Owning a web-based business is becoming more and more attractive (and easy!) as opposed to owning a conventional “offline” business. One of the first questions that a person has once they have an idea for starting an online business is, “How much money do I have to invest to start my online business?” Immediately after they get an idea, they start sending emails to web development companies to gather quotes for developing their business idea. Where do a large number of people get their business idea from? Surprisingly, many get their ideas by looking at large-scale web-based businesses like Ebay.com, Pricegrabber.com, Amazon.com, YouTube.com, Facebook.com, etc. The moment they decide they want to start a similar website, they start sending emails and shopping around for pricing to get a similar site built.
Quite often, the person is vaguely familiar with the overall concept of the site, and they do not know what exactly the details of what their to-be-developed competing website have to offer. Looking the business at the macro level might help them to strategize their web business, but they also should prepare a list of their requirements – a list of features that they’d like to have on their website. Or they can hire an agency to build their requirements with a small initial investment. This will help to pave a professional road to success. Are you at the stage in your planning where you are beginning to solicit quotes and proposals for your business idea? Here are few points that should help you to start with, and end up with, the desired results.
1. Know what are your business needs on online
If you want to build a web business, you need to know what features or functionalities you’d like to have on it. Most web development agencies will only send detailed quotes/estimates if they have a detailed requirement specification – and rightfully so since they need to know what exactly it is that they are quoting for. A good place to start gathering your requirements is by looking at your competitors. Extract the functionalities that you like to have, mention your design preferences, and create a simple mock-up with the navigational elements or pages you think might be best.
For example: If you need a real estate portal, include in your requirements some sample sites that you like in terms of design and functionality. Then make the list of features (examples could be the ability to browse properties, search for properties based on criteria, an Agent login area, subscription services, listing alerts, Online payments for services, etc.) Also include the features you’d need in order to manage the site from the ‘back-end’ CMS (Content Management System) panel (examples: ‘Manage Properties’, ‘Manage Agents’, etc.) In addition to helping the web developer quote more accurately, this will also build confidence in the web developers that your inquiry is a serious one. The more details you provide, the better, for many reasons. Cluttered requirements lead to confusion, and at the end of your quote gathering, you just end up with a handful of quotes, each with prices from different developers, all with a variety of scope understanding. You’ll never be able to make a good decision on selecting your developer this way.
2. Hire a consultant to build your requirements
If you think creating a detailed Requirements Document is not within your skill set, or too complicated and time-consuming, hire a local agency and avail yourself of their consulting services to build your specifications. Although most web developers will help you build your requirements, you don’t need to use them – and a consultant may be your best bet. There will be an initial investment in hiring a local consultant to build your requirements, but it may be worth it as they will be able to extract from you exactly what you want and document it, which is going to help you to compare the quotes from the developers later.
If you do not know how to draft your requirements, and if you have limited budget – try to write it in terms as simple as you can – no need to get into a long list of technical issues and questions – that is the developer’s job. We recommend that our prospects build their specifications in a free flowing text format that describes simply but completely what they are trying to accomplish.
3. Be a prospect, not a suspect
Now you’re ready to start sending your emails to selected agencies – preferably from your business email address. If you are using a free email host, such as Gmail or Yahoo! the bidders may not move confidently forward in working on your RFQ since they may be suspicious of exactly who you are . Emails from non-business addresses are usually ignored by professional business agencies, and remember, you’ll need a professional to build your site. Also, developers may think that you could be one of their competitors attempting to build a quote for their clients by using shady business tactics, such as getting them to do the work of bidding for them.
If you do not have a business email address – get one! (They are cheap and easy to set up). If you can’t get one for some reason, be sure to write your address and phone number on the requirements to prove that you are a real, interested potential client, and to build confidence.
4. Sign NDAs, if appropriate
If you think your concept is unique, do not hesitate to sign a NonDisclosure Agreement (NDA) with the development agency. Allow them to send a signed copy back to you – a faxed or a scanned copy will work – before you let them read your RFQ. Most developers should be able to provide you with a draft of an NDA which you can use. Or you can write your own.
5. Do not send one-liner or vague inquiries
Don’t expect the developer to build the requirements for you and don’t leave it to them to decide what you need. Don’t send one-liner inquiries like, “I need a site like Facebook.com, send me your best quote”. That’s not a good start. If you envision an online business, draft your requirements and send it and get the quote from the developers. Your online success starts with you. If a developer sends a quote based on your one-liner, how will you know if the price is right when you don’t even know what the price is based on? How do you compare the requirements that the developer sends with yours? How do you compare quotes with competing bidders?
If a developer agrees and sends you a quote for your one-liner RFQ, a few things can happen – the proposal might come back with a much larger scope than you intended, or the proposal might be severely underestimated. Even if the developer is a quality solution provider, you will easily get into trouble with the low priced underestimation, or you will lose that quality solution provider with an over scored, higher priced quote.
6. Compare the quotes against your requirements
If you intend to ask developers to bid, before doing so, spend some time to build a Quote template, and let the developers fill it out and send it back to you. This will help you to compare the cost and features from different developers. A good way to do that is to create an Excel sheet to collect and compare the features quoted and the prices from each bidder.
You must carefully check the Quotes against your requirements and make sure that your requirements have been fully covered under the scope.
7. Compare quotes between developers, not quotes within a developer
Knowing the experience of the developer in similar development scope is acceptable, but some people try to get the prices of different projects from a developer by looking at their portfolio – works they have previously done. It might help to get an idea of what the developer might charge for simple sites, but it will not help you to get the pricing of your own website needs if your requirements are different. As the old saying goes, “Do not compare Apples with Oranges”
8. Provide samples that are specific, not confusing
Do not send the developers, for example, both Amazon.com and facebook.com as examples of what you need. They both exist for different purposes. Make sure the examples you send reflect your requirements otherwise a confused developer may not provide you a right quote. If you want to get an Ecommerce store, for instance, send other E-commerce sites, like Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
If you explain the requirements via Email, be specific and through. This way your emails will look promising and not be considered as a waste of time to the developer.
9. Spend time analyzing the developer, not just their quote
Review past work that had been done by the developer, speak to some of their clients, try to understand their process and look at their website (it should speak for itself). The cheapest quote isn’t always the best quote; do not fall into that trap, since oftentimes it’s the worst quote. Be sure the quote covers all the features without anything missing, find out the developer’s support policy after development, the code ownership terms, payment terms, and most importantly, again, the exact scope of the project.
10. Say thanks and Goodbye
Last but not least, leave on good terms with those developers that you do not select for your project. Explain to the developer why they were not your preferred developer. They have spent hours on building your quote, and your brief feedback might help them to improve, and you may need their support someday in this small world.
In my experience, the RFQs from clients let us know how serious they are in doing business with us. Developers tend to go the extra mile and put value added thoughts into the quotes to help you choose the right Quote, as long as your RFQ is clear and easily understandable. Don’t end up contracting with the wrong developer by providing misleading, incomplete, or confusing RFPs or RFQs.