Seven steps to prove the case for working with a web development partner
Virtually every company, from mid-sized businesses to large-scale enterprises, can benefit from working with a professional web development partner. Professional web developers understand how new features and workflows can elevate your business and can add valuable insight as well as reliable execution to your website projects.
But before you choose a web development partner, you have some homework to do. You not only need to clearly define the strategic goals and success metrics for your site project, but you also need to honestly evaluate how much of the project you can tackle internally – both in terms of bandwidth and expertise.
Who needs a web development partner? You do.
Every few years, most companies find they need to overhaul their website or add a major new feature set. That’s natural. Your site should also be constantly evolving to capitalize on new opportunities. Perhaps your website wasn’t a priority previously, but now you’re ready to let it take center stage. Refreshing the site can bring more visibility to your services. Maybe you realized you need a better site structure to maximize your efficiencies. Your e-commerce model may have changed, or you are looking to scale to accommodate new opportunities. The fact is, if you aren’t consistently evaluating the efficacy of your site and how it affects your bottom line, you’re leaving money on the table. The reasons to consider a new web development project far outnumber the reasons to make do with the status quo. You need to make smart, iterative changes that optimize your investment in a web publishing platform.
For an internal team with a million other tasks on its plate, that’s a lot to ask.
A major website project is a perfect opportunity to evaluate if your company should be working with a long-term web development partner. Whether you need advanced coding, temporarily scaling up a development team, or worry-free data security and hosting, an ongoing relationship with a web development firm is a strategic approach to managing one of your business’s most vital assets.
In this post, I’ll run through the groundwork you should cover as you define your project and prove the case for working with a development partner on your next major website project. In my next post, I’ll look at some of the finer points of selecting a web developer you’ll truly enjoy working with over the life of your relationship.
Step 1: Document your strategy
Your website is a critical tool for accomplishing your business strategy, but it should not define your strategy entirely. That’s a much broader foundation for your business that only you and your company’s leadership can establish. Just understand that your business needs to have a clear strategy in place before you consider a major investment, including a sophisticated website and a long-term relationship with a development partner.
Start by evaluating your website project against a three- to five-year strategic plan that outlines the ways you want your business to evolve and grow. Strategic plans encompass the entire scope of your business and typically include internal reviews like SWOT analysis. At the broadest level, your strategic plan addresses who your customers are and the value you bring to them.
In practical terms, your strategy is the framework by which you answer the question, “Why are we doing this?” It’s the guidepost for measuring the success of your entire website effort, not just the launch.
Step 2: Understand your business objectives
With a strategic plan in place, you can set measurable objectives that will move your business closer to your strategic vision. Your website’s success will be measured by how it contributes to these objectives, which often include:
- Revenue, by channel
- Cost reductions
- Current and potential market size
- Lifetime customer value
- Brand recognition
- Customer satisfaction
Your business objectives will help you prioritize the features and benefits you want to realize from your website.
Step 3: Establish your website tactics
Tactics are the actions you undertake to accomplish your business objectives. In terms of your website, tactics include building and operating the features you think will move the needle. For mid-sized businesses and enterprises, these often include:
- Product catalog/Sales (retail products)
- Subscription sales (for content publishers)
- Native advertising
- Programmatic advertising
- Lead generation
- List building/Database
- Social media
The tactics you establish will be the backbone of the detailed conversations you have with potential web development partners.
You’ll usually want to survey key business stakeholders, as well as your internal IT team, about their ideas for site features at this point. You’ll also likely want to do a competitive analysis of other sites in your market, to get an idea of what’s working and what you can do better.
Step 4: Set meaningful performance goals
Mapping tactics to objectives is an essential part of justifying your investment in a professionally developed and maintained website. You’ll likely want to estimate specific performance goals for the tactics themselves, based on the contribution to business objectives you want each site feature to make.
The exercise might look a little like this:
|Increase sales-ready leads by 30 percent||Implement after-conversion thank you page that promotes next-step marketing content [lift: 10 percent]|
|Increase sales-ready leads by 30 percent||Integrate offer form with marketing automation system to automatically initiate funnel-appropriate campaign [lift: 20 percent]|
This process will require a bit of effort, but it’s well worth it to set expectations for your site project and establish the groundwork for your relationship with your web development partner. A good third-party developer will likely be able to provide relevant experience to help you set performance goals, or at least help you refine the details of the features on your list.
Step 5: Do an internal audit of your bandwidth
Now that you have a clear picture of what you want to accomplish with your website project, you need to ask yourself if you have the people in-house to execute your plan.
You may already have team members who are responsible for different aspects of your digital technology, but identifying bandwidth gaps is essential. Everyone is busy, and the burst of dedicated effort required to launch a site project may simply overwhelm your in-house teams. And remember, these systems have to be maintained and updated after the big project launches.
A comprehensive audit should include these departments:
- The IT group. While it’s likely focused on non-website activities, IT may own your DNS records or server infrastructure.
- The marketing team, or the group that oversees the website as a whole. This can include web producers or administrators that manage day-to-day production, as well as team members who work with third-party systems (social media, email marketing, CRM) that need to be integrated into the website.
- Content creators. This team may include writers, editors, campaign managers, and even event coordinators.
- The eCommerce team. These staff members manage the data and systems that feed the website or product database.
- Developers. Your devs can range from people with expertise in a specific technology to those who act as the bridge between in-house key stakeholders and external partners. Their role may be doing the heavy development work or the lighter, day-to-day fixes.
- Product managers. For every product that touches the website, a manager from that product should be involved to communicate the downstream impacts of the proposed changes.
- Project managers. These team members will have their fingers on the pulse of the project from end-to-end, ensuring that all deliverables are met, tested, and launched as planned.
- Designers. Technically adept creatives who will ensure that the look and feel of the website improves the user experience and works with the upgraded functionality of the site.
Step 6: Catalog your existing and needed technology categories
In addition to staff hours, you must ensure that your team has the skills needed to expand your site with the features you’ve identified as priorities. This audit should include all in-house code and third-party tools integrated into the site.
Poll your stakeholders and ask them which tools they are proficient in for these categories:
- Content management systems
- Advertising/Marketing automation platforms
- Product database
- User database
Gaps in any of these categories may well indicate the need to work with a web development partner.
Step 7: Set a rough budget range & timeline
I strongly recommend waiting until you clearly define your goals and needs before setting a budget. I realize this is not always feasible, but understanding the cost and the upside of an investment in your site will help you prioritize features. Remember, if you’ve correctly mapped your site feature tactics to business objectives, you can illustrate how the investment will help pay for itself.
Establishing a rough budget range and timeline before beginning conversations with potential dev partners gives everyone in the process a fair understanding of the scope and expectations.
The next big project is just the start
We here at Mugo Web think of our business in terms of relationships, not one-off coding gigs. The planning process I describe above illuminates the need for a web development partner and sets the core criteria you should use as the basis for a long-term relationship.
In my next post, I’ll look at the operational and cultural factors that you should consider when making the call to work with a development partner on your next project.