Thursday, 20 January 2011

So you want to make a website?

With the new year comes new initiatives, a new business venture, a personal blog, a new hobby, a new club. These days its a natural progression to set up a website for just about anything.

The tricky part is where you go from here. The following will give you some help when looking for places to go and the right people to help.

There are 3 main considerations when starting a new website. This is called your basic site plan. If you have a solid answer on these 3 things you're in a very good position to move onto sourcing a web service or agency to get you started.

1. Your budget. How much are you willing to spend? (Now and ongoing)
2. Your goal. What do you want your website to achieve?
3. Your workload. How much time do you want to spend working on your site?

Budget

This is usually the factor that determines everything else. For most people, they won't really have a set figure in mind, they just want something that works without having to spend more than they have to.

Unfortunately there's no easy answer to guide you. There are solutions to fit almost any budget, but going too low may mean that you have to re-evaluate the results you want to see and how much manual work you have to do to get there.

Your goal

Defining the goal of your site is arguably the key to a successful project. Setting the reason for having your site and key performance indicators (KPI's) will not only allow you to build towards a fixed goal, but give you a way of means of measuring the success of your project.

Your workload

For those of you looking for a budget solution, you may find yourself doing a lot of manual work, where those with more funds may be able to develop tools that automate some of the more repetitive tasks. If you are time-poor you may want to consider extending your budget a little to incorporate some time-saving tools. This may also take into consideration your level of skill and knowledge of web software & languages.

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Once you have your basic site plan in hand it's time to work out where to go next. There's literally hundreds of options out there, but here's the main three that should cover most projects.

1. Free online tools
2. DIY Development
3. Freelancer or Web Agency

Free online tools

There's some great tools out there that let you put together a great site for next to no money. If you have little or no budget, this is really your only option. Sites like Wordpress (Wordpress.com) offer a free service that lets you get up and running relatively quickly but you'll be limited to pre-made templates unless you have some knowledge of building a website.

If a blog is going to be sufficient and you want to look outside of Wordpress, you might also want to check out Blogger/Blogspot (blogger.com), Livejournal (livejournal.com), Vox (vox.com), Typepad (typepad.com) or Travelpod (travelpod.com).

DIY Development

There are a few software titles out there that make setting up your own custom site relatively simple, but require a lot of manual work to set up and maintain. While you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to design and layout, functionality is somewhat limited and you're restricted to making updates from that computer only.

If this is something you're interested in, you should check out Adobe Dreamweaver or Adobe Flash Catalyst if you want something a little fancier.

Freelancer or Web Agency

If you want your own custom website and don't have the know-how or time to do it yourself you're going to have to look for a web developer of some kind to help you out. Here's what to look out for.

Freelancer

Everyone has a nephew, neighbour or your secretary's second cousin who 'knows how to make websites'. These along with individuals working alone are known as freelancers. Freelance designers or developers often have a limited range of skills (usually either design OR developing), and very few have a solid understanding of both (regardless of what they tell you).

Most freelancers will have connections with other freelancers to partner with as needed. The risk here is that the ongoing support of your site relies on the relationships of your contact, and chances are, they wont be able to fix it themselves if something does go awry.

Since the majority of freelancers work from their home (or other place of work), they have few overhead costs and can charge low rates as a result. The question you need to ask yourself is if the money you're (possibly) saving initially is worth the risk of poor quality work, reduced accountability, limited technical knowledge of all aspects, loose deadlines and the chance of not being able to make changes in the future.

Web Agency

An agency is any group of 2 or more people working under the same business name, and covers small niche service agencies to fully serviced web development teams.

The advantage of the agency is that you usually have the skills of usability, designing, developing and sometimes marketing all collaboratively working together on your project. This means that there are fewer hand-off issues, a single point of reference for development and changes, immediate problem and question support and the solid base of a registered business for accountability.

Digerati Solutions is a full-service web agency (based in the Sutherland Shire and Northern Beaches) - meaning that all design, planning, architecture, development, coding, hosting and support are all provided by our internal team of professionals. We don't have our programmers designing sites and we don't have our designers working on making upgrades to our servers. The team is comprised of specialists in each field so that we can bring the very best skills to each project, and as a result can offer the right strategy for both the small business looking for a low-budget solution or the large corporate looking to build a reliable integral internal system.

Agency rates will vary significantly, but you want to look for a provider that is flexible enough to put together an appropriate solution at almost any price point. You may need to trade in some of the bells and whistles for a low-budget solution, but the fact that the agency is willing to find a solution that could work shows that they care about their service and you the client.

Contacting Digerati is a great first step when thinking about a new website or refurbishing what you currently have. You'll be surprised at how affordable it is. There are no silly questions and there's no problem to big or small for them to handle.