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How to Hire a Web Consultant

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XML. Dynamic HTML. CSS. Java. JavaScript. CGI. Perl. RealVideo. RealAudio. Flash. Shockwave. SSL.

These are just some of the technologies used by sophisticated Web sites today. If the thought of trying to master them makes your head spin, you’ll need to bring in outside help.A Web consultant can build a Web site for you from scratch or enhance an existing one. Costs are all over the place, from several hundred dollars for a simple site consisting of a few pages to a million dollars or more for an e-commerce site with easily updateable product databases, a search engine, animated product demonstrations, secure online transactions, and audio and video enhancements.”A consultant can do a basic professional-looking site for a small organization for $5,000,” says Mitch Ahern, chairman of the Association of Internet Professionals at http://www.association.org. Database-driven e-commerce sites can cost $10,000 to $50,000 and up, while adding audio and video can raise the tab to $100,000 or more. Check out NetMarketing’s Web Price Index at http://www.netb2b.com/wpi for more information on what it costs to build and maintain a Web site in various markets.Of course, if you have a smaller budget, you may need to find someone who can do a good job for less than these rates. However, you’ll want to spend the money it takes to create a quality site. “If you put out a bad brochure, it goes away. If you create a bad Web site, it stays with you,” says Ahern.

Who to Hire

In hiring a consultant, you can choose among independent site developers, Web design shops, technology consulting firms, traditional advertising and public relations agencies, and interactive agencies. You can save money by hiring a student or hobbyist-contact your Internet service provider for referrals. But you’ll prevent problems by teaming up with a pro. Some consultants, typically individual designers, charge by the hour. Others, such as design firms, charge by the project.One way to find a Web developer is to use the Internet. Say you come across a site that you find particularly compelling. At Who Built It?-http://www.whobuiltit.com-you can type in a site’s address, and the service checks to see if the site is among the 10,000 included in its database. If so, you can peruse contact and other information about the developer.CNET’s Ultimate Web Design List, at http://www.webdesignlist.com, can provide contact and other information about Web designers near you with the expertise you need. Click “Find a Designer” and specify your state and the areas of expertise required.Aquent Partners-http://www.aquentpartners.com-is a temp agency that specializes in short-term Web work and other technical fields. It has offices in 31 cities across North America.

The Hiring Process

Before you talk to anybody, clarify your goals for your site. A good consultant can walk you through this. Do you want to enhance your organization’s image? Attract new customers? Sell products or services online? Reduce customer support costs?When talking with designers, ask to see a list of sites they’ve worked on. Check them out using a conventional modem and both Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. Talk with those responsible for these sites. Look critically at the designer’s own site. If you want to enhance or overhaul your existing site, ask for a critique. To save money on the redesign, first weed out outdated or otherwise extraneous material from your site.Don’t get snowed by a slick pitchman who throws around buzzwords. Meet with the consultant’s key players-not just those in marketing or new business development.Ask about the consultant’s experience in each area you need. A consultant talented in a one area, such as programming, may not have much experience in another, such as marketing. Some consultants handle the entire process, including site hosting and promotion. Others outsource.Get an estimated time frame for completion of the project. It typically takes from several weeks to several months to build and test a site. If your designer works by the hour, make sure that you will be alerted if the project starts to go over budget.Ask about arrangements for maintaining the site. A consultant can do this for you or provide the tools and training for you to do it in house. “The most common mistake organizations make is focusing too much on initial development and not enough on long-term maintenance,” says Ahern.Finally, make sure any consultant you hire listens. Your site should be crafted to meet your specific needs-you don’t want a cookie-cutter site. Good consultants ask as many questions as they answer.
Reid Goldsborough is a syndicated columnist and author of the book “Straight Talk About the Information Superhighway.” He can be reached at reidgold@netaxs.com or http://members.home.net/reidgold.

This article is from thePMA Newsletterfor July, 1999, and is reprinted with permission of Publishers Marketing Association.

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