As a follow up to my last post, “How to Hire the Right E-Commerce Designer“, I want to talk about the same concept from the customer’s point of view. No matter how good your design and development team is, if you, personally, suck as a client, the project is doomed to failure. Go back and read that again – if you are not a good client, it doesn’t matter who you hire, your project will fail. That may come as a shock to some of you – and my guess is that if the statement is shocking, you’re probably not a problem client. Good job (back-patting all around). Otherwise read on!
1. Know what you want
The biggest sign of a potential failed project is one that begins without a clear picture of what needs to be accomplished. Without a set of requirements, there’s
- no way to set a budget
- no way to tell the designer what you want to build and how it should look when he’s done
- no way to gauge success or failure
- no way to insure future flexibility with the site
Many people think of e-commerce in the same way they’d think about a get-rich-quick scheme. The truth is, you can make very good money online with an e-commerce site, but you can also dig yourself into a massive financial hole. People who start an e-commerce site without knowing anything about e-commerce are likely to find themselves shoveling dirt before long.
Spend some time getting to know the world in which you’re about to do business. Learn how your competitor’s websites work. Also focus your energy on best-of-breed e-commerce sites, those from big companies like Target or Home Depot. Decide what features you require, which ones you like but aren’t necessary if the cost is too high, and which ones you can live without. From there you’ll have a better idea of the site you are paying your hard-earned money to have designed.
The features you want built into your website will affect both the design cost and the development cost. Better to decide these up-front than to try to add them in later – when it might already be too late to add them without major time and costs.
2. Avoid Having Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen
I can illustrate this best by referring to one of my own past clients (names changed to protect the not-so-innocent). “Roger” hired me to handle the e-commerce development. He already had a front-end designer, a person doing the scripting and third-party work with Scene7, a company in India doing some desktop publishing work, and a series of four different PHP developers working on a custom backend application. The problem was that Roger didn’t put anyone in charge – and he was too busy to oversee the work himself. So tasks would be completed, and he literally wouldn’t find time to review the work for several months. By that point, none of us would remember all of the details of what we’d worked on months before. He ended up paying more for everyone to review what they’d previously done, than he would have if he’d just paid two of us to handle the site completely.
3. Don’t wait until the last minute
One of the things you’ll often hear people in our business say is, “Pick two: cheap, fast, and good. You can’t have all three.” It’s the “fast” part that can really cause a problem- if you don’t allow enough time for your designers/developers to do their jobs, there are going to be problems. Not only that, but you need to allow YOURSELF enough time to review the work and request changes as needed. If you have a deadline – such as getting your toy store online before Christmas, or your swimsuit store online before summer – start early. It’s always better to be ready ahead of time, than scrambling to finish things at the last minute and having something go wrong.
4. Have your stuff ready
Most likely, you’ll need to provide lots of data for your website, including product details, images, how you plan to handle shipping, vendor information, drop-shipping details, etc. Don’t wait until the last minute to get this together. Your site could be ready to go, but sitting there with three placeholder products while you tackle the job of compiling your information that’s, well, taking a bit longer than you imagined. Product and data management is HUGE, and you’ll need to understand how to get this into your system (or into a spreadsheet you can provide to your consultant).
5. Make Decisions Efficiently
Another time-killer is when there are too many decision-makers on a project. The more time that is spent in consensus-building, the more you’ll end up paying. If you have more than one decision maker, someone needs to be able to break ties that come up. Otherwise you’ll go around in circles while your web firm moves on to another project.
6. Be Nice!
As in all aspects of life, it’s good to recognize that you’re working with human beings who crave approval and shun insults. Remember to say PLEASE and THANK YOU. Also remember what Vince Lombardi said: “Praise in public; Criticize in private.”
By the way: You have the right to expect the same courtesy from your design firm, too!