A Web consultant can build a Web site for you from scratch or enhance an existing one. The 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 on-line 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 (www.association.org). If you pay less, says Ahern, you may wind up with a cobweb site-a static site that people will have little incentive to return to.
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. You can check out NetMarketing's Web Price Index at www.netb2b.com/wpi for more information on what it costs to build and maintain a Web site in various markets.
Spending money to create a quality site can make sense for many organizations. "If you put out a bad brochure, it goes away. If you create a bad Web site, it stays with you," says Ahern.
STARTING THE SEARCH
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 (ISP) for referrals-but you'll prevent problems by teaming up with a professional. Some consultants, typically individual designers, charge by the hour. Others, typically design firms, charge by the project.
One way to find a Web developer is through the Web. Say you come across a site you find particularly compelling. At Who Built It? (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 site's developer.
CNET's Ultimate Web Design List (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 (www.aquentpartners .com) is a temp agency specializing in short-term Web work and other technical fields. It has offices in 31 cities across North America.
WHAT TO ASK
The following are some do's and don'ts to use as a guideline when looking for a Web design consultant:
• Before you talk to anybody about designing your Web site, clarify the goals for your site. A good consultant can walk you through this process. Do you want to enhance your organization's image? Attract new customers? Sell products or services on-line? 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 Web 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 buzz words. 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 needed. A consultant talented in 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, request to be alerted if the project is going 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 email@example.com or http://members.home.net/reidgold.