Designing for Big Business (How it’s Different)

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The majority of work for most design and development companies comes from small business clients, and while these may be our bread and butter assignments, there’s always going to be times when you’ll hunger for something more substantial.  If you’re lucky enough, big business will find you, and when it does, you need to be ready.

To sum up the main difference between designing for small business and designing for big business in a single line, it would be that for big business you need to invest a lot more time into planning.  A small business site might take you anywhere from a day to a week to create, depending on the process you use, because these businesses generally just don’t have the budget to allow you to do more for them.  With a big business site, you would normally expect to spend at least three months on the planning stage alone, but of course than can vary considerably from one project to another.

The essential truth is—and this is something you’ll probably need to stress to management on the client side, both to convince them that you’re a serious contender and also to ensure they don’t become prematurely impatient with you—corporate sites need to have a lot of time invested into planning and developing them, or disaster may often result.  If you have less than 5 to 10 people to work on the job, you’re probably batting out of your league, and it would be advisable to bow out gracefully rather then face an irate behemoth later on.

Appropriate time frame

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From start to finish, a major corporate site will usually take between 3 and 6 months to finish, if you’re doing it properly.  If it’s implied at any time that your team should be able to complete the job in less time, you’ll need to educate the client.  This is vital, because for the well-being of their company, a job like this should never be rushed.

You could create a smaller temporary site to cover immediate business needs, but the actual website that will represent the company on a permanent basis should be nothing less than a complete professional production with a budget to match.  The more time that is invested into planning, building, and testing the website, the better the results will usually be.  If the results don’t reflect the time that is invested into the project, it just means the development team is lazy or that the client interfered too much and hindered the team’s progress.

Appropriate budget

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Jobs like this require a substantial investment from the client.  Most major corporate sites will need to include extensive use of graphic design, CGI artistry, professional video production, and possibly even original music composition.  Fortunately most large corporations are much better at understanding the importance of a good website to the preservation and promotion of their brand image than small business owners tend to be, so they should come to the table prepared to make a serious investment.

The requirements of each project will vary enormously.  It will help to divide the project into core and auxiliary components.  The core part of the project includes those things directly related to developing the website itself.  Auxiliary components are those things that the site is designed to carry: professionally produced video, professional photography, audio components, and so on.

Small business sites normally split a lot of auxiliary components away from their core site and use third party services like Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to host these things.  It’s fine for small business to do that, but looks unprofessional for a large corporation.  That doesn’t mean the large corporation can’t have a Facebook page, but it means those external assets need to be supplemental to whatever is included on the real website, not used as a shortcut to doing things the right way.  There are definite disadvantages to involving too many third parties in your hosting solution if you can afford to host everything yourself.

So just to take the core component, if you have a typical small development team dedicated to this one particular task (obviously if you’re running a larger agency, you could have several teams working on several projects and it’s possible to interchange them when necessary), you’d probably have at least:

  • Project Manager
  • Site Architect
  • UI Design / Graphic Design Specialist
  • Front End Developer
  • Back End Developer
  • Database Specialist

A more sophisticated setup would also involve:

  • Market Research Unit
  • Testing Team
  • UX Evaluation Unit
  • Usability Specialist
  • Legal Team (sometimes provided by the client)

In some cases you may have more than one person assigned to each role, or you may have some people filling multiple roles.  It depends on the size of the task and the size of the agency.  And remember, these roles are committed to just the core website development.  In the overall scheme, your PM and SA will also have to consult with those working on the auxiliary components such as video production, and in most cases your team will handle the billing for the entire project.

To provide just the bare minimum of personnel and equipment, you’ll be looking at a budget of about $7,000 per week just to cover expenses, before you factor in any profits.  Maybe you pay your workers a bit less than they deserve, so you might be able to get that down to around $4,500 to $5,000.  So projecting that forward, for a project of around 3 months your client should expect to pay in the vicinity of $50,000 to $100,000  for a full-time dedicated project team of at least 6 people.

What your client should expect to get for that:

  • A major corporate website of about 50 to 150 indexed and structured pages
  • High quality copy writing for 50+ pages
  • Professional, unique graphics, CGI, and/or photographs
  • World-class enterprise level website design
  • Enterprise level database architecture and implementation
  • Robust CMS integration (not a simple WordPress site)

On top of this, for high quality studio-produced video and audio, they should expect to pay at least $20,000 to $100,000 extra if the site requires these services.  So a ballpark budget for this kind of project would be somewhere between $50,000 and $250,000.  This is chump change for a company that spends $150,000 or more every year just for their server hardware.

