I was recently in a meeting with a prospective client. We’d made it to the final cut: just us and one other firm still being considered. During that meeting, I mentioned that my job building websites was easy, which got a laugh, as intended.
Really, beyond the fact that I love what I do — which makes just about anything easy, even raising kids or puppies — what I meant was that what most clients think of when they think of building websites — the coding and programing — is the easiest part of the process.
Based on the horror stories we’ve heard from clients who have war stories to tell, that’s not always the case. And the only reason the coding is the easiest part of my job is because of all the work we do before the coding ever gets started.
Before all the coders and programmers out there send me bags full of hate mail, let me qualify my claim of “easy.” Coding and programming isn’t really easy, but it’s a whole lot harder if you don’t have a plan.
We create our plan through our discovery process, where we do a deep dive into what the website needs to do. Armed with that information we develop a series of documents that lay out
- who the target audience is
- how we’re going to attract that audience
- what action we want site visitors to take
- and what content, features, and functionality we need to achieve our goals
In other words — the really tough part of the job happens before coding (and design, for that matter) are even beginning. It’s the discovery process, in which we create planning documents that lay out exactly what we need the site to do in order to succeed, that makes other steps so much less painful.
Those documents are:
- Strategy Brief
- Site Map
- Functional Specification
- Design Brief
With these core, critical documents, you create a framework that provides guidance to the team that will be down in the trenches doing the design work, copywriting, and coding.
To these documents we can also add outlines for KPIs, integration with other marketing efforts, and maintenance and security protocols.
Too often, we see clients balk at the process, feeling that they “just need to get the new site up” rather than “waste time with all of these planning exercises.” (Which always brings to mind the snarky thought, if you don’t have time to do it right, when are you going to find the time to do it again?)
If you’re tempted to forego proper planning because it’s just a small update or because time is of the essence, I urge you to reconsider. You’ll never regret the time you invest in thinking through your goals in something more than a perfunctory way.
And if your web development team looks at you like you’ve got three heads when you suggest a process that creates the documents above, press the pause button and reconsider your partnership.