Staying on Budget: How to Avoid Unintentional Costs When Building a Website

To many managers, cost overruns have become associated with the term risk when it comes to new projects. When you look at research from the Harvard Business Review that shows that one in six IT projects have a cost overrun of 200 percent, it is easy to understand why management may balk at a project such as a new website.

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However, if one in six suffer from such large discrepancies in the actual cost vs. their projected budget, that means a large majority of projects are not coming in very close to what was expected as far as costs are concerned. To ensure that the design and implementation of your website remains close to budget, there are some things you can do to help keep costs under control, and that starts with proper planning. Whether hiring a web designer or building a site on a DIY platform, without a clear plan for the build, unintended problems can arise that drive up cost and waste time. By understanding the common situations that drive up website costs, you can build a comprehensive plan that avoids these common mishaps.

Lack of organization

You may have a great vision for the aesthetics and functionality of your company’s website but if you haven’t organized these thoughts and plans then you are already running the risk of cost overruns because your vision lacks organization. This drives up cost because you don’t have a clear plan for what you want out of your website and how you plan to get there.

Most sites are built in stages with each iteration adding more functionality for your visitors. Take the time to plan out when you expect, or need, the key elements of your site to be built and then discuss which technologies will best get you there. Once you have this plan, stick to it because it will form the foundation for your entire site and lay the groundwork for achieving the goals you have for your site.

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Too many cooks in the kitchen

Involving too many stakeholders in the process can directly lead to scope creep. With each stakeholder comes an opinion and another level of approval. If there are too many decision makers involved every detail will be scrutinized, leading to problems in acquiring a consensus. With each stakeholder offering his or her judgment, time will draw out and costs will inevitably increase.

Of course you are going to want to involve the right stakeholders, however when everyone wants to leave their mark costs start to build up. If you need to have approval from a wide range of people in your company, create two or three mockups and have them give feedback there. This way they are included in the decision-making process without driving costs up after the project has begun.

Poor design

There is an element to web design that cannot be overlooked and that is user experience. If the user cannot navigate to the content they want, if they can’t effectively search your site, if the pages take too long to load or if the site is just designed poorly people are going to avoid it. Since no one sets out with the goal of building a website that people dislike, you are going to have to fix the problems caused by poor design. In some cases, this might mean starting from scratch. Either way, you are going to have to spend extra money to make sure you get things right, money that could have been saved if the site was designed well from the beginning.

A good design has a solid visual presentation but it also includes much more than that. A great design takes user experience into account. How will users interact with the visual elements and how will the layout contribute to their experience? If you only focus on building a design that looks awesome but has minimal usability features you will eventually have to redesign the site to better accommodate user needs. From the start, consider how users will be using your site and make sure the design of the site takes the main usability needs into consideration.

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Complexity of integrations

There is often a wide gap between what you want your website to do and what you can get it to do. Sometimes, the plan calls for the use of APIs that are confusing, underdeveloped or insecure. If you are relying on integrations that are too complex or don’t work within the platform you are building your site on, getting things to work as expected might take time that you didn’t budget for. Instead, consider using integrations that are widely accepted. They likely have gone through intense testing at the community and developer levels. A wider user base also means more avenues for support when you can’t get things working the way you want.

Unprepared content

By now, everyone has heard the saying that, “content is king.” It’s the reason people visit your website and it is what makes it visible to the search engines. So if your content is not ready for your website, then one of three things will happen:

1)     You rush to get content up that isn’t going to be the quality you want for your site and this will turn off visitors and search engines.

2)     You will have to pay higher fees to have content created in a rush.

3)     Your site will sit idle with little or no content, costing you money in lost revenues everyday that it sits there not working towards its goals.

This problem is avoided by having strong, well-written content ready before the site goes live.

Even better is having content ready before building the site. If you know the different types of content that you will be using it will be easier to build a site that contains that content accordingly. If you will need various types of content down the road, your site will need to have functions available that create different content types. Taking these things into consideration beforehand can assure that your content will be ready for the website launch and that future content needs are built into the site, cutting down both immediate and future costs.

Excessive revisions

We mentioned scope creep that comes from having too many decision makers involved, but it can happen with even the leanest project teams. If you start to veer too much from that original project plan costs begin to add up. Also, excessive revisions often take you so far off plan that the work done on the original design was for naught equaling a waste of money.

You can avoid multiple revisions with sufficient mockups and a detailed plan. Situations do come up and certain elements might need to stray from the plan, however, the more detailed the design plan the easier it will be to build the intended design the first time around.

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Specific technical requirements

There are specific things we want our business websites to do, but that doesn’t mean we have to be rigid about how we get there, especially if our technical requirements do not work with the rest of the site or with the technologies we are using to build and deliver it.

When you find yourself arguing for a specific technical requirement, consider what alternatives there may be to accomplish the same goal. If you can’t find one, then re-evaluate how important that requirement is before letting it run up the costs to develop your site.

Requiring excessive guidance

If you have little knowledge on how to build a website but decide to take on the challenge to build a custom website on a complex framework, odds are you will end up spending more money than you would have if you hired an appropriate developer from the get go. The same goes with hiring a web designer but having little to no plan of what you want your website to accomplish. Whether overshooting your abilities to tackle a website challenge or approaching a project with no plan, both situations will leave you with the need for excessive guidance to accomplish your website project.

Do your research ahead of time so you know the requirements, capabilities and limitations of the platform you are building your site on. Know what you want and have a basic understanding of how you can get there and you will eliminate one of the most costly factors in web design/development.

When you look at these eight factors, they all come back to proper planning. Like any project, you need to establish a budget and account for all of the resources. From here, you can build an effective plan that keeps you on track and away from burning up money on unexpected and avoidable costs.

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