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What you need to know before you start a new website design project

July 2023
Jodie Soulsby

A large proportion of our website design clients are SMEs that don’t have dedicated in-house digital marketing resource. Often someone within a general marketing function, or even a sales or admin role has simply been told “We need a new website” and they are tasked with making this happen… But how do they make a success of a project that hasn’t yet been defined?

Our experience working with this type of client has led to us creating an ultimate guide to everything you need to know before starting your website creation or redesign.

1. Explore WHY you need a new website

Move away from just thinking “We need a (new) website” to thinking about what the website needs to do to achieve your businesses’ strategic objectives, align with your brand and how it meets the needs of your users.

What do you and your stakeholders want from your website?

Who are your current users and target audience?

What do all of your different users and targets want to achieve on your website?

What does their journey to conversion look like?

Are there any blockers that stop users achieving their goals?

2. Research

This doesn’t need to be incredibly involved; some quick desktop research can help you benchmark against your competition – what are they doing that’s good/bad that you can learn from? Is there anything they’re missing that you can capitalise on?

If it’s a redesign project to replace an old website, look at analytics and ask your users for feedback to gain real insight into their experience of your website rather than relying on assumptions.

3. Set goals/KPIs

Once you know what you and your users want to achieve – set it as a goal. This will help you measure if your project has been successful or not.

e.g., We would like X users a month to complete Y

4. Document your findings but don’t drown in detail

Putting the above into a document helps you to define your website project and give you a framework for success but keep it to top-line aims; don’t feel like you need to specify every last feature or detail because once you have used it to create a brief, a website design agency have the experience to work with you to properly scrutinise what is required and deliver against your stated objectives.

5. Set a budget that you’re comfortable with

Depending on your role and experience, this may not be an easy job. There are many factors that can affect the costs of website projects such as:

  • The size of the site (number of pages/page templates)
  • The complexity of the site (does it require lots of functionality/special interactions)
  • Time invested into each stage (will you do some tasks in-house or outsource everything)
  • Hourly rates of the project delivery team you select (e.g. freelance vs. agency)
  • Any outcosts for third party solutions such as Content Management Systems, hosting, integrations etc.

Some sources to begin getting a steer on what budget you should set include:

  • Historic invoices to understand what you have previously had to invest (keep an eye on the time as well as cost as rates may have changed and will differ across suppliers)
  • Internal stakeholders (if you don’t control your own marketing budgets, getting a feel for what the ‘purse strings’ are willing to invest will help before going out to tender for a new provider)
  • Ask peers for their experience with website budgets for comparable projects
  • Google! There’s not a one size fits all project or budget, but it may help you get a feel for acceptable budget ranges.

Once you begin looking for suppliers and discussing your brief with them, you will soon be able to tell if you have set yourself a realistic budget to meet your stated aims.

It’s worth researching what grants may be available to you to help you fund your project. Often Local Authorities or government initiatives offer full or partial funding to a programme of work that will help your SME achieve economic growth. A good starting point is the government website’s business support pages and finding your local LEP Growth Hub.

6. Pick a website design agency

Look at their previous work. Do they have good looking case studies with customer testimonials? Do they already have experience in your sector or with similar businesses?

Avoid people that use too much jargon or gate-keep you from your own website project; you should feel confident and comfortable with the project regardless of your technical know-how and the most successful projects are done in collaboration with you.

Personalities matter: website projects can take anything from a few weeks to a few months depending on the scope of the job – you need to be able work well with your chosen supplier. A good agency will foster great working relationships so that they get the best input from you, and you feel like you can trust them to deliver the best job they can.

If you like them, ask them to review your brief and provide you with a formal estimate including a breakdown of their stages/processes and suggested timescales. Once you have two to three proposals to consider, you should have a good idea of who you would like to work with and how much it will cost.

7. Familiarise yourself with processes and timescales

Ask your chosen supplier for a breakdown of their processes and stages along with a project timing plan so that you can monitor progress and key milestones in the lead up to a go live deadline (especially if you have to set expectations internally and keep stakeholders in the loop with progress).

Different suppliers may have different processes, but they will mostly look like a variation on the following:

Lifecycle of a website project
Lifecycle of a website project