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Writing a brief for your website is one of the most important things you can do for your project. It doesn’t take long to do, and getting it right will save you a whole bunch of stress, time and money later down the line.
In this article we explain the first part of how to write a successful website brief, which you may be surprised to learn doesn’t focus on the website at all.
This article will be followed by our second article, how to write a website brief part 2.
A website brief is a document you give to potential suppliers so they can start to understand your company and requirements, determine whether they can help, and if so use the brief alongside information gleaned from subsequent meetings to create a proposal and quote.
Out of the many website briefs we’ve seen the majority have focused on the website itself; particularly the pages and features the customer is looking for.
However, one of the keys to a successful brief is painting the bigger picture. Pages and features play their part in helping to form the quote, a bit like knowing the floor size and number of rooms helps a builder to estimate the cost of building a house.
But a website brief is more than just a tool to gather quotes. Done properly, it helps suppliers understand what your company’s all about, what’s strategically important to you, who your customers are and how they think.
It can give suppliers the understanding they need to recommend the right things in the right order (what to do now, next and in the future) to take you from where you are now to your aspirational place.
Without this understanding, the quotes you get may be based on pages or features you don’t actually need or fail to include things you didn’t consider (or weren’t aware existed) that could help your business to accelerate.
So, for now, we’re going to forget all about the website. This part is all about your business, your customers and your goals. Read on to find out the key questions to answer that will help you to paint the bigger picture for potential suppliers.
Be explicitly clear about what products or services your business or organisation provides. What constitutes to your bread and butter? What are your best or most profitable lines? What opportunities have you got to grow existing services or products, or add new ones? Are there any that aren’t profitable that you’re looking to phase out?
For example, a cake making business may list custom wedding cakes and event/ party cakes as their main services/products, and aspire to grow both the wedding cake and children’s party cake sides of the business.
Describe your target customers. Do they share any common characteristics such as age, gender, location? For business customers (B2B) what is the company size/ sector and the key roles/ people you’d be dealing with within that business? For end consumers (B2C) does their financial status, family status, beliefs or interests tie them together? If you have more than one type of customer, describe each one.
For example, the main customers from the cake making businesses above would include engaged couples typically aged 20-30s, parents of young children particularly mothers aged 30-40s, and in general anyone holding an event for which they need a custom cake – e.g. anniversary, birthday parties, celebration parties, all of whom would be based in the local area within 20 miles.
It may be obvious to you why your customers need your services or products, but it won’t always be apparent to someone outside of your business or industry. What key problems or challenges are they facing to make them contact you in the first place? What goals or outcomes do they want to achieve? What ‘job’ do you help them to get done?
For example, for a provider of IP phone software, their customers face the problem of not always being physically located in the office to answer the landline, meaning they miss important customer or new lead phone calls. And as they have multiple office locations and remote working, it can be difficult to forward the call to the person the customer wants to speak to resulting in a less than smooth customer experience.
Think about how your services, products and customer service make a positive difference to your customers. How do you improve their businesses or enrich their lives? What extra things do you do that deliver exceptional value and make your customers happy? What do customers say that they love about your products or working with you?
For example, the provider of IP phone software above helps their customers never to miss an important call, and to easily and quickly connect phone calls with the right team member no matter where they are. They also provide exceptional customer service fixing 99% of any issues that arise within 2 hours, and transparent fixed billing so the customer knows exactly what they’ll be paying each month no matter how many phone calls they make.
There are often some key things that determine why a prospect buys from you as opposed to one of your competitors. In your experience, what specifically takes someone from a hesitant ‘maybe’ to a positive ‘yes’? What reasons do new customers give for why they chose to work with you and not one of your competitors? There may be some parallels with the benefits you’ve already listed, and that’s fine; this is about honing in on the most important things that help close a sale.
For example, for a business consultant who specialises in helping companies achieve ISO accreditation, the key things that convert a prospect into a customer is the consultant’s impressive track record at having helped over 95% of all their customers successfully achieve ISO accreditation within 4 months, their fast turnaround time, and helping the customer feel they’re in safe hands and will enjoy working together.
Describe the values, beliefs, behaviours and personality of your company or organisation. What do you want your customers to say about you when describing you to others? How do your fellow team members describe what your company’s like?
For example, the ISO business consultant describes herself as friendly, customer focused, detail oriented, dedicated, organised and energetic. Her customers have said things such as ‘she has our best interests at heart and we trust her implicitly’, ‘incredibly knowledgeable, quick to respond and a pleasure to work with’, and ‘bursting with great ideas with the energy and skill to action them fast’.
Summing up the unique essence of your company or organisation is no easy thing, but once you understand it, it’s incredibly powerful. If you had to pick just a few key things – no more than 3 – that make you different or better than your competitors, what would they be? Don’t worry if there are parallels here with some of the benefits, influencing factors or behaviours you’ve already mentioned; this is about focusing on the handful of things that truly make you different.
To return to our cake making example, the key things that make them different are their creative flair to come up with original and exciting designs, the fact all their ingredients are organic without any additives, and the passion and dedication of their team – every customer feels like their cake is an exciting and important creation that the team strive to get exactly right – nothing less than the best will do.
Detailing the size and structure of your organisation helps suppliers to tailor their recommendations; a plan that may be achievable for a company with a dedicated department of several people may not be realistic for a startup with just 1 entrepreneur doing everything. How many people work for your company? What are the different roles or departments? How is your company run and managed? How do decisions get made?
For our cake making business, they are an established 5 year business with a team of 2 full time team members – the owner who is the principle cake maker and an assistant cake maker, and 2 part time members – a front of shop assistant and delivery driver. The owner is the key decision maker for the business.
Understanding where your company is heading will colour the recommendations you recieve. Where do you want to be in 5 years time? What do you want to have achieved? What would you love people to be saying about you in 5 years time? What’s your aspirational place?
To return to our IP phone provider example, their 5 year vision is support 3,000 businesses across the UK, and to have built a reputation as the most supportive, reliable and highest quality IP phone provider in the market.
The short term picture is just as important and will have a bearing on what gets prioritised first. What are the key things you want to achieve in the next 1 year to help you achieve your long term vision? Do you have any specific targets or measures for the next year?
The IP phone provider wants to grow their current customer base from 400 customers to 700 customers within the next 12 months, focusing specifically on professional services sector and businesses with mobile sales teams within a 50 mile radius. They also want to implement a new CRM system to help them better manage their prospects and a referral scheme to encourage existing customers to refer new customers.
Take some distraction free time to review and answer these questions and put all of your responses into a document. It’s a good idea to get other key people from your organisation involved in this part of the process.
Once you’ve finished and are happy with your answers, our next blog ‘How to write a website brief part 2‘ will help you to complete your website brief. Our web designers in Ashford Kent start every project with an in-depth, comprehensive website brief. If you have any questions or need help writing your website brief, feel free to get in touch and we’d be happy to help.
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