When you talk to an architect about building your dream home, you can get a rough idea of the cost by providing some preliminary information. It's not until they dig into specifics - the kind of countertops, number and size of bedrooms, and other important details - that they can provide you with an exact number. The same is true when creating a custom Web site or application. Estimates are often based on little more than an hour-long conversation and a few general examples.
Don't misunderstand, these conversations are invaluable, but many of the most important details are glossed over or omitted. It's not on purpose. It's natural to assume that everyone thinks the same way you do, that what's obvious to one must certainly be obvious to the other. It's not until the in-depth design process where the true scope of what you seek to create is revealed and some of the conceptual differences come out.
We work to avoid these situations by asking our clients specific questions. Here's a few ways to work with your development team to get an accurate proposal from the very beginning.
We frequently ask clients for examples of sites that have a design, layout, or feature they like. Many times, we get the site, but not always what it was about the site that drew them to it. Was it the colors? Perhaps the layout of the menu or the way their contact form worked is what you envisioned. If you provide an example, explain why the example is relevant and important. Simply copying and pasting the site's Web address when answering this question doesn't identify anything specific about the site.
Talk About Yourself
If you're building a custom application or entirely new site, chances are you've run across some things with your current site or process that you find cumbersome or downright annoying. Talk about this. Tell your development team about your headaches. If we understand the challenges you face that are making your job more difficult, we can find a way to use technology to make your job easier.
Business owners are understandably cautious about handing out access to their Web site, as they should be. If you already have a Web site, once you get an initial proposal, you should provide the developer you want to work with access to your existing site before they get started. This gives them the chance to poke around and see if there's anything out of the ordinary that might cause some issues. It's not foolproof, but there's a better chance of finding major obstacles if they can look through things. If the entire original site and it's contents will be wiped out with the update, this really won't have any impact. Knowing that you don't plan to change hosting providers, however, could impact things.
As with any project, there's a process before you arrive at the final product. The more information you provide the development team, the less chance there will be surprises, and subsequent changes in scope, later.