Website Design, Strategy, Social Networking, SEO, Susan Pomeroy, Ph.D.

How to Outsource Your Website Without Getting Screwed

by Susan Pomeroy

How to Outsource Your Company's Website WIthout Getting Screwed

Just this morning a small retail company I’ve been consulting with asked me what I thought about outsourcing their web design project among several different professionals—a designer, a coder, and an SEO person.

Their object was to save money. They’d received a bid from an all-in-one shop to do the design, implementation, and SEO for a price that was just a little higher than they wanted to spend. Their reasoning was that since each individual–the designer, coder, and SEO person—charged less for each component than the package deal added up to, they’d save money, and still get a good site.

And by good site, they meant, one that (a) looks good, (b) works well, (c) is easy to maintain and update in-house and (d) gets good traffic.

On paper, their plan looks great, the numbers make sense. But I had to tell them that probably, their outsourcing idea will cost them more money in both long and short term than the one-stop shop. Which, by the way, has done excellent work for them in the past.

Why Is Piecework a Bad Idea?

Here’s why outsourcing to individual contractors will probably end up costing this company more in the long run.

1. The designer they’re considering doesn’t know code… she’s used to producing something that looks good and handing it off. She may produce a beautiful design… but chances are it will have functional specs or other choices that will not be cost-effective to implement.

2. The coder will be paid by the hour to code the project as specced. Even if he were to charge a lump-sum fee, he can’t even estimate the amount until he sees the specs. This means that the client has no up-front cost control. It also means that the coder has little or no built-in incentive to advise the client on trade-offs or best practices. What the client says they want… the client gets. And pays for.

3. The SEO person comes on board after the site is done. They will need to inspect and analyze the entire site, then recode text, meta-tags and alt tags. Yet another duplication of labor.

4. The in-house project manager knows very little about web design or functionality, besides what he thinks their site needs. But worse, he has no significant people-management experience… and certainly no experience shepherding to completion a project staffed by separate independent contractors. In fact, he’s not even aware that he’ll be playing the role of project manager, or what that role entails.

A Costly Disaster in the Making

That’s why outsourced projects like this is so easily end in disaster, despite the best intentions of everyone involved. I’ll share one worst-case scenario that actually happened to a client.

1. The site owner hired a designer, someone she happened to meet casually and liked. The designer selected a web platform which was already antiquated and therefore would be far more expensive, in terms of maintaining an active site, than necessary. The owner never understood this, because the designer didn’t know it either—he simply used what he was used to.

2. The coder received the project as designed, then had to spend a huge amount of time hand-converting pages one by one to a new format. This cost was inestimable up front. The designer had no idea how long the coding would take; the coder had no role in the design process. (But since they didn’t know each other or have any built-in incentive to communicate—each simply wanted to get her/his piece of the job done—it would have taken good leadership right out of the gate to get these two arms of the project integrated in a client-centric way.)

3. The site owner was not fully delighted with the site’s appearance, so she then hired a “post-designer” to come in and once again pretty up the site. Result: a nice-looking site, a fee to a second designer, and another small fortune paid to a second coder to implement the second designer’s changes.

4. The site owner then hired an SEO expert who came in and recoded the pages yet again in order to optimize them for search engines.

Result: a good-looking site that cost more than six times what the site owner, trying to save money, would have spent to hire a “more expensive” one-stop shop in the first place. That was just the up-front cost.

The site took many, many months to complete, while other product launches that were to have been tied in with the brand-new web site came and went. It required considerable out-of-pocket monthly outlay to update, on a somewhat arcane platform that was already nearing obsolescence. Oh, and one more thing. The site owner felt completely screwed and taken advantage of by all parties.

No one ever meant to screw the site owner. The contractors too, ended up feeling frustrated, overwhelmed and taken advantage of.

No One Conducting the Orchestra

The real problem? Each player was playing their own instrument as well as they possibly could—but no one was conducting the orchestra.

Many site owners don’t realize that when you commission a web site, you’re not just paying for the appearance and functionality of the site… because appearance and functionality don’t exist in isolation.

You’re also paying for the management, coordination, and communication needed to integrate all the technical, esthetic and business elements of a site into a finished, beautiful, coherent, whole that does what you need it to do for your company. Sometimes you’re paying a one-person shop; sometimes you’re paying a firm. But in either case, the processes of judgment, communication, and coordination are essentially unchanged.

The Inestimable Value of Leadership

So what’s missing in the outsource picture that my client presented to me? Simple. A project manager with technical expertise, a client-centered focus, and incentive to cut costs.

Can You Afford to Be Your Own Project Manager?

If you outsource to individual contractors, it’s just possible that you could get lucky. But probably? You’ll pay an arm, a leg, and hours of aggravation to get a site that barely meets maybe three of its four goals. Maybe. And if cost overruns occur, you will have no choice but to pay. And pay. And pay.

In any case, you should be aware that in order to save money, you are de facto assuming the role of project manager. This can be a very demanding, time-consuming role that in my experience, few individuals, even the most intelligent—without technical or managerial experience—can do well. And by well I don’t mean some abstract standard, I mean in a way that saves time and money and gets you the site you intend.

 Outsource Your Website without Getting Screwed

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