How to be a Good Client
Now that you know why an agency is a good idea to develop your Web presence and how to search for the right agency, it is now time to learn best practices for your role as a client. Web development is an intense task for both parties. A good agency will have you heavily involved in the process – at least throughout discovery and strategy and up on until design approval. These six tips will help you maintain rapport with the agency of choice and keep your project on time and on budget. They will also keep you in sync with the Web shop while keeping the proverbial ball in their court.
Realize the magnitude of other sites
When you say you want something like Amazon or Facebook, remember that these are huge companies with giant development teams on the payroll. They evolve their sites daily with an annual budget of millions to achieve the experience you see. Good agencies know this, inform you up front, and also study these trends to deliver a better solution for your budget.
Don’t wait on the agency to hound you for those employee headshots or logo files. Gather your assets early. You know that the agency can’t create your Web presence out of thin air. You will be needed to supply office, staff, and product images. In most cases, you will have to supply most other content including written copy, instructions, message copy for automatic emails, logos, and possibly developer documentation from third-party applications. (An example of a third-party application would be something like a real estate listing engine that is sourced from another area that you want integrated in your site.)
If the agency is not creating the content (written copy) for you, assemble a team and get this done about the same time the agency provides you with a wireframe. The wireframe will give you a guideline as to where the copy will go and about how long it will be. If you have too much copy – reduce it. This is the Web we’re talking about here. If you absolutely need more space, make the adjustments now while in the wireframe phase.
*Tip: If you have an e-commerce site or are selling anything, get a head start by retrieving banking information early, before your Web company needs it. Consult your project manager for a list of things that would include: gateway information, merchant account information, and SSL certificate.
Establish a client side project manager to be available at all times. If you are “too busy” or spend a lot of time travelling, make sure to set up a full-time contact on your side. Ensure this project manager takes ownership of your site and understands your brand and goals, so they can take ownership, make decisions, and keep the project moving forward. Don’t let your project sit idly as you hit conferences and sales meetings.
*Tip: Beware the “Pause Clause.” Web shops can be extremely busy, and they develop high-level schedules to manage projects and resources. They cannot afford to wait days for feedback from your team. Idle time must be used to gain ground on other projects in-house. Some shops institute a Pause Clause that states if you don’t get back to them in a specified time, they can move to other projects and push yours to the back of the line.
Vet out as many usability issues during the wireframe phase. Studios present you with a wireframe to show a blueprint of what the site will be like in the end. Inevitably there will be changes or things overlooked that will need to be worked in later but mitigate these changes early by paying attention during the strategy and wireframe phase. Web work is specialized and costly, so to make changes to the design or functionality once it is finalized will cost you money and slow down the project.
*Tip: Have your assigned project manager walk through the wireframe step-by-step. Good agencies will develop use-case scenarios that try to capture how different users will engage each section under different circumstances. When they walk you through it, you may notice, “Hey, where does the user go once they sign in?”
Trust the agency
If you spent time researching your agency, you like their work, and they know what they are talking about – listen to them. Things will be positioned a certain way, and colors will be used that enhance a user’s interaction with the site. Many times a client that professes to know nothing about Web development will suddenly become a design and usability expert at the wrong time – when the look and functionality has already been agreed upon. Don’t jump in at this phase and start changing things based on different people’s (your husband or wife, the receptionist, a guy at the airport) input. The agency is schooled in Web interaction and best practices.
*Tip: Keep your team small and efficient. That old adage about “too many cooks in the kitchen” rings so true with Web development. Everybody will have something to say, especially if they are asked to be critical. Trust the agency when it comes to information architecture, functionality, and design. They build the site based on information about your business’s target audience, not employees or passive onlookers. That said, others are important when it comes to testing the actual functionality and finding bugs or defects.
Make a wishlist
You will find that as you go deeper down the rabbit hole of Web development, you will find more and more things you like, want, or think you need. The idea of design and functionality in the Web may have been foreign to you before, but now your eyes will be open to all kinds of things you never noticed on websites before. Do not let this impede you. It is important to get the core of your website up and running. It can get bogged down forever if you keep coming to the table with new ideas. Make a wishlist of items you would like. Review this list with your project manager at the agency. They can determine if it can be worked in now or should be saved for a phase 2. Sometimes the addition of a small, new piece of functionality can undo hours of design and coding and cost you money.
*Tip: The best thing is to get the core needs of your website done and go live. You may be dazzled by some of things you see on the Web and want to add them to your site. No one is better capable of determining what you need than your core audience. Let the simple version of your site see the light of day, then, user habits and feedback will determine what you need to add. I can’t tell you how many times a client’s wishlist took over the project, mired it in production for months, then, finally went live, and the users did not use or care about half of the functionality.
Hopefully these tactics matched with a good agency will expedite your site launch, save you money and time, and get you to market.
Read the full series Why Use an Agency? for more tips on working well with your agency.
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