Jebraweb: DIY Research vs Limited OptionsWe have all become masters of online research in recent years, and perhaps none are so masterful as business owners. Need to find the best quality (but affordable) business cards? Google it. Need to learn how to use your new Square credit card reader? Surely there’s a YouTube video. Where is the best place to cater lunch for your visiting investors? Yelp knows. After success with all that research, it stands to reason that business owners would apply the same can-do attitude to finding the right technology for their web presence.

It’s always a good idea to investigate before you buy, but the big question is how much? How do you know when you’re researching yourself into a rabbit hole or ignoring big sets of choices because your expertise just isn’t in technology? This decision feels weighty! In the next few blog posts, we’ll be pitting big choices against each other and helping you to find the best of both worlds. Today, we’ll talk about the process of picking your web tools: doing your own research, or letting your consultants narrow down the field and present you with a limited set of options.

DIY Research or Limited Options

toomanychoicesDIY Research Pros: Deciding what you want by doing your own research definitely saves money. You avoid paying hefty consulting fees for someone to guide you through your organizational navel-gazing, and you can ask exactly the questions you want from the players you want whenever you want. Taking the time to look at the pros and cons of every content management system, theme/template, and site structure you think might apply to your organization can give you a real sense of accomplishment and expertise. It also lets you take the technical pulse of your employees; a simple “have you ever used WordPress?” might result in a knowing nod or a deer-in-headlights flash of panic. Either way, you’ll know your internal resources better.

DIY Research Cons: You’re likely not an expert on web site strategy and design, and so you are not likely to ask all the questions you might need to know. There are  untold stories out there of business owners who decided to find their own free Joomla templates or WordPress themes for their sites rather than hire their designers and developers to research and present them with options. In the end, many of them implemented these themes and templates in 2013 and 2014 only to learn that they were not mobile-friendly. When Google changed its rankings to include mobile-friendliness, all of those businesses had to redesign in order to stay on Google’s good side.

Limited Options Pros: Hiring your developer to do what is commonly known as “Discovery” ensures that you’re covering all the bases. In a discovery process (which, admittedly, we believe is crucial), your developer or consultant will meet with major stakeholders in your company and find out what you need, what you think you need, what your customers might want, and how they’re using what you already have. They’ll also look at the technology infrastructure you have and decide what would mesh with it most easily. They may be able to ask you questions about your long-term technology plans that you wouldn’t have imagined would be affected by the technology you choose now. The real advantage to all of this is threefold:

  1. They’ll think of more important considerations than you will
  2. You won’t be overwhelmed by every set of decisions (CMS vs. SAAS? WordPress vs Joomla? Hosting? Layouts?)
  3. If something doesn’t work, your developer is forced to stand by their recommendations and not blame you for making the wrong choice.

threechoicesLimited Options Cons: It’s more expensive. Depending on the size of your organization, the complexity of your goals for your online presence, and your internal resources, the process can take hours. Some consultancies complete the process with a document for you to review, which adds time, and some simply use it to make specific line-item decisions about the project proposal they’ve already submitted to you. Some consulting and design firms even offer discovery-only packages, so that they can do the research work as a proejct in and of itself, giving you the option to use what they learn to hire them or to inform your quest for another developer. No matter what, this process is not free and, done well, it doesn’t happen quickly.

Tips for the best of both worlds:

  1. Spend your research time on your needs, not the technology itself. Look into what you have now, what you might want to have later, but in general terms. Think in terms of “we want a system we can update ourself,” instead of “do we want WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Wix…etc.?”
  2. Present your consultants with general requirements in a one-page list ranked in order of importance. That will immediately narrow the search for them, cutting down on the time they’ll spend interviewing you about what you want.
  3. Ask for the basic information about each option and do the real nitty-gritty research from this narrow list.

Tempting as it is to crowd-source, hive-mind, Google and ask Siri for all of the answers to life’s questions, there is a happy medium to be found between doing it yourself and giving over the reins of your web presence to the professionals. Hopefully, you can balance your own knowledge and that of your consultants to get the most out of the discovery process.