What could go wrong in your next website project? And how to avoid it.

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Website Planning Guide #1

These are the challenges you don’t know you don’t know about creating your next website, and how to overcome them. Avoid these and give your next website project the best possible chance of success.

Here you are facing the prospect of reinventing your website to meet the needs of an ever more demanding customer base AGAIN. You spent a fortune last time – admittedly, it is still fit for purpose – isn’t it? NPS is down. Your marketing team is starting to feel uncomfortable. Customers keep saying they can’t find what they need. The sales team is saying it doesn’t help them sell. You are embarrassed to report performance to the Board. And so on. You know you’re going to have to bite the bullet and get the deed done. And this time, it is going to be perfect. Right?

A new website for any business or organisation is no simple task. Sorry to state the obvious, but the needs of your customers are ever more sophisticated, and the reality is that a website is now your shop front. Opinion from your audience can be swift and harsh. A clunky website can really damage the trust people have in your brand. It needs to operate as a sales channel, with a slick user interface. It needs to be perfectly coded for speed and accessibility. You have to involve multiple stakeholders across the business. And, it all needs to be done on time and on-budget. Give me strength!

I wish I’d known then, what I know now.

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Now, I’m not going to claim this is the most elegantly put truism of all time, but Donald Rumsfeld was onto something. As I recall, he was derided for his clumsy delivery at the time. Perhaps his unknown-unknown here was his inability to deliver a punchy political slogan? But I digress.

He was right, though – it’s straightforward enough to establish what we know we don’t know. It takes an expert in whatever thing you’re trying to avoid error in, to tell you about the things you don’t know you don’t know. Clumsy deliveries are just one of them.

Perhaps this is the curse of every project, ever. Managing complex and unwieldy variables, searching for answers to questions you hadn’t even thought of yet. The temptation is to put it all into the hands of a large, expensive agency and let them get on with the dirty work. I get it. It seems appealing to get a nice shiny London agency to take it on. Call me biased (I am), but surely if you’re looking for a way to avoid these classic pitfalls, then working with an expert website agency instead might just be the answer to your prayers. Traditional design and branding agencies simply can’t be expected to have the same level of insight; you need specialists who can focus and deliver what matters most to you and your business.

Some classic website project pitfalls

I’ve collected a vast portfolio of avoidable errors in my career. Some of them are below. I know what can go wrong, and it’s been my ambition to engineer it all out of the process. Our aim at Rouge is for our clients to sleep easy knowing that we are dealing with everything, leaving them to get on with everything else they have to do.

1 – I need to speak to the person in charge. Please.

Good luck doing that with a multinational humongo branding agency. With a web specialist agency, if you need to get a message to the boss, then you know they are just a phone call or coffee away. At many large agencies, your project is just another one on their books. At a smaller focused agency, you can guarantee that your project is going to be treasured, protected and honoured with all the attention it needs and deserves.

Ask your agency about who your key points of contact will be. Also, ask them about their support and service structure for once your website is live. 

2 – Great! I’ve just discovered that my agency is using another agency to build the code. No wonder there are delays and mistakes. Classic.

I don’t believe outsourcing makes any sense if you’re promising to make someone a proper business website. Using an agency that keeps everything in-house gives you far more certainty and control. Having designers and developers working together in one space generates more creativity, faster solutions and less confusion. I can give you countless examples of when a designer has solved a developer’s challenge to save or enhance a project. And vice versa.

Ask your agency exactly who will be doing what for your project. Meet the whole team if you can.

3 – I have just been told by the sales team that it would be good if we could display bilingual content. Can you fit that in now please, without extra cost?

Don’t worry, it’s easy to solve. In fact, it’s something a good agency would cover upfront. Choose an agency that is able and knowledgeable enough to invest genuine time and effort in getting to know you, your organisation and your needs upstream of any problems – with a full and detailed Discovery Phase and Project Specification. But, what if this genuinely does happen mid-project. Well, then your agency needs to have a flexible change management process in place. At Rouge, we run projects in a hybrid Waterfall manner, which means you can have fixed costs and website specification at the start. But we also run agile sprint cycles within the design and development stages. Change is good, as long as it is appropriately thought about and accurately integrated.

Ask your agency to show you their project documentation and their change management policies.

4 – I.T. is telling me that we must use an agency that is Cyber Essentials Certified, whatever that means?

When running a website project with any agency, they are going to have to handle and manage some elements of your business and customer data. The reason an organisation’s IT department will ask for an agency that is Cyber Essentials certified is because they must have a good level of assurance that any precious business data is not going to be compromised by slack or even ignorant data handling and security. Being Cyber Essentials certified means that an agency can prove that they are employing Government agreed methods to protect your data and its I.T. against the most common cyber attacks.

