Commissioning a website

Websites have a job to do:

  • to tell the visitor what you do
  • to give the visitor confidence in you, your products, services or information
  • to provide the means to connect with you… day and night

For commercial websites, you have to give the visitor enough information to make a buying decision and then give them the means to buy what they’ve chosen… night and day.

The website implementation process starts with some form of briefing. In the past, we've had everything from no brief at all to being asked to go through long 'specifications' coupled with 100-page contracts.

Minimal brief

In some ways a minimal brief can be a sensible option: you are making no claims to know about things web. The design agency will find out what you do, evaluate any existing marketing literature, distil the flavour and the essence of your business, and devise a scheme that they think might work.

The well-considered brief

It doesn't need to be long! It is helpful to know what the practical requirements of a website are, where the business is going and the operational context. For example, is this a total re-imagining of the company livery or will the design agency being following existing material? You and the agency should also look at the potential audience and what devices you are expecting them to use.

Creating a specification

This is not recommended because it's not easy to pin down a fixed specification that works. Not least because there is a difference between 'working' - something is showing on the screen - and 'working' - bringing in the bacon. Baby steps is usually the best way to develop a web project ie bit by bit online, seeing what works and what doesn't.


Watch out for the design agency proffering a formulaic approach - particularly for budget websites. Currently popular are websites with the big carousel at the top, three columns, large headings, big navigation bar at the bottom. The problem for you is that your website is in danger of becoming indistinguishable from 50,000, or is that 500,000, other websites.

If you decide that it's a really good plan to get three or even six quotes from different agencies, be aware that their level of interest is going to be a lot lower if they are only in with a 17% or 33% chance.

Also don't be tempted to think that you can get three, four or six agencies' ideas and then expect to get one agency's idea executed by another. Unpaid-for ideas may be copyright and so you may waltz into litigation. A better alternative is to commission paid-for 'visuals' or a 'treatment' from a number of agencies with contract terms that allow you to get anyone you like to execute those ideas.

The process

There are a number of things that have to happen to ensure a successful project:

Work out in your own mind what you are trying to achieve

In particular, try and work out a numerical objective eg 'I want to sell x units per day', 'I want another hour's booking per working day for each practitioner', 'I want to get my courses to average 80% take-up'. Once you've got that in your head, work out its value in money terms to you. If you (say) expect another £20K worth of business per year, then it would not be unreasonable to spend 5% of that on your web project. That would give a good return on investment. However it's not just about the money you can afford.

Work out, in marketing terms, which bit of your market you want to focus on

Breaking your market into manageable segments might be more profitable. You may also want to consider market-specific microsites - single topic websites that feed the main website.

A brief to the web project manager/designer

One of the first questions many people ask of a web designer or agency is how much it's all going to cost. Without a brief, no designer can give you an idea and it they do, that's probably going to be a bad thing because they'll be working down to a price rather than trying to maximise your return. You can create a website yourself for £50, but if you want to employ professionals - remembering they need to eat, pay the mortgage, etc - then be ready to pay appropriately.

So what professionals might you need?

  • Marketing specialist
  • Graphic designer
  • Photographer
  • Copywriter or editor
  • Website developer/coder

There could easily be more than this, particularly if the website has technical complexity eg it integrates with your office-based booking system. By identifying each professional that you need and guessing a figure of what they might cost, you will get a better idea of the total.