The blog of Rahoul Baruah from 3hv Ltd

What's going on?

My name is Rahoul Baruah (aka Baz) and I'm a software developer in Leeds (England).

This is a log of things I've discovered while writing software in Ruby on Rails. In other words, geek stuff.

However, I've decided to put this blog on ice - I would ask you to check out my business blog here (or subscribe here).

02 September, 2007

How to choose a supplier for your new web-site

Need a web-site but don't have the technical knowledge to do it yourself?

Choosing a supplier can be a daunting task. How can you trust the techie guy when you don't know your PHP from your RSS? Just what is the difference between a designer and a developer? Are you being overcharged? What exactly does that word on the invoice mean?

Firstly, it helps if you have some idea what you want. What is the goal of your site? Is it to let people know you exist? Is it to boost sales? Is it a portfolio of your work? A good designer should tailor their designs to meet these criteria.

Who is going to be visiting your site? Where do you want them to go? If you're wanting an online store, which set of pages does your typical customer have to navigate to place an order. It can be useful to draw up a quick flowchart of how you see your "average" visitor moving through the site. In theory, this can give your designer an idea of how many pages you need and what needs to be on each one. However, be prepared for this to change. A decent designer will also know what works and what doesn't and should be able to modify your ideas accordingly (of course, explaining why these changes are needed).

The flowchart plus a few ideas on the goals, design and layout should be more than enough for the designer to prepare a quote. Watch out if the quote is simply a price - if so, ask for a detailed breakdown. There are two reasons for this - firstly it forces the designer to think through exactly what needs to be done; secondly, it gives you the opportunity to question any of the items you are not sure about. If you are not satisfied with their explanation of what an item is then just walk away. Most problems with web design and software development stem from miscommunication and misunderstanding. If they cannot express what needs to be done in terms that you can understand, at this early stage, you can be sure that there will be problems down the line.

Next, you need to ask how they will deal with changes to the specification or design. This is because you can be absolutely sure that changes will be required at some point - when you see the final layout you decide that you want it a different shade of green, or they may come across some unforeseen technical problem that mandates a change of tack. No matter what the cause it will happen and your supplier needs to be able to deal with it - preferably without adding a zero onto the price!

Then, ask how the project will be delivered. Will you sit there, twiddling your thumbs until, magically, X weeks later, you see the finished article (and then decide upon that different shade of green)? Or do they break the project down into "milestones" giving you the opportunity to comment and feed back early in the process (when changes are easier and cheaper to make)? This also links to another important point - when do they pay the bill? Is it a deposit up-front and the rest on completion? Or staged payments, linked to each milestone? And what is the sign-off process - how do you and they agree on that what was delivered is what was required?

Lastly, what happens after completion? If you want changes making, do they charge an hourly rate or do they charge a percentage per year as a "support fee"? Do they host the site and charge annually for that as well? And, this one is vital, who owns the source code (the computer code that makes up your site)? If they own it and you decide to switch suppliers for whatever reason, your new supplier will have to start from scratch. If you own it, your new supplier may (or may not) be able to use it as a starting point (depending upon the technologies used, the competence of the initial supplier in writing the code and the competence of the new supplier in reading the code).

As for technology, don't let anyone bamboozle you. Most web technologies (ASP, ASP.Net, PHP, Python, Perl, Ruby on Rails) are all much of a muchness. I prefer Ruby on Rails - it has a number of benefits to me - however, the benefit to you should be reflected in a lower quote and smoother project delivery. Beyond that, you shouldn't need to care.

Of course, the easiest way is to contact 3hv.

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