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How to purchase precisely the website you seek: Denis Roberts

A Guide for the non-tech-savvy person on how to purchase precisely the website you seek

There are four key criteria that any new web site will need to satisfy:

1) Is the appearance of the web site likely to be instantly attractive to the specific client to whom it is aimed?
2) Is the purpose of the web site clear; and are all-subsequent functions individually identified as part of a larger and coherent purpose and whole?
3) Are appearance and function seamlessly wedded; so the site looks brilliant and does what it says on the box?
4) Are both client and web site developer sufficiently clear from the outset on what is being sought; what this will involve; and on how this can be achieved when working on a bespoke site within a fixed rate budget?

Purpose. The purpose of this guide is to chart the communication and learning journey of client and web developer – necessary to delivering on all four above criteria.

Much of the meat of the article will chronicle the development of communications between web developer and client as they educate one another on what is being sought; and on the ramifications of what is involved when translated into technical terms.

As a part of this; the critical importance of a clear and overarching professional customer relationship management process really comes into its own; essential to laying the foundations for negotiating the uncharted territory that is the domain of the bespoke.

Background. The function of the web site is to create a branded corporate infrastructure for a new private membership club for independent and sole professional practitioners; who are seeking to team up with fellow practitioners to work on one another’s businesses; to build a network of fully independent virtual firms offering a fully individualised and premium service. This means working to full capacity on solely premium activities (tasks which only you and you alone can deliver) and automating and organising all non-essential tasks elsewhere; and offering a unique and completely individual service to each and every client. And for practitioners interested in moving to the next level an opportunity to also build their own associate networks via strategic partnerships.

As part of their membership, each individual and their firm will obtain their own web site and virtual shop front; carrying its own individual branding; and identified as part of the wider The Networking Firm Network Corporation. With different levels of membership, this would also require the scope to accommodate and build a range of different sized firms and shop windows. As a piece of virtual architecture what was being sought was something akin to a franchise structure, with scope for firms of different status and size.

Strategic partnership. The Networking Firm Network specialises in strategic partnership and virtual organisation. The firm was founded in 1996, when I teamed up with strategic partners Prof. Colin Coulson-Thomas and Prof. Barry Curnow to bring our three niche practices under the same virtual roof. The Networking Firm Network represents an extension of this whereby corporate action learning infrastructure will be provided to enable the development of a network of virtual firms supported by a Business Action Learning Organisation and Community.

Context. This means that we were not merely seeking a web developer; but also a web developer with whom we could combine and collaborate on a business level (by promoting their design as designers of The Networking Firm Network site): as well as on an educational level; by jointly producing material on the delivery of precisely the web site development you are seeking. The agreement of a fixed rate budget for a bespoke web site took place within the wider context of a reciprocal arrangement that could form the first steps towards a strategic partnership:

a) On the business side, Cotswold Web Services (The Networking Firm’s Web Developer) would participate in a two-way finders fee on the completion of any business that we generated for one another.
b) On the educational side, I would produce this article from the client perspective; and enable Cotswold Web Services to publish much-wanted educational and marketing content from their highly SEO optimised marketing front-end. A win win arrangement for both parties!

The Project. To create uniform branding and corporate infrastructure for The Networking Firm Network private membership club for independent and private practitioners. “The purpose of the web design will be to brand a uniform and hierarchical network of virtual offices organised according to level (colour-code)”.

Choosing a method. The method selected was to build a theme. This would need to be capable of functioning as networked organisation. In the first instance, my plan was to create a custom theme that could be bolted straight on to the front-end of Ning – infrastructure that I was already familiar with.

Cotswold Web Services were not familiar with Ning and so as a first-step briefly investigated the infrastructure. This resulted in their encountering limitations that would not be encountered in WordPress; a particular programming language in which they were expert. Richard Jaques, the web developer explained that WordPress was an open source language; where content could be produced in MS Word and required no programming skills; and where literally thousands of web developers had produced literally thousands of plug ins and widgets to deliver highly versatile and highly flexible functionality.

Clarifying boundaries and coming to a clear arrangement. Cotswold Web Services would create a bespoke theme to deliver the necessary infrastructure. The Networking Firm would be responsible for all content. However, Cotswold Web Services would also include a basic advisory service i.e. where their might be a choice over options in respect of different plug ins or widgets; should they have any direct experiences / preferences; and any broad tips concerning how easy or difficult it might be for the layman to install a particular item then they could be consulted on this?

