You don’t know exactly how it works. Most of us business owners couldn’t really build our own websites or write our own web content, any more than we could really build our own cars. Some of the things we hire people for are things that we know how to do, but online marketing often is not in that category. Just as it makes sense to go to an established mechanic or car dealer, it makes sense to go with an established web firm that can show you some recent work. If your web pros can’t answer your questions clearly, they may not know as much as you need them to know. And if they talk as though they have secrets they can’t share with you, walk away. We don’t have to know how it works to be able to understand what we’re buying, and they should be willing to explain that clearly.
Looks aren’t the only thing to consider. Of course you want a fine-looking car, and you want a fine-looking website. But an attractive website that doesn’t perform is just as disappointing as a sleek car that doesn’t run well. Talk with your web firm about what you expect your website to do, whether that’s thought leadership or lead generation. Let them know if you want to make sales from your website in the future or if you want to be able to make all updates yourself. If you don’t know how you plan to use your website, build in some time to discuss your options and make a plan before you start building.
You might not belong on the bandwagon. Online technology changes fast. Today’s most exciting new thing has a good chance of being completely forgotten tomorrow. Look at all the new content management systems that were going to replace WordPress… and are now gone. Ditto the search engines that were going to replace Google. Remember Coin? It’s hard to predict which new thing is going to be important and useful, and which is a flash in the pan, so it makes sense not to jump on the bandwagon today and roll off in a couple of months needing a complete re-do. (Still waiting for the Internet to prove itself or making sure that the phone book isn’t still the best place to advertise? You’re at the other extreme.)
You need to read the fine print. You don’t want to end up with a contract that gives you a big surprise — like a lease instead of a purchase, or “as is” when you thought you had a warranty. A client of ours recently asked to have a look at our service contract before they made up their minds, and that seems like a wise move. Now that know that they own the website and all its content when we’re through, among other things. Does the web firm you’re considering provide content? Will they come back to you halfway through the project for more money because things you thought were included really weren’t? Make sure you know exactly what you’re buying.
Once you drive it off the lot, it’s yours. Generally speaking, once you sign off on the website and launch it, your web firm’s job is finished unless you’ve made other arrangements. For a lot of business owners, this is not good news. You probably don’t know how to update your information or to make changes in a contact form if you change your mind about what you want it to include, and you may not have anyone to go to when you need support. Just as you have to know whether your car dealer has a service department, you should find out whether your web firm provides ongoing support. And you should expect to pay for it, if they do. Your car dealer won’t buy your gas after the sale, so you can’t expect your web firm to make changes to your website after launch without hiring them again.