website Plan Document helps you focus on your primary market. It may seem like an obvious step, but you’d be surprised how many people miss it. The Web is the greatest marketing medium ever invented and is far more than just another marketing medium.

Marketing is all about your audience and message. Your audience is made up of people who will be most likely to visit your website, prospective buyers and people who you want to visit your site. If you mistakenly market to the wrong audience, then your message will be ineffective.

However, if you know exactly who will be visiting your website, then you can have a site made that fits your audience perfectly. You accomplish this by offering features, functionality, navigation, look-and-feel and messaging that is ideal for your specific audience.

Question 3: What is your budget?

Know the upper ceiling that you or your organization is willing to pay before you hire a Web design firm. This is the top amount you will pay to have the site completed, functional and live on the internet. Pricing in the Web design industry is all over the map, so you’re going to have to do your homework on this one. I suggest you go to some forums and ask what others have paid for a comparable website. Or ask people you know who own sites.

Bear in mind, many different things make up a website, and each feature can be priced differently. Here are the main things you will pay for in a website:

– The graphic design, or the creation of the look-and-feel

– Graphics creation or digital photo manipulation

– Existing clip art or photograph licensing

– The copy writing and proofreading

– The programming of functionality, i.e. forms, ecommerce, forum software, databases, content management software, etc.

– Domain name

– Hosting

– Navigation code

– Information architecture (the organization of the site’s information)

– Putting it all together

– Posting it live in the Web

Anyone giving you pricing ought to itemize it so you can compare specific services across vendors.

Here are the typical ways in which Web designers charge:

– By the project

– By the hour

– By the page and or feature

– Any combination of the above

Question 4: What is your Timeline/Deadline?

The reason you want to have a firm budget and deadline in place before you hire anyone is because this will weed out vendors who can’t comply and will help stop you from getting overcharged or strung along. Your goal is to agree in advance what they will charge you and how long it will take, so at the end they don’t surprise you with a larger bill or tell you it’s going to take another two months to finish. Determine in advance when you need it done by. Be flexible, but state your absolute deadline in advance and make sure it is in the contract.

If you are going to hire a Web design firm or freelancer to build you a new business website, you must think through things in advance. For instance, ask yourself what you want your future website to do for you, how it’s going to improve your bottom line, how you want it to look and feel, what functionality you want, and how much time and money you want to spend on its creation. And you should do this all before you even start your search. By doing this, you will save yourself a lot of time, money and grief.