How to Choose a Website Vendor- The Partnership

Part 1 of 2 Kelley Jarrett 12.30.09

Choosing the right website vendor is critical to the success of online and offline initiatives for many nonprofits, but it can be a daunting task. I have spent the last four years helping clients and potential clients walk through this process, and I've learned some useful lessons based on their successes – and mistakes. 

In this two-part series, we’ll take a look at two themes to consider when reviewing website vendor options – The Partnership and The Solution - and the things you should consider before making this important decision.

Part One: The Partnership

  1. Company History – What is the track record of the companies you’re reviewing? Are they committed to research, development and future web growth? Company history will show you how much faith you can have in the commitment of future growth and client care, which are the most important considerations with any technology partnership in today’s volatile market.
  2. Relationship - Technology is constantly changing. Choosing a vendor based on functionality alone is a death sentence. You must trust that the company you partner with not only has a good product for your day one implementation, but also a solid plan for future development. Flexibility in changing environments is key, Don’t get pigeon-holed! If you built a web community on the integration with MySpace, for example, you’re kicking yourself in the wake of its steady decline in certain markets.  
  3. Parting Ways - What happens if/when you and your technology vendor decide to part ways? Many design firms, for example, keep designs they create as intellectual property. Who owns design, content, data and what is the migration path should be considerations. 
  4. Clearly-Stated Process – Do you understand the company’s implementation process and how/where you fit in? You should not only understand your time and resource commitment, but you should also know who to go to for what part of a project. 
  5. Cost – “Getting a new website” means different things to everyone. In a solution review process, make sure you understand what your needs are and that you’re comparing apples to apples once needs are determined. 
    • Web Design – Design firms often offer only creative work – the “site wrapper”. They design your website in order to use on an existing CMS you have in house or a suggested mass market CMS. 
    • Web Development – Web development firms often implement a design created by a design firm (or by the client themselves) into a content management system – either proprietary or third party CMS – and build in content placeholders, templates, pages, etc. Typically, web development firms train clients on using the CMS so they can add to their website when needed (the ease of this varies greatly).
    • Total Website Solution – total website solutions will typically work with a client from design, through web development, through content migration and/or training to edit content, to integrating it with other systems. If you don’t work with a total website solution company, but are looking for a full website (or portion of a website), chances are you’ll have to partner with multiple companies to get what you’re looking for.

Tune in next week for Part Two of the series in choosing a website vendor: The Solution!

 

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