The other day, a friend of mine told me that she’s looking to setup a website for her small business in adventure trekking. She asked me to help her look at some website quotations she received from a few local web design companies. Promptly after I agreed, 2 quotes and her to-be-website sitemap arrived by email.

In her email, she asks which is the better quotation? When I went through what she sent me, immediately alarm bells were ringing.

Wildly different quotes…
When one quote differs from the other by 3-4 times, it should tell you that something is not right. The first company evaluated the sitemap she sent them and estimated 29 webpages to be build, whereas the other estimated 41 pages. How can the same sitemap requirement give such differing estimates?

Looking at her sitemap document she provided, I found that it did not convey what she really wants for her website clearly. There were room for different interpretations, and her vendors quickly made different assumptions.

This is very typical of most website projects I’ve come across in my time in this industry – big or small. Giving clear and unambiguous requirements will help you reduce the headaches of going through quotations. Let’s face it, these website vendors won’t do the thinking for you. Only you can do it for yourself.

What can you do?
It is very hard to write a good website specification, especially if you’re a small business owner. You don’t have the time, you have a thousand others things to do and you are absolutely clueless about this industry. Here are a few pointers for you:

  1. Find yourself an advisor. This is the best option available, but it’s really difficult to achieve. You can pay for someone or you can beg, bribe your contacts, friends, friends of friends who are in this industry and who can give you advice and guidance.
  2. Get yourself a book. There are many good literature you can go through that will guide you and give you pointers. I’ve always found the ‘For Dummies’ series of books very easy to follow for beginners and they usually contain very good common sense tips.
  3. Get social. Join in to webmaster forums, get connected with people in the know. Ask questions. You will find that webmasters are generally very helpful. This is the power of the web, use it to your advantage.
  4. Find the time. Like all things for small business owners, you have to find the time to understand the industry, especially if your website is going to be your primary means of telling people about your products or services.

At the end of the day, you don’t have to be an expert in website building, but knowing enough to ask intelligent questions, and to discern good from the bad will take you a long way.