Cotswold Web Services customer relationship management process. A key factor in choosing Cotswold Web Services was that one would be choosing process consultants; with a very clearly structured process for leading the client through the different operational steps involved. A process that would enable both parties to know what stage they had reached; and a process that would provide a framework for reviewing contractual arrangements. This involved four clear stages:

a) Initial Stages. “Once you have responded to this quotation and all details have been finalised, we will begin to discuss your specific design requirements. Any suggestions you might have regarding: colour schemes, graphics, video, animation, database structure, reports or other websites you like, will be taken into account at this stage. From these discussions a design brief will be created to bring together all aspects of the appearance of your site.”

b) Design. “Your project will then be designed using the latest design software, with detailed diagrams of the database structure, input screens and reports. It will take into account your target audience, company image and your design preferences. After evaluating your opinions this design will be refined until you are completely satisfied. Once you have approved, the design can be transformed into a fully functional website.”

c) Development. “At this stage, dedicated programming professionals will assess the design and establish the precise development needs. Your website will then be created and extensively tested. Once it is completed and meets our high design and development standards you will be able to see the site. At this stage your business development manager will take you through the site page by page, and you will receive full training on how to operate all elements.”

d) Completion. “With your full approval, your website will then be set live and become fully accessible to all Internet users. However, the process does not end here. Although your design and development are completed, Cotswold Web Services will remain on hand into the future, so if you have any questions at any stage, or in the unlikely event of any problems, we’re always here to help.”

The four key criteria that any new web site will need to satisfy:

1) Is the appearance of the web site likely to be instantly attractive to the specific client to
whom it is aimed?
2) Is the purposes of the web site clear; and are all-subsequent functions individually
identified as part of a larger and coherent purpose and whole?
3) Are appearance and function seamlessly wedded; so the site looks brilliant and does what
it says on the box?
4) Are both client and web site developer sufficiently clear from the outset on what is being
sought; what this will involve; and on how this can be achieved when working on a
bespoke site within a fixed rate budget?

Is the appearance of the web site likely to be instantly attractive to the specific client to whom it is aimed?

A very good first draft was made. As a bespoke theme, there was then scope to experiment with and fine tune subtle variations to arrive at precisely what was being sought.

Is the purpose of the web site clear; and are all-subsequent functions individually identified as part of a larger and coherent purpose and whole?

It is here where the really fine calibration took place; and a balancing of perspectives. As a strong proponent of function over form, however attractive and impactful the design, function always needed to be the top priority and take precedence over form. This meant that at almost every key stage we went through refinements; where we would seek win wins where a function was maintained with the greatest visual impact. This resulted in the development of an interesting communication; whereby detailed functional issues were raised with the web site developer, who then acted as an intermediary with the web design team,

Are appearance and function seamlessly wedded; so the site looks brilliant and does what it says on the box?

The main way in which this was achieved was in the relationship described above; with function and design elements split between developer and designer; and with developer acting as intermediator.

Are both client and web site developer sufficiently clear from the outset on what is being sought; what this will involve; and on how this can be achieved when working on a bespoke site within a fixed rate budget?

In the case of a bespoke service and under ordinary circumstances, I think the answer to all three parts is no. By it’s very nature a bespoke service is client-led and evolves and clarifies via the ongoing development of the consultant / client relationship. This involves not only the client becoming increasingly clearer on what they want, but also becoming increasingly educated on available options; the extent of their ramifications; and which will ultimately will provide most value.

Conclusion. As such, this is something of an open-ended relationship where, under ordinary circumstances a fixed rate budget is inappropriate and far too constraining on both parties. Fixed-budgets are probably only suited to mass-produced web sites. As part of the bespoke process involves pioneering and venturing into the unknown; what is involved may not necessarily be completely evident from the outset; and some sort of flexibility needs to be built into the arrangement. The fact that we were working in the context of some form of joint venture provided the some of the necessary flexibility for each of us to generate additional value that would enable us to maintain the fixed budget.

In fairness, I think I have received the bulk of that added value an am exceptionally pleased with the result. Firstly, I am a perfectionist and extremely exacting client; and at every fence Richard and Cotswold Web Services went the extra mile and did so in the most patient and professional manner. My wish is that this paper will contribute to a return of that value; and when you see the site you will see for yourself what a superb job they have done; and how they have delivered on all four key counts to produce precisely what I was seeking.

Thank you Richard and Cotswold Web Services

© Denis Roberts, The Networking Firm

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