Nowadays, just about anyone can build a web site. Many hosting companies offer a “site builder.”
Pick a graphic theme, click on some options and SHAZZAM!!! (thus revealing I was a preteen in the mid-1940s) you have a real live web site! It looks professional. The colors harmonize, the fonts are properly sized and positioned. You have a little (or a lot) of flashy animation. It’s your baby. And it a total waste of time and effort.
Because a free site builder must make a lot of assumptions, it also makes makes for a lot of poorly conceived and badly planned online businesses. Their only saving grace is they don’t last long.
It only takes the site owner 3 to 9 months to realize that their shiny new online business concept and web site has a lot in common with plastic underwear. It may look good, it may sparkle, and the colors are exciting. But otherwise, it’s uncomfortable and full of . . . sorry, I got carried away.
The single most important thing that will lead to a web site that pleases both the owner and the developer is pre-planning that starts even before you talk about prices or designs. The process I will describe is based on what I call The Five Essentials. (I know that “The Five Essentials” sounds like the latest Party Announcement from the Peoples Republic of China, but they have shown themselves to be pretty good business people, right?)
Different web site developers will prefer different tools (hoorah for competition that drives innovation!!). But here are ours . . .
1) BASECAMP.com – This is widely considered the best project collaboration tool. Go there now and look at the features. They offer a free, single project license with a few feature limitations. The principal limitation is that users can not exchanges files.
2.) DOCS.GOOGLE.com – (now known as Google Drive) This will make up for the limited file sharing system in the free version of BaseCamp. With a Google Doc’s spreadsheet, the developer and the client brainstorm the features and functions of the proposed web site. They can work together, online from different computers at different times, or they can make things go faster by being on the phone and them refreshing their own screen after the other party makes a change. The spreadsheet layout I use is a bit more sophisticated than the one you can see online at the link below this post.
3) PHOTOSHOP.com – there are some very good and free Open Source image manipulation programs that do many of the best functions of PS, but to my knowledge there are none, paid or free, that do ALL the things PS can do.
4) OPTION – a Content Management System (CMS) such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. I have listed them in the order of their complexity and sophistication. There are others, some specific to certain kinds of web sites. Those three are head and shoulders above other CMS.
The great majority of web sites can be built with one of those three CMS. Those that cannot are high end, very high concept, very high traffic, cutting edge coding required sites.
After the client and the developer have used a spreadsheet to define the site’s features and functions, and thus its cost, the choice of which CMS is indicated will be obvious to an experienced developer. There will be features and functions that one CMS will do better than either or the others. The number of hours and the standard hourly rate for any given function developed in the indicated CMS will affect the project cost, thus giving rise to a cost/benefit judgment.
5) OPTION – if you intend to take orders online – a Shopping Cart. There are shopping carts that can be integrated within any of the three Major CMS tools. But, none are as fully-featured and fully-functional as a dedicated (made for the specific purpose) shopping cart such as CubeCart.com or OpenCart.com. For situations where you need a highly sophisticated shopping cart, Magento is a difficult but very powerful alternative.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Having the right tools is elemental. But if you do not know what the project needs to accomplish, if this has not been fully investigated and reviewed by the developer in concert with the client’s key people, the fanciest, shiniest and most expensive tools are of little value.
So beyond the right tools, a successful web site project, must start with open, intelligent communication that examines and reveals a long list of facts and intentions. The result should then be put in writing, in detail. See “How We Work” (link in the left sidebar).