The amount of money which goes into public sector projects often defies belief. IT projects are certainly no exception: we often hear of systems (mainly when they don’t work) which make us think: “what could the specification possibly have been to make the price tag so large for something so straightforward?”
In business, being determined to be the opposite of this, there often seems to be an attitude of “cheaper is better”, especially when it comes to subjects which most of the senior management don’t really grasp. I once worked with a company who, at the same meeting, approved a £100,000 exhibition stand (lifetime: 3 days; potential eyeballs: about 1000) but turned down – purely on cost grounds – a £10,000 blog, newsletter and customer email system (lifetime: several years, potential eyeballs: about 100,000). I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The marketing manager said he’d just shrugged his shoulders and got on with it.
When we first started this company, we built a handful of websites for clients who asked us to do so, and I think we did a decent job. However, it was hard to see this is a promising business, because there were so few companies around who had a realistic view of what a website should cost. It was always a race to the bottom when quoting, which is a ridiculous attitude for something so important to a company. Even for a small company wanting a “here’s what we do” site, I would need to invest a couple of hundred hours’ effort in the project to create something they could be proud of. That was hard to do when told: “we have a budget of about £750, is that OK?” Sure, although bear in mind I might leave the project halfway through if Starbucks offer me double that hourly rate to pour coffees for people.
I admire the companies which are making a good business from website design, because I still don’t think there are many clients around with realistic expectations. Why not start with thinking about what the project is worth to your company? A good website, for example, will surely get you more business than a salesman on the road, who (all in, with commitments and expenses) might cost the best part of £100,000 a year. Yet how many companies are prepared to invest that in what’s still considered “an IT project” rather than the core of their marketing to the world? Only a few. But if the others saw the website visitor stats of all the companies which I do, they might reassess their attitude.