The concept of mobile is something which has sat uncomfortably with me for quite a while. I don’t mean that I exchange angry looks with my iPhone. No, I’m more than happy to access websites from whatever device is close to hand (much to my wife’s annoyance). My issue is how we, as people who build websites, handle mobile elegantly.
I’ve always had a funny feeling about PDFs (Portable Document Format). I’ve never been quite sure about them. Allow me to tell you why.
Very happy to smash a jeroboam of champagne over the gleaming hull of a new website which has been launched off the Jojet shipyard (ok, I’ll bring that nautical metaphor to a watery grave now).
The client is the largest independent accountancy firm in Wales and their website was letting them down*
Viewing web page content on small screens, even with the iPhone, is not always a great experience. Yes we are seeing more mobile aware websites (thank you Responsive Web Design), so at least we don’t have to pinch & zoom a webpage because it was designed for large desktop screens. But sometimes this is still too much.
Last week I was asked by a prospect to back up the proposal I had put together with some design work (to help convince their board). Now this starts to potentially stray into the territory of speculative work (which is a touchy subject in the design field at the best of times!) so I had to politely inform the (potential) client as to my approach to such requests. And I thought I would share that with you.
In the world of web design and development we love our technologies and our acronyms but I’m sure it’s pretty confusing to business folks trying to make head or tail of it…especially when comparing quotes.
So I thought I’d put together a quick post on some of the key technologies your’ll hear about and try to shed some common sense light on them. Please shout out if you have any comments or questions.
When we receive a query about our services it doesn’t take long for the question to come up – ”how much will it cost?”. This blog post aims to explain how we go about answering that question.
When a client approaches us they sometimes (but certainly not always!) have some form of explanation of what they believe they need; let’s call this “the brief“.
Briefs range from non-existent, a few lines in an email, to a full blown document. Quite a range!
We’ve found the following problems in such briefs:
- Short sightedness
Vagueness in what is being asked for. You can’t expect a builder to do a good job if you simply say “… just build a house over there somewhere“. The devil is in the detail. Are we talking a tent, a house or a block of flats?
Short sightedness – because clients aren’t experts with what the Internet can offer they can easily ask for the wrong mix of solutions. Typically we find that the optimum solution is a website PLUS some other services; whether that is on-line advertising, email marketing, social networking – it really depends on their unique needs.
Same-ness - when putting together a website brief some clients simply harvest features from what their competition do; whether or not their competition are actually doing a good job.
None of this should be a shock though; clients are not web experts so it is hardly surprising they are not 100% sure what to ask for. It is the web agencies job to guide them through this process.
Our formal response to the brief is called a “proposal“, let’s talk about that next.
The proposal is our initial response to the client’s brief. As this stage is unbilled we have to be careful not let our natural enthusiasm run away with us; we have to spend enough time on the proposal for the client to entrust their project to us but not too much time so that it may detriment our paying customers.
We may have a short meeting with the client to fill in the gaps in the brief - this also gives the client the chance to meet us & find out about how we work. The meeting allows us to drill a little deeper into the clients requirements as well as giving us an opportunity to explain our process (which is really what this blog post is about!).
After we have enough initial information we can draft our proposal; this layouts a solution to address the client’s needs as we currently understand them. Our proposal makes clear that:
“We are only costing for what we know about at this stage. If/when we start the project proper we shall begin a much more detailed Discovery Phase which may uncover further possibilities.”
Wise client’s understand that all initial proposals are flawed because the agency has not yet spent enough quality time interacting with them to really fully flesh out the requirements and understand the nuances of their business. However, this is a necessary evil; the proposal is an opportunity for agencies to throw their hat into the ring for the client to decide who they want to work with.
When the client chooses to work with us (hurray!), the next step (and the first proper step in the project) is the “discovery phase“.
What is the “Discovery Phase”?
The discovery phase allows us to cut to the very heart of the matter. We discuss in depth with client (and other key stakeholders) the perceived problems as well as suggesting and exploring all possible solutions. This is where the foundations of success are laid. Get it right here and success it much more likely.
The client is paying for our expertise and it’s crucial that we use this stage to leverage our skills to deliver a solution which fits the needs of their business.
This phase may well uncover opportunities which were simply not known previously. This being the case the client has the following choices:
- include the newly discovered opportunity as part of the project
- include the opportunity at a later project phase
- disregard the opportunity entirely.
Either way, we create a specification which is a perfect for our client’s needs. It’s a crystal clear blue print of what will be built – consider them similar to an architect’s plans & models for your dream house!
Why isn’t this done as part of the proposal?
Time and money is the answer. The full specification of a website (even seemingly small ones) is a time consuming exercise. It is the phase where we really get to bring our expertise to bear for the client’s benefit. If we gave that expertise away freely then, sadly, we wouldn’t be in business very long and that wouldn’t be good for any of our existing clients.
What does the ‘Discovery Phase’ produce?
With the client’s collaboration we will produce a sitemap and a specification document (if not more).
The sitemap is a graphical view of all the pages which will exist on the proposed website. The sitemap may also indicate aspects such as: which pages require SEO optimisation, which have forms, which needs database integration etc.
The specification document – this details exactly what each proposed website page will contain and what functionality it may exhibit. On more complex sites we may also include “wireframes” which are rough mockups of what a page may look like – they are not for design purposes though – they are simply an aid to help communicate the specification.
The specification will also highlight anything else which is to be delivered, e.g. email marketing, online advertising, Twitter, Facebook etc.
What happens next?
Now that we’re armed with a comprehensive brief, we can provide a fully realistic quote – and a quote which reflects the options we ‘discovered‘ as part of discussions with the client.
The best bit
Best of all we are happy to undertake the “discovery phase” as a fixed cost, stand alone item.
The client can then obtain bids from whichever supplier they wish, safe in the knowledge that they have a bullet proof specification. Obviously we’d aim to get the work but there is no obligation to do so. In truth no client has ever gone elsewhere after this stage – partly because, on beginning to work with us, they know they’re in very safe hands!.
Hopefully this sheds a little light on how we go about discovering requirements and costing projects.