We are occasionally asked if we have an RFP form that firms can use in shopping for Web developers.
We don't have a Website RFP form. I am opposed to the RFP approach to selecting vendors. There are many reasons I don't like them which I won't go into here (but Larry Bodine, on his blog post Avoiding RFP's for Suckers, bashes RFPs--worth a read...). I much prefer a conversation!
So, back to Website RFPs.
My firm received a rather poor one the other day (though, of course, we were honored to have been considered). I'll tell you why it was poor:
- there is no indication of the site's size (number of pages, sections, etc) and complexity (anything that is at all dynamic or database driven) of the desired site...these two things pretty much drive the cost
- there is no indication of the budget parameters for their site...however, they do say that the site will be a 2007 budget item which, while it means budget is apparently still flexible, it also means they don't intend to pay their vendor before 2007...
- they do indicate their desired timing: site to be final in March 2007 (hmmm, I see a significant lack of alignment between the project timeline and the budget year--no vendor in his or her right mind will work with these terms: do the majority of the required work in 2006; don't get paid anything until Jan 2007!!)
- they DO state that they want their site to be outstanding among those in the accounting profession--the downside is that they don't state how they want it to be different: design? functionality? content? Just how far are they willing to go to be different?
Without knowing at least the first three things, how could a vendor possibly provide a quote that won't shift once these critical scope decisions are made?
Does the firm want to compare apples to apples?
With the limited information they've offered, all they will compare is one apple seed to another. Unknown to them (and their vendor candidates) are the size, color or juiciness of the apple. Nor is it known how much care and energy will go into bringing the seeds to their best. This isn't they way they really want to shop, I'm sure of it. Nor is it the way Web developers want to sell.
(Is there a lesson in this for law and CPA firm service buyers/sellers and pricers?)
Steps for Shopping Out Web Development
1. The first thing a firm needs to do is develop an idea of what your sitemap might include--at least approximately.
2. The second thing a firm needs to do is consider its budget (within a few thousand dollars) for the project. Under $10K? $10-15K? $15-20K? $20-30K? Have some idea for what you can spend on the project.
3. Find and note sites you like. Note what you like about them: colors; dimension; navigation; content amount, depth or style; formality/informality; personalization; etc. Be sure to look at all types of sites (not just those of your own profession) especially those of your most enjoyable clients' industries.
4. Identify good web developers--design is different than content development and project management.
Design Look at their work and see if it bears features you've noted above. Decide if it's important to you that they have expertise working in your industry. It may provide no advantage for a designer to be familiar with professional service firms; the designer brings a fresh approach if s/he does sites for other kinds of businesses. However, s/he may not be able to anticipate needs well or recognize if your sitemap is missing something key. (that's where project management helps)
Content Good content is the most important part of your site! Content development is time consuming. An experienced copywriter will save your firm tons of time and allow you to focus on serving your clients. A copywriter's knowledge of your profession IS an advantage adding value because you don't have to teach basics. And they can provide more effective copy in the first draft. They would also have a good sense of what not to write because they know what other PSF sites say.
Project management Do you know most firm sites take well over a year to develop? It's because the project management is a huge task. Bigger than anticipated. Outsourcing this instead of burdening an overly busy firm administrator or marketing director can enable a site's completion in 1/4 to 1/3 of the time. Plus, an experienced project manager knows all the steps that go into site development and in what order. They keep the project moving.
5. Determine what you'll do inhouse and what you will outsource. Specify this when you talk to developers so they know how to accurately price your services the first time so that you don't get nailed with surprise add-on prices after you start.
What Drives Cost
The cost of design isn't really going to vary much. Nor is the project management cost.
The programming cost and the content development costs are the huge variables. Programming a site to do really cool things is MUCH less expensive than even five years ago. Also, most sites can be made in programs like DreamWeaver that can be maintained easily (at least basic changes) by your own firm with minimal training (i.e. one or two hours).
Recognize that content creation does not come cheap. And this isn't an area in which to skimp. Lack of interesting and fresh content on PSF sites is the number one problem cited by readers and users of these sites. Most firms sound the same and offer very little useful information.
Because of this, the one way firms can really differentiate themselves is with content!
For content do-it-yourselvers, read "Content Critical: Gaining Competitive Advantage Through High-Quality Content" by Gerry McGovern and Rob Norton.