Look for an agency that takes cybersecurity, and your data seriously. They should be Cyber Essentials certified, have a back-up and disaster recovery processes in operation, and be fully compliant with GDPR and PECR. Maybe, ask to see their data policy if you want full assurance.

5 – If I’m honest, I need this to be a straightforward project – but I won’t be able to give this website project 100% of my time, all of the time.

The answer to this is simple to say, but harder to find – make sure your agency gives you a skilled, dedicated Project Manager with the necessary time and resources to back you up. I cannot emphasise this enough. Any lack of focus or loss of momentum will slow the project down and possibly deliver a lower quality website. An outstanding Project Manager will be effectively employed by the project – they will enthusiastically encourage us, and you, to ensure the project succeeds. It will mean that no matter how busy you get, you always have someone you know and trust to drive the project forward.

Websites are so multifaceted that you need a team with real experience alongside you. Check that your agency has someone suitably experienced to lead your project to success.

6 – We are three weeks from launch, and it turns out that every director in the organisation and their cousin needs to sign off on this. Now I’m sweating.

A robust, refined project process is the answer to this. A website is not just a ‘creative’ project. It has creativity within it, but in the main, it is closer to software development. You need to find an agency that understands that not having buy-in from the key decision-makers, at the right time, is a highway to hell. Working with an agency that controls sign-off at key stages will avoid re-work, missed deadlines and surprise extra costs. This is especially important if you happen to work with the sort of person that needs to share their most important ‘opinion’ just before the site goes live!

Ask your agency about their checklists and sign-off processes. Look for a system that protects you and the project, not just them.

7 – I can see the site coming together, but how is it going to help me with my actual marketing challenges?

Look to work with an agency that is able to put real-time into understanding your business, your customers and how the two can be brought together with campaigns, analytics, performance, engagement and sales – through your new website. Your new website should form the hub of your future marketing success. It could and should make your life easier.

At the start of the project, work with an agency that thinks beyond the launch. Look for an agency that can create a website for you that is able to grow, develop and flex with your marketing and sales opportunities. After all, you don’t want to have to do this all again in a couple of years. Do you?

8 – I’m having a website related existential crisis here. Why are we doing this again?

Too often, people get confused and distracted during a project and forget what the original reasons for it were. For example, it is easy to get hung up on the visual design part and loose focus on the admin functionality. This could mean your new website doesn’t do the job it was meant to do – and you could end up with a pretty folly instead of a hard-working business tool.

Choose an agency that is accredited by the quality assurance standard ISO9001. It is a suitably pragmatic choice, and your compliance team are going to love you for it. All your project boxes are properly ticked and the quality is guaranteed. 

9 –  My new website started well, but business decisions now seem to be watering it down and turning into a new version of the average site we ended up with last time.

Yep, everyone has one – an opinion, that is. And a large website project needs a lot of sign-off and agreement throughout. But how do you judge what is right and wrong? Who do you listen to? How do you stand up for what you know is right when you are being told to change it?

The answer to this is simple. Put the User first. Justify every decision against their success. And choose an agency that collaboratively documents the decision making toward this end. It’ll make your life a doddle when reporting back too.

10 – I cannot afford to fail. 

A new website can be an expensive process. Not just in cost, but also in your time. When you select an agency to work with you are putting your project in their hands. It is their job to make sure failure doesn’t happen, so you must work with a team you can trust. A good agency will see your personal success as an integral part of the project. But how do you know this?

If you were having an extension built on your house you’d get to know your architect, right? They’d want to get to know you too. You would, of course, make sure they are going to understand and deliver the needs and wants for your family home. You should definitely do the same with your business website. Find yourself an agency that is prepared to get to know you properly, and desires a successful business outcome as much as you do.

These issues are far from exhaustive, but what kind of a business person would I be if I gave away all my secrets here?! These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building that perfect business website. However, I don’t want you to think it’s all uphill struggle. Finding the right agency can open doors of opportunity. The right chemistry between you and them will allow you to develop a site that really delights your customers, elevates your brand, and puts you ahead of your competition. It could even be a joyful process, one which gives you a chance to innovate and get creative with your business. It’s also the key to a beautiful ongoing relationship with experts who really care that your website is excelling and want it to stay that way. 

You know, nothing beats talking to the actual expert. Why not give us a call. We are more than happy to spend some time with you to fend off any headaches you might be worried about with your next website project.


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