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Before You Commission a Website

Filed under: All Articles > Your Business
By: NMK Created on: February 9th, 2004
Bookmark this article with: Delicious Digg StumbleUpon

Advice for clients on the steps to take before signing a contract with a web developer or interactive agency.

Before signing a contract with a web developer or interactive agency, it is important for clients to understand the process they are embarking upon. The following guide outlines some of the key considerations to take into account, including defining the scope of your project, choosing a developer, managing your intellectual property and planning the extent of your involvement in the process.

Preparation for the project

The key to any successful development lies in the planning and preparation. The framework of a website project is fixed very soon after a developer is instructed and it becomes difficult to change the underlying objectives or features of the project once it is underway, without running the risk of incurring hefty budget increases.

Clients and advertisers should be clear about their reasons and objectives for commissioning a website before speaking to developers, and are advised to undertake market research, and talk to their customers and staff about what they are trying to achieve. Key people in the business should be encouraged to spend time online and provide input into important strategic decisions about the website development.

Clients frequently underestimate the importance of their contribution to a website project, often because they feel that this is not their area of expertise, and that they should let the experts get on with it. This is absolutely the wrong attitude. The client or commissioner is central to the success of any web project, and developers rely heavily on their input and steering at key stages in the design and build. It is also vital that clients provide their content on time, in the correct format and free of errors, spelling mistakes and inconsistencies.

Clients should also expect to sign off designs promptly so that their developer does not go down any 'blind alleys' by spending time developing designs that will be rejected. Not only is a team approach more likely to prevent disputes from arising, but it also promotes efficiency and will help projects to be developed within budget and on time.

Good planning and communication is essential, however, and developers should seek to schedule any periods of testing and review in advance, so that their clients can arrange to spend the necessary time on these tasks, and avoid delaying any subsequent or dependent stages of development.

Intellectual property

Before a project gets underway, clients and advertisers should check that they own the rights to any art work, designs, text, photos, films and music that they want to use or develop for the website. For example, if the plan is to use a current corporate image or ad strategy, it will be necessary to have the rights to do so. Check that the designer of logos etc. has sanctioned online use. Secure all these rights in writing before any investment is made, but leave the option open to use new designs if problems arise. It is also important not to unwittingly infringe third-party trade marks, particularly if the online target market is geographically wider than the current local or national market. For this reason, it is a good idea to budget and plan for a certain amount of clearance work.

Engaging the developer

Clients and commissioners should approach potential developers with a clear brief concentrating on the business issues. Do not think about style at this stage, but on the desired audience and what should be achieved.

Developers will design, develop and often maintain a website for their clients according to the specifications of their contract. Clients should research the market thoroughly before contracting a developer; find a suitable company by asking for word of mouth recommendations from other companies, finding out who built successful websites that you like, and researching industry award winners. If the client already has an interactive agency in mind, they should browse its portfolio and look for work of comparable value and complexity to the project that is going to be commissioned.

The project summary

Clients should give the developer as much information as possible at the beginning to enable them to understand the commissioning company and the project objectives. The more the developer knows, the less chance there will be of problems arising.

In the summary that is given to the developer, clients should introduce company, products and markets and explain what the project is supposed to achieve. Details should be given of the intended audience and any existing branding and advertising requirments that are relevant to the project. It is also worth considering whether new branding created in the web project will subsequently be required for offline use if so, then this should be agreed at the beginning rather than negotiated after the project is completed. Clients should also be clear about how much they want to spend on the project and what level of technical support they will require from the developer afterwards.

An example of a project summary is shown in the Standard Contract for web projects that NMK helped to develop with ISBA, the IPA and Briffa (see Section 2, page 11, 'The Clients Brief'). When choosing a developer, clients should ask potential candidates to review the Clients Brief and to present their proposals, by way of providing a formal Developers Proposal. This exercise can form part of the pitching procedure. It should cover the developers experience and credentials, their suggestions for the project structure and a rough idea of timings and budgets. Conditions should also be included in the documentation at the pitching stage so that developers know the legal terms proposed from an early stage.

Once a developer is selected, the Proposal should be incorporated (as amended by agreement) into the project documentation, and signed by both parties. It then becomes the client's formal instructions to the developer and the foundation of the website project. The developer then drafts the much more detailed Project Specification based on the Proposal.

Download the Standard Contract for Web Projects

You can download the suggested project plan and contract for website projects developed by ISBA, NMK, the IPA and Briffa here as a zipped pdf document.

Registered users of this site can request a copy of the standard contract as a Microsoft Word document, allowing you to adapt the contract to your own requirements. Simply email your request to editor (A), including details of your username on the NMK site. If you are not already registered, you can sign-up for free at

This article is adapted from the introduction to the 'Suggested project plan and contract for website projects', which was originally prepared by ISBA (


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