Even though you can get far in WordPress without a website developer (someone who knows how to build a website), if you can afford one, it is a great way to bring in some experience that you don’t have, and get your website off to a good start. Clear expectations can make a big difference in what you get out of a relationship with a developer. 

Let’s look at how to approach a website developer to work on your site (or, to organize yourself internally before you get started). 

Set a Timeline and Budget

Timeline: Think about when you would like the new site launch… and then be realistic. Double the amount of time you think you need to get there. Your website will probably take at least four months from when you begin in earnest, and the biggest delays will be from you as you do all the writing and collect all the images and other media you need. You will have to know who inside your organization is responsible for writing content, then editing it and posting it. Chances are that they have other responsibilities that come before the web project. Keep that in mind when scheduling their time.

Budget: Many groups choose a budget based on a single fixed amount of money, but that can be misleading and unhelpful. When considering your web development budget, consider this: over the course of a month, you could easily have a thousand visitor interactions. Over a year, you could have several thousand unique visitors interacting with the site. Spending 50 cents or $1 per person, in this context, is a reasonable expense. (And less than what you are spending printing and mailing newsletters to somebody.)

In the same way you plan the budget for an event based on how many people will be there and what they will expect to see/do at the event, set your budget for your website project based on how many people you want to engage via the web and how much you want them to be able to interact with you.

“Get Your Ducks in a Row”

Let a prospective developer know what you already have in hand:

  • Do you already have some planning done? Show them what you have come up with so far in terms of a site navigation. Or tell them that you want them to help create a navigation. 
  • Do you have design elements in place such as a logo, color palette, and event photos? Send links so that they can see your current logo and colors.
  • Have you had conversations about the feel of the site? Send that short list of qualities you developed for your design.
  • Who is the key audience for the site? Let the developer know that you’ve already started thinking about that, and get their perspective on how to engage this audience. Or let them know you want their help determining your key audiences.
  • Your proposed budget and timeline.

When asking for a response from a developer, it’s reasonable to ask for:

  • Their response to your budget and timeline
  • Links to comparable websites (two to three) they have worked on
  • A specific list of what they will do, and what they expect you to do as part of the website development process

Who is doing what?

The more clear you are on who is doing what, the better your website development process will go. Either you or your developer will have to make a list of what your developer will be responsible for, and what you will do as part of the process. Here’s an example of how you can divide up the work:

Website Developer:

  • Support/lead website planning process
  • Build website in latest stable version of the software
  • Set up your agreed-upon navigation
  • Install requested features
  • Any work related to implementation of the design (optimizing header images for the web, for example)
  • Handle all interactions with web host, domain registrars and manage email/hosting migration as needed
  • Train staff in maintenance of site and updates of software
  • Be available for troubleshooting after launch

Organization:

  • Create and edit/approve text 
  • Post content prior to launch (this could involved migrating content from an existing site)
  • Select images for website design elements (such as header) and for specific pages
  • Approve final design (and name the individual who will give approval)
  • Review and approve site prior to launch (naming the individual who will give approval)

Keep in mind that “create and edit text” is an extensive process, and the task that will take the most of your time. It is commonly where a website project can get bogged down. Writing and editing can easily take one to three hours per page to develop your content for the new site. “Post content” similarly can take much more time than you think. Estimate your time, then double it.

Even if you don’t hire a website developer, you can still create a list like this so that you know who is doing what as you create the website. 

Finding a Developer

There are many skilled developers out there, but it’s especially useful to find someone who has already worked with grassroots social justice groups. One way to find a developer is to approach groups you know who have functioning websites. Ask them who developed their website.

One of my board member’s cousins knows how to build a website. Should we have him do it?

No, please don’t. I have seen too many websites where groups have paid nothing or close to nothing, and, sadly, gotten what they paid for. Then you’ll have to spend longer fixing the problems you have created. Unless this person has worked on comparable sites for social justice groups, this is not a great use of volunteer time.

If You Can Afford a Developer, Get One

Hiring someone to develop your website with you can help you avoid common mistakes–especially if you choose someone who has worked with social justice groups before. With a little bit of prep, you can get your website project off to a faster and smoother start.

Posts in this Series:

  1. Choosing Software
  2. Planning an Effective, Simple Navigation
  3. Design and Features
  4. Approaching People to Work With You (this post)

If you have comments or questions about this series, you can comment on the posts, or send me an email.

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