Thinking about a business and dreaming about its grandeur is one thing but actually creating a website to support the business is often less than grand. This is doubly compounded by the fact that you may be like me, a non-techie. I’ve certainly been around technology and consider myself on the forefront of new technology and cool gadgets, but I am certainly not a programmer! So, having been involved in co-founding multiple startups with a heavy website/web application component while being technologically “un-savvy”, I wanted to share some of the key tips to help guide you in your own web development. (I’ve written a proper guide/whitepaper, which you can access here but below is a summary.) If you’re creating a Web-based service and/or product with customized online features and functionality (where a standard website template will not work) then you’ll need to create a web application. The following 5 steps outlined below will help you get going:
1. Document Your Website Requirements
Write down what you want the site to do and how you want customers or users to interact with it. For example, if you’re an online retailer, you may want to offer the following:
a) incorporate a shopping cart for purchases,
b) maintain a repository of product pictures and descriptions.
c) Compare prices for a product from different stores
d) allow users to create an account so that they can save their billing and shopping cart information
2. Create Wireframes
Wireframes are the mock-ups of the visual presentation in each website page, along with its underlying functionality. This is how you start to translate the functionality of your site with a visual representation of your technical requirements (A Web designer- the person who creates the look and feel of your website- can do these for you, but you’ll have to fork over some cash for it. This will be discussed further in #3 below.)
Although you can literally just draw wireframes for each page on a piece of paper, I recommend using Visio or Axure which are software specifically made to help you craft wireframes with formal specifications to show each page so that’s clearer and easier for others to understand. Describe how each part of the page is supposed to work and function – explain whether or not its an icon, page link or a data capture field etc.
3. Find A Website Designer
The website designer is the person who is going to translate (or even create) your wireframes into the actual visual designs of the Web pages. The designer will create what website users will see when they come to visit your website. (At this point, give some consideration to design: Read our white paper on Graphic Design for more information.) Following the visual design, the developer can create the style sheets. Some designers take it a step further by creating the HTML base on which the development team will code, which then makes it even easier for the development team to understand how to build from the wireframes. Hint: This can mean fewer errors when translating your vision into the intended result i.e., a website that meets your requirements. You can find a web designer on freelancer recruiting sites like Odesk or Elance. These freelance web designers will cost you from $50–$150/hour depending on the experience level of the designer and the complexity of your job.
4. Find a Web developer to Scope Out the Effort
Finding a Web developer is a critical part of this process. The wrong situation could mean a lot of wasted time and precious start-up dollars. It’s better to invest in the time to find the right developer now rather than down road. It’s common these days to consider whether to develop your product using local – U.S.-based – developers or offshore resources (developers outside of the U.S). where the costs are typically 50% less (depending on the region). However, there are many things to consider before you decide to take the cheaper route and outsource.
U.S.-based developers can be easier to work with because there are less time or language barriers, so you may find that these resources communicate better and match better with your schedule. Depending on what you decide, developers can run from $75–$150/hour. With my last business, Nu-Kitchen, I initially hired a U.S.-based developer because I felt that I was taking a big risk with offshoring since I didn’t have a solid background or knowledge in technology, and I didn’t want to manage time zone or language barriers.
These developers are located outside of the U.S., such as India, Russia, Brazil. While these foreign resources charge usually no more than half those of their American competitors, you should be aware that it could be more difficult to communicate with an outsourced development team. To help mitigate the process, there are many project managers and U.S.-based firms that help facilitate this type of offshore arrangement. While it increases the cost, the combination is still typically cheaper than using U.S.-based development resources. If done correctly, this can be a great way to develop a website application.
Where to find a developer
You can find Web developers or development firms by checking out Elance or Odesk, they provide a great way to source new development. Alternatively, if there is a website that you like, find out who developed it – you’ll often find this information embedded at the bottom of each page. Whatever you ultimately decide, talk to the developer’s current and previous customers who have sites similar in functionality to what you want to do. Get quotes for the scope of the work that you outlined in step 1.
5. Build the website
Once you approve the website design and the requirements that you scoped out above, turn it over to your developers. You’ll need to have regular “check-ins” and daily oversight to make sure that the development is progressing as you expect to and to address any challenges that arise. Make sure to be a part of the testing process so that when you’re ready for the site to go live, it is fully functioning and ready for public consumption. Given the customization that’s required, developers make their best estimates. However, if testing reveals “bugs” or other issues, this could delay your launch. Always add extra time to your budget to handle these unexpected delays, as well as “scope-creep,” which is additional development work that will be necessary to include more features, buttons, and other functionality as the need becomes evident. If you’re operating on a small budget, keep in mind that the total cost of building your website will depend on its complexity and functionality. Good luck on creating an effective and successful web presence!