When you are going to build a house, you need to have plans to work from. When you are building a website, you should have a plan as well. This is business, and you need to be organized.

If you are going to build a website for someone else, you need to try and have a clear understanding of their expectations. What are the minimum number of questions you should have answers to?

  • What is the website for?
  • Who are you speaking to?
  • How many things do you want to start talking about?
  • How much time do you have before you need to have something to show?
  • What do you think it should cost?

That’s a nice short list to start with. Later on you will need to consider things like do they have the legal right to use the content on their site? does this need to be optimized for mobile devices and tablets? How often will the site need to be updated?

Lets start with the design of my company website isstt.com

This site is designed to let people in the printing and publishing business know what the company sells. Beware of the client that tells you “This site is for everybody”, you will never be able to deliver a suitable product.

The target audience knows about print and what a CTP is why Colour proofing is important and the advantages of digital printing.

We want to feature seven to ten items of information on the site, and to give enough information on them to make the reader want to contact us. We also wanted to let them know a short history of our company, who our clients are, and where we are located.

I was the client, so I knew I wanted to have something as soon as possible, but realistically knew it would take about a week to gather all of the information and build out the first draft of the site, based on all of the other things I have to do as well as having a day job.

Knowing what the time frame is lets you make sane decisions like – can I do this in time on my own or do I need to hire help, should I build or buy certain aspects, do I need a copywriter to create content and how long should that take, or are we going to use content from the products and services that the client already has.

I know that diamonds are money for this art, but that’s not the shape of my heart.

Since I would not be billing myself, this was not applicable, but determining how much something should cost is part art and part science. First, figure out what you think your hourly rate should be. How much would you be earning otherwise, if you were not spending time doing this task. How proficient are you at writing HTML code, if you are just starting out, i would suggest US$25 – 50 per hour (2014 suggested rate) but that can scale to twice to three times as much as your skills improve.

A good rule of thumb is to decide up front what a single item/page you are featuring should take to code and multiply by the number of items. Its important to keep track of the time you spend, including meetings with the client, and time spent coming up with the design and writing the copy. You will be amazed at how much time you can invest in a web project.

A web site done by someone with experienced design and coding skills could easily start at about US$2,000 to 3,000 for a basic text site with minimal graphics, and that’s not including the cost of photo-shoots and copywriting, or hours spent in Photoshop re-scaling, re-sampling and generally cleaning up all of the provided images. The cost of Stock images should also be included as a separate line item in your quote.

Remember to try and control the clients’ expectations. Don’t be caught into the common trap of them saying – “ok, lets just add ten more items here” explain that you have budgeted the time and cost based on their original specifications and would need to revise the budget and get their approval if that changes.

Present a formal quote with the terms of payment and have a space for the client to sign and return a copy to you. This way there is no confusion on what the agreed price was for the agreed items to be delivered. Don’t be afraid to walk away if you can’t get what you believe is a fair deal. Simply say, “Thank you for the opportunity of quoting, but I really can’t deliver what you are asking for the proposed budget.”

Don’t be shy about discussing money, you can be sure that they won’t, but be flexible when you know it won’t cost you. Be sure to preface the statement with, “Ok we can be flexible there”, but I suggest that you be careful not to get caught up in the discount game, doing more work should cost more, since there is no reduction in the effort you will require.

If the promise is for more work down the line, agree to what you think is fair, but let the discount be applied on the future work when you get it. If you are asked for a reduction in price, politely ask the question, “which items will we cut from the original spec to make this cost less?”. I also suggest getting a 50% down payment.

I do my initial planning on pen and paper. I make a list and then transfer that to a Trello board so that I can reorder and track the stages of completeness (more on that later). This first list forms the basis for your plan. In my case it was as follows:

  • Who we are, who we serve and what we believe makes us unique.
  • Who we have worked with and for how long
  • Computer To Plate machines and Plates
  • Proofing Systems
  • Digital Printing – 5 sub items
  • Software we sell – 3 sub items
  • How to contact and find us.

From a design perspective I knew I wanted a sober, business oriented site, that used a fixed header navigation bar and a long scrolling format. I also knew that I wanted the site to scale so that reading on a desktop computer, tablet or a smartphone would be easy. Because I wanted the site to be mobile friendly, it had to load fast and not include Flash.

So we now have a plan, and a general overview of the areas we want to cover. That’s one step in the process done. As we go along there will be some refinements of course, but the plan should not vary radically from this skeleton specification.