If you don’t plan to fail, never fail to plan

A good general always has a plan before committing any troops to action.  The prudent military commander:

  • gathers intelligence information
  • scouts the territory to get the lay of the land
  • determines the proper allocation of resources
  • ensures a secure route of supply
  • develops a strategic plan for achieving the objectives
  • commits to action decisively

As commander-in-chief for your development team, you’ll be following the exact same steps:

  • client requirements + product research + audience research = intel gathering
  • research & determine best development tools and methods = scouting
  • team selection = resource allocation
  • negotiation the contract & project budget = securing supply
  • planning & managing development = battle strategy
  • building the website on time and within budget = victory

Intelligence Phase 1: Develop an intimate understanding of your client’s business

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To develop any website well—even if it’s just for a very small business—you need to understand what your client does, how they do it, and who they do it for.  Without this information, you can’t possibly give the client the best possible result.  Request a tour of their business, talk to their employees about their jobs (without being annoying), and especially talk with the client’s PR and marketing people to get an idea of how the business is presenting its brand to the world.

Intelligence Phase 2: Road test the client’s products or services

You can’t just rely on information provided to you by the company about how good their products and services are.  Third party reviews could be helpful if you’re low on time or squeezed for resources, but nothing beats first-hand product research.  You could conduct this test with or without the client’s knowledge, as sometimes you’ll get a more accurate picture if they don’t know what you’re up to, but on the other hand if you have their blessing, you probably won’t have to pay.

Intelligence Phase 3: Determine the needs of the audience

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Thorough research of the market, with focus on whatever demographics are most likely to be drawn to the products and services provided by your client, is another essential component of the intelligence gathering process.  To present your client’s brand in the best way, you need to understand what motivates and pleases the audience that the site is being developed for.  Even before that, you need to get some kind of an idea of exactly who is likely to make up that audience in terms of demographics, and build the site accordingly.  And don’t forget, you’ll need to conduct this research for each country or region that your client’s business serves directly.

Scouting Phase: Research the most appropriate ways to complete the task

Once you’ve conducted the previous 3 phases, you’ll have an idea forming about what the final site structure is probably going to look like.  Now you need to figure out how to make that vision a reality in the most economic and expedient manner.

Resource Allocation Phase: Selecting the team

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This may not necessarily be a factor if you’re a small agency with a fixed permanent team of workers assigned to specific roles, otherwise the information returned by all of the preceding phases will help you choose or recruit the team members who will be assigned to each role in the project.

Securing Supply: Negotiate a good contract and price

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You need to make sure you have enough funds to cover your costs, plus provide a bit extra to help you through the possible dry spell that may hit when the project winds up.

Strategy Development: Time to plan your actions and discuss them with the troops

Now you know what you need to create, how to create it, who will create each part, and how it’s all going to be paid for.  The next step is to lay out a clear road map for what objectives need to be completed and when.  At this point you are flow charting the site and there will be a strong understanding within the team of the shape and structure of the planned site.

The March to Victory: Getting the job done

You have the money taken care of, everyone knows what needs to be done, and there’s nothing holding you back from getting on with it.  Your job from here on is much simpler.  It’s a matter of making sure that everyone maintains their momentum and executes each required task expediently.  You’ll need to constantly review and monitor the progress of the development, as well as occasionally briefing the client with progress reports and previews, plus beta testing the site on selected potential audience members.

The Spoils of War: Time to take your money and receive the accolades

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Make the site perfect.  Don’t leave anything unfinished or lacking the necessary excellence to make this a site you’d be proud to show off as part of your portfolio.  More importantly, a happy client is potentially a repeat client, and they’ll be much less likely to stall on handing over that final payment.

The best thing about developing big business sites is that it usually leads to more of the same work.  Most high end corporate clients appreciate the difficulty that goes into planning and creating an enterprise level website, and they’ll respect anyone who has already proved their mettle.

Don’t under-estimate how much work is required in a project of this scope.  You’ll need to ensure a site that looks and functions beautifully.  You’ll need to provide flawless and robust security.  You’ll need to be certain that everything is in compliance with the highest standards and legal requirements.  If you can hit each of these criteria perfectly, you will have joined the elite ranks of developers who handle global contract clients.    This is a coveted status for a reason—there’s a finite number of major corporations, and an infinite number of site developers competing for their attention.  Your ability to get into that position is an achievement you definitely earned.

header image courtesy of pixabay

Inspired Mag Team
We always try to come up with high quality and well-researched content in order to inform and inspire the creative web community.
  • This is very erudite post that changed the way thinking towards this subject. Subscribed and recommended. I’ll definitely look forward for more such stuff. Thanks for sharing nice read

  • riz

    I’m not a web developer or designer but I was interested in your article because I’m a writer and I’ve worked for both small clients as a freelancer and for big clients as part of a design agency. Key takeaways for me here would be:
    “If it’s implied at any time that your team should be able to complete the job in less time, you’ll need to educate the client. This is vital, because for the well-being of their company, a job like this should never be rushed.” – So true and we sometimes forget to do this and end up with bad consequences later on!

    Also this: “Don’t under-estimate how much work is required in a project of this scope.” – I still do this at times but I’m learning to avoid it!

    Thanks for sharing your insights. :-)

  • Good read with quality content. You outlined that a corporate website is a gigantic project that requires a team with a variety of professions. Not something that you can just learn to do after you get the contract.

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  • Erica Martin

    I would like to appreciate writer’s efforts. The article will be really helpful to small and medium design and development companies. You have explained every aspect in detail and have used proper examples at some points, that is the best thing about the article.

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