It is no exaggeration to say that a management service can charge thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars for work that could be done for hundreds. Plenty of real-life examples exist.
It also is no exaggeration that some of these services will provide expertise in one area while falling short in another.
They will pursue the contract because it means more money for their own business while planning to make up for their lack of skills by hiring a contractor or just figuring it out on their own. That’s an understandable thought, but it puts the client’s business at risk.
The size and scope of the project matters quite a bit.
A new site for a small business or non-profit association may need only a general contractor who can do a little of everything but may not be an expert in one particular skill or another.
A large project will require either a larger contractor with a range of employees covering every major skillset or a general contractor who can provide subcontractors.
At that point, it is not unlike building a house.
Several important steps make it easier to hire the right site management service while avoiding the mistakes that can cost a lot of money or end up with a project that is a total mess.
1) Define the Project Goals
Site development can be broken down into a group of goals based on major functional areas. They are:
- Technology: What software will be used to publish the site? Will the vendor provide training on how to use it? What company is hosting the site? How much will it cost each month? Does it backup the site automatically in case of a server outage?
- Content: Does the text currently exist? Does it need to be written? Who will do the writing? How often does it need to be updated?
- Marketing: Will the vendor provide search engine optimization? Does the site have potential for an email newsletter? Does the business have social media accounts? Does the vendor have the skills to integrate those accounts into the site?
- Advertising: Does the site have a content focus? If so, how will the ads be displayed? Who will do the selling?
- Design: Who provides the design? Does it represent the brand? Will it be done in such a way that the site loads quickly? Is it mobile friendly?
The design is a wow factor that should come last in the goal-definition phase. It is risky to focus too much on the design because it may overshadow the other business goals to their detriment.
2) Research Skills
Look for companies that communicate on their own sites a set of skills that match these goals.
A reputable small or mid-sized company will often display biographies of staff on the site. If so, look through each one to see if they can match the project needs.
Then go to the search engines and look up the principals to see what else they have done and where they have worked in the past. Check for LinkedIn profiles for more information.
If a vendor doesn’t display any biographies or especially if they don’t list the principals, run away quickly. It is either a poor self-marketer, foreign based or hiding something.
3) Understand Pricing
Turnkey solutions will display a set monthly price. These solutions are best for the smallest projects with the fewest needs. They also are good for new businesses that simply don’t have enough money for a robust site.
One vendor found under a search engine result advertised a starting price of $29.95 a month. It included hosting and “four service requests” per month. This low entry point is basically just a template solution that won’t do much for the business. But it’s a start.
Most businesses have needs well beyond a $29.95 a month template with a half dozen pages. They also will have needs that are specific to them.
The best way for a business to get accurate and useful pricing for their project is by creating a project outline that they submit to potential vendors. Because the needs often vary, the vendor will need to provide customized pricing in return. Try to get at least three quotes for comparison.
4) Watch Out for Contract Terms
A contract should be part of any project to protect the business and the vendor while at the same time laying out essential definitions, requirements and timetables.
Definitions should use the terminology describing each task that is part of the project, such as “marketing” with a breakdown of any marketing tasks, “content” with a description of who provides and posts the content, etc.
It should have a start and end date and an exit clause in case of problems. Some vendors will provide a contract with a 90-day exit clause that must be done in writing. Ninety days is a long time to wait — and pay that vendor — in case something goes wrong. Try to negotiate 60 or even 30 days instead.
Finally, make sure that the content is clearly owned by the business and that the vendor will provide a copy of the database containing the content, along with all images and graphics, should the business decide to exit the relationship and move to another host and site management service.