Your website is quite probably the single most important marketing activity you and your business will engage in, and possibly the most costly.
Once the business agrees to the project you will be looking to define a budget and will undoubtedly want to avoid a request for more budget four weeks down the line because the project wasn’t clearly defined and took on a life of its own.
Experience tells us that web project costs can easily grow by 30% or even 50% presenting some quite serious challenges around the management of expectations. Here in part 1 of this blog we look at some of the ‘externally incurred’ cost challenges, specifically working with web/digital agencies.
Working with web agencies
The right web agency can do a fantastic job and will have critical skills that you will struggle to manage without. However, you do need to understand how they work to make sure that you can get exactly what you want without busting the budget. A few things to point out:
You will (rightly) try and define the maximum cost of your project before kickoff. One area to watch out for is the Agile process used by many web development companies, who give you an upfront cost to win the project based broadly on the initial brief, but once signed up, will only then begin their detailed ‘discovery’ qualification process. This often reassesses requirements and throws up lots of new ideas and capabilities for the site as you are drilling down into what the site will really deliver. A project specification document may be created around this that you will need to sign off. This document can then render the original agreement partially or largely obsolete and can leave the web project owner with some hard choices (i.e spend more money/cut back on cool features).
- Conduct as much of the discovery work with the agency before signing the contract – i.e. ensure you provide a very detailed brief that is fully costed within the initial proposal. (Another option would be to agree a fee for this work if they are awarded the contract, or agree and pay for this element alone up front).
- Make sure the contract nails the specifics of what the agency will deliver and get them to agree to a maximum spend. This puts the liability for additional costs on the agency rather than you!
- If the proposal and contract incorporate a contingency budget, ensure it is clear that the use of the contingency can only occur with your sign off.
Talking to a web company can be a little like talking to a lawyer! The language of the web developer is frequently different to that of a business owner or marketing director – don’t assume you are talking the same lingo! Misinterpretation can end up equating to additional costs (and frustrations) further down the line.
- Be sure that your agency has fully understood and accurately ‘translated’ your brief into their language and their documentation correctly and that you too understand their language and interpretation; do not be afraid to query and don’t make assumptions - especially if you are more commercially (less technically) focused. Make sure that this translation is done before the project formally begins or else you may end up being asked for further project management fees!!!
There will be a lot of discussion about sprints and development phases but one of the big things to watch out for is project management time, which can clock up rapidly. It can be incurred from the initial project qualification phase (where you may feel you have already given detailed direction through your thorough brief and initial discussions pre-signing of contract), all the way through the day-to -day management of the specification documentation, design, development, UAT, final checks and delivery.
Ouch - In one experience, project management time was stated at 6 days, which, while it fitted inside the budget proposal, was nothing like enough for the project. There was an expectation that the PM time could be tripled (and paid for), which caused friction.
- Double check that enough project management time is built in for every stage of the project and that you have talked it through with the agency. Yes, this does ramp up cost of sale for the web provider but it will ensure you don’t get any nasty surprises further down the track when there is no way but forward.
- Importantly, it is in your interests to ensure the budgets (and PM time) don’t become stretched and that relations stay positive; you need a good partnership with your agency to help you ensure the site and launch is a success.
Security & maintenance
Cybercrime is rife; protecting your site and in turn your reputation, is critical. Again discuss security and maintenance with your supplier to ensure they can properly secure your site and avoid costly impact later.
- Allow budget to investigate necessary security levels and to invest in the required level of support around: the robustness of the site CMS, regular patching, protection/patching of additional software modules, securing custom code – tailored elements of your site, secure hosting, protection against spamming, SSL certification and the right amount of time built into your support SLA.
Support – Service Level Agreement
It’s not over once the site launches, in fact it is really just the beginning. There is further cost associated with ongoing support so get ahead. Ask your supplier about the costs involved relating to support and site maintenance; this might be ambitious to specify in detail at the project outset but they should be able to give you a ballpark figure or estimate at the end of the discovery phase and refine it from half way through the project.
Allow budget for an annual support contract, which at minimum covers:
- All security patching
- Software upgrades
- Allowance for adhoc site development (new/improved functionality, wireframe tweaks)
- 9am – 5pm telephone and email support
- Remote support with screen share
- Onsite support (with realistic notice – e.g. 72 hours)
- Response to critical issues within 4 working hours
Ensure that you have a Service Level Agreement that allows enough time to support all update requirements and that where unused, monthly funds can be rolled into the following month/re-imbursed periodically.
So, much to consider and hopefully there are some useful tips in here. In Part 2 we will address the internal dangers to keep an eye out for – mission creep, stakeholder engagement, visual brand and more.