I don’t claim to be a particularly radical person, but the suggestion that we should write our clients’ briefs for them is quite radical. For most digital agencies.

Traditionally, we’ve received a brief, said we can do it, and done it. But the problem that unleashes is one of scope creep, where the looseness of the initial brief leads to further considerations that should have been in the brief. Oh, and we forgot this keyword. And, by the by, can we move this section over here?

As an agency, you should take on more responsibility for the brief and the whole website blueprint, or you risk souring the relationship by not having thought of everything, and not having nailed everything down in the first place.

Get planning

We recently worked on a website where the client actually blogged about the planning phase, in his own context. We were quite proud of that.

And the context does spread to other industries and projects. Almost any IT project, in fact, should go through a thorough planning phase, in order to nail down the brief, or the Scope of Work. Those that fail to plan, plan to fail – so the saying goes – and the same should be true of web design.

For me, this includes Keyword Research, Information Architecture, UX Planning, Wireframes, and then the Scope of Work.

This helps you avoid problems later down the line where, for instance, you’ve built the structure of the website but you discover a potentially lucrative keyword that should have been built into it.

All of these stages are built in partnership with the client. They have a stake in the keywords, a stake in the architecture, and a stake in the wireframes.

Once these are signed off, you can write the most detailed brief possible – and it’s a brief that everyone agrees to because it’s backed up by data, best practice, and there’s little chance of scope creep.

Knowing the scope

Once you’ve got the data & all the background information you need, as well as wireframes, you know everything you need to know about how you’re going to develop the website. You’ll know how many templates you have to design and develop, you’ll know the information architecture, and you’ll know what features are possible within the client’s budget.

The brief can now start to get extremely granular, and you can start to map out the number of hours required against each individual development item or feature. This is where you can actually start to define a final price for the project.

Just like any IT project, you’ll find back and forth and features getting cut out – but the good thing about writing the brief yourself is that you can effectively get the client to respond to your brief for them.

For instance, the client might want a calculator on their site, and you might have the evidence through your keyword research to back up that this is valid. However, as you are costing up the scope, you can highlight this as a feature that could be developed in a second phase, or the client might decide it’s a feature too far.

Your planning phase should consist of around 20% to 25% of the overall budget – and that could put some people off. It’s quite an investment without getting into design and development.

However, without the solid foundations and the tightest brief you can produce, you’ll end up spending your time on out-of-scope tasks, and the relationship between yourself and the client will go sour.

Write the brief yourself – you’ll be amazed how much easier subsequent development is as a result.