Note: This article originally appeared on CharityConnect so some of it is specific to the third sector. However I think there’s enough in here that it might be useful to a broader audience too.
Choosing a supplier for your new website is hard, even for big organisations who have dedicated in-house expertise. Most charities and non-profits don’t fit into that description; often they’ll have just a few people who muck in when they get time between all the stuff that’s actually in their job description. So, if you don’t live and breathe digital, how are you supposed to choose between different suppliers with similar proposals and wildly different prices? I thought I’d share few tips as a conversation starter. As always, the devil is in the details.
At the end of this, you’ll find a link to a Google Docs spreadsheet that you can use as a scorecard to help you select your next supplier.
First though, let’s get the disclaimer out the way up front. I write this from the perspective of someone who runs a digital design studio, so while there’s a mix of facts and opinions expressed below and it probably is a little biased, I hope you’ll find it useful.
There’s an important reason that this one is at the top — if you’re working with someone who does one or two charity projects a year just to boost flagging staff morale, there’s a chance that you’ll be at the back of the queue behind a bunch of evil corps with big cheque books. If you’re working with someone who specialises in charity websites, they’ll likely have all the relevant sector knowledge that can make or break your new site — what are the pros and cons of the numerous donation platforms, how can you best nudge user up an adoption ladder from a casual visitor through a sharer to a donor etc. Accessibilty is also a crucial factor here, agencies used to working in the third sector will often have a much more stringent and informed approach to ensuring websites are accessible to all.
How well does each potential supplier understand your organisation and your specific challenges? Sector experience will get them some of the way, but every organisation is different and you should analyse proposals for evidence that the supplier has understood. A good indicator here is whether they asked you the right questions before submitting the proposal. If not, then there’s probably a lot of copy and paste in there from the last proposal they wrote.
This one is often the scariest for those tasked with judging the proposals, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s a handy proxy for judging an agency’s technical ability — stick their web address into GTmetrix — a site that measures a website’s performance. Any technically competent agency should be scoring a double A on here, if they’re not then you should seriously question their ability. Anything below a C should discount them completely and you shouldn’t even put them into the scorecard. Also worth noting is how often they fall back on a single technology, if 90% of their work is WordPress sites and they’re suggesting you have a WordPress site, they’re probably the sort of company that sees everything as a WordPress shaped hole.
Sidenote: If you have any questions about the technology in your proposals I’m always happy to help charities understand what they’re being offered. Feel free to email me if you ever need help with this.
While design preference can be subjective, good design is good design and bad design is bad design. Have a good poke around on several other projects that the supplier has worked on and use some simple heuristics to evaluate whether they’ve done a good job: How easy is it to find and understand what this organisation does? How easy is it to donate? Does the content have room to breathe? All the while though, bear in mind that some of the design decisions made could have been forced upon them by existing brand guidelines or the whim of someone high up in the organisation.
How well does this supplier’s ethos, methodology and thinking align with your organisation’s? This is more than just chemistry, this is about how the project is likely to progress. Pay particular attention to the project management process to ensure it’s sound. The more aligned the two organisations are, the smoother the project is likely to run and the more the relationship will feel like a real partnership instead of client / supplier.
Personal chemistry can make a huge difference to a supplier relationship and often be a really good indicator of how long lasting and resilient that relationship might be. A supplier who likes you is much more likely to deliver excellence and go the extra mile for you than someone you just don’t click with.
Speaking of longer lasting relationships, ensuring that you choose a supplier who understands digital transformation and what your website’s requirements are likely to be in 2 years, 5 years or even 10 years time is crucial. Long gone are the days when it was enough to chuck a digital brochure online and hope. Given that a new website is going to cost you at least the salary of a new member of staff, it should operate as one too. It should be working hard on your behalf even when you’re not in the office, and most importantly you should be able to teach it new skills like exchanging data with your CRM systems or taking new emerging payment methods. To do this, it needs good technical underpinnings that are going to be easy to develop on top of. If someone is offering you a repurposed blogging platform then they very likely don’t understand the future. They should also be up front about ongoing support and maintenance with a vision for what that should look like.
And that’s the list. To help you, we’ve put this all together into a scorecard template in a Google Docs spreadsheet that you’re free to download and use to help you make a decision.
There’s a weighting system built in to allow you to assign an importance to each of the sections above, to customise this to your needs just change the figures in the “Weightings” sheet.
You may have noticed that I’ve left cost out of this list, and this is because you should simply never base a decision on cost, only on value. If you weigh up all your proposals in our scorecard and compare the cost to the scores, you’ll get a rough indicator of value.
I’d love to hear from you if you use the score card to help you make a decision on a new website, and If you’re taking proposals right now then get in touch, I think we’d score pretty highly.