Getting a Website - Do It Yourself or Get a Website Developer?

Lasa logo By Lasa Information Systems Team

The most basic websites consist of a few pages of text giving basic information about an agency. The largest sites - such as Microsoft or BBC News Online - have highly polished designs and use complicated software behind the scenes.

You might be able to develop a simple site yourself, perhaps with software you have already bought. However, our experience is that people's first attempts at do-it-yourself sites aren't generally much good. If you want a high-quality site, or a more complex one, you need to pay a professional to design it for you.

To decide which road to take, consider the following issues. It may be worth going through a detailed project planning process, assessing what resources will be needed for each stage of the site's development.

How complex is the proposed site?

If you plan to include discussion forums, a database, a bookings system - pretty much anything beyond text - there will be complex technical issues to address. You should approach a developer.

How stylish an appearance do you want the site to have

Of course your site should be designed well, so as to look professional and make your information easy to access. However, some commercial sites make it their first priority to have slick design, even when the content of the site is weak. For voluntary sector websites, appearance is less of a priority than it is for these commercial ones. Users will come to your site to get information, rather than to admire graphic design. However, you may want a sight with a distinctive or highly attractive look. Unless you have graphic design skills within your organisation, you will need a website developer to achieve this.

What skills do you have access to in the organisation?

To design an effective site you need both design skills and a technical understanding of the web and HTML. However, these skills are increasingly common. Many people have designed simple web pages, and someone in your organisation may have done so, or they may know someone else who has. Web page design skills are now highly marketable, and a member of staff may be willing to learn them. But this is only an effective solution if a staff member is enthusiastic to do the work, has some skills or experience, and wants to spend the time and effort to acquire more. An understanding of website accessibility issues is also important. For more on this see the knowledgebase articles Web Accessibility and the Law and Make Your Website Accessible to Visually Impaired People. Most people prefer to hand the process over to a specialist.

What about asking a volunteer or student to develop a site?

Because people are keen to practise web design skills to further their career, you may be able to find someone who will develop a site for you free of charge. But remember that you will want to change the site - the best sites are updated all the time, and people revisit them to see what's changed. Make sure you will be able to update your site after it's finished.

What is your budget?

It costs less to build your own site, of course, than paying someone else to do it. But it isn't free. You may have to buy new software to create the site, and you may have to pay for staff to be trained in its use. Certainly developing the site will take up staff time. On the other hand, a developer will not charge much less than a thousand pounds to develop a small site. A moderately complex site, like Lasa's, will cost over ten thousand pounds. Many organisations and commercial companies are keen to develop web sites, so developers can get work easily and have little reason to charge less. You could try asking them to reduce their charges because you are a charity, local organisation etc. Remember when thinking about budgets that you will need to keep the site up to date, and may well want to expand it after its initial launch - you may want to think about how you will fund Phase 2 of the site after Phase 1 is in place.

Do you produce any printed publications already?

The choice between creating your own site and paying a professional is similar to that between designing your own publications and paying a graphic designer. If you design paper publications in-house, you are more likely to have the skills required to develop a website, and this may fit in with your working procedures. If you contract out design and layout for publications, you may want to do the same for your website.

How to choose a developer?

Write a specification for your site

This should not be a technical document. Write in plain English what it is that you want to be able to do, so that developers can propose different solutions and costings.

Approach several developers with the specification

Ask other agencies who have a website. You could approach agencies who work in the same field, are of a similar size to you, are based in the same geographical area, or who have a site you admire.  Ask them who they used. A developer who has worked with voluntary sector before will probably have a better idea of your budget, values and working methods. Speak to each developer on the phone, and ask how they would design the site, how long it would take, and the cost. You should also ask for references from other voluntary sector organisations - and you can go and look at their sites to check the quality of the developer's work. Get at least three quotes from different developers.

Assess the quotations

Involve the different people in your organisation who will work with the developer in assessing the responses you have received - you may want to involve staff with responsibility for admin, IT and publicity, as well as managers or your management committee. Don't choose a developer just because their charges are low - just as important is that you feel they understand your organisation and "talk your language."

Make a clear agreement with the developer you have chosen

Make sure it is clear how long the site will take to develop, and what it will cost. Make sure that you and not the developer owns the copyright in the site when it is finished. Think about whether the developer will continue to be involved in updating the site, or if you want the site designed so that you can change the content of it yourself.

Copyright © 2004 Lasa Information Systems Team

Some rights reserved

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.


Helpful Advice from those Friendly People at DOT-COMmunICaTions