The proposals are in.  They include some great designs; features that meet requirements; and maybe even some novel ideas.  Budgets get compared, references checked, and a selection is made.  Yet all is not well.  Several months down the road, after the new site’s public launch, problems arise that weren’t contemplated during the proposal process.

This year alone, we’ve had a half dozen or so organizations contact us expressing dismay with their current web development partner.  The complaints: deadlines are frequently missed; simple changes to the site aren’t made; and requests for new additions to the site seem way overpriced.  And they don’t know how to move the site to a new partner.

What’s going on?

Answer: the proposal process didn’t take into account two key factors, a) the platform on which the site was built, and b) the web partner’s experience with it and its dedication to client service.

So before throwing good money after bad in building a site, make sure you get solid and verified responses to these seven questions:

(1) Don’t get fooled by a great design.  Turning a mock-up into a real web site is where the rubber meets the road.  Demand that the potential web vendor demonstrate previous experience.  You don’t want to be a guinea pig.  This leads to the next question:

(2) What platform will the site be built on, i.e., is there going to be a robust content management system (CMS) housing the site’s content?  If not, you’ll be looking ahead to lots of slow, manual labor in making changes and additions to your site.

(3) Is the CMS well supported, with a growing list of new modules and refinements? In other words, are there lots of people behind the CMS, and is the CMS growing in popularity?  You want a CMS that’s successful, and that will grow with your evolving requirements. Make your prospective partner demonstrate that.

(4) Is the CMS easy to use? Most clients want to take charge of their content.  With a few hours training, a serious CMS will enable the client to do just that.  Make your prospective partner prove it.

FACT: There are a number of FREE (open source) CMS available today, such as Drupal and    Joomla.  They are powerful, easy for the client to employ, and used by all sizes of organizations and companies.  They enable basic changes to be made with little effort, and new site additions (blogs, video, social media) to be incorporated without costing an arm and a leg.  DEADLINES MET, BUDGETS KEPT.

(5) Just how adept is your web partner with the recommended CMS? You want a partner with thousands of hours on the CMS, a partner that knows every detail, no matter how small.  You want an expert, not a vendor who sees your project as a chance to build its own CMS – a disaster in waiting.

(6) What happens in the event that you need to end the relationship with the web partner? You need to make the break as seamless as possible.  The client owns the content and the transition is very simple with the right CMS – if the contract has provisions for this eventuality.  Web partners worth their salt will help with the move.

(7) What the web vendor’s record of client support? Research this carefully.  Ask lots of question from references.  How quick are they to respond?  Do they make simple changes as a matter of course?  How accurate are their time and budget estimates for site customizations? Do they keep their word?

So next time you’re in the market for a website, no matter its size, keep these questions in mind. You want to make management of the site as effortless as possible. And you want a web partner who knows what it’s doing and values your relationship.  You need both together otherwise you’ll be wasting money.  And not in a real party mood.