Note: This post was updated July 2014.

Have you ever had a great idea for a website? Are you at a loss as to how to build it? Is it even a good idea in the first place? Who should you hire?

It’s one thing to have an idea for a site. Turning that idea into an elegant, functional and user-friendly website is another monster entirely.

The best way to take your idea from conception to completion, and make sure your site gets built as close as possible to the way you envisioned it, is to know exactly what you’re getting yourself into.

1. Determine What It Is

The point at which “It’s a website” isn’t good enough anymore.

Start by making sure that the idea you have in mind is a practical, solid one. Some good questions to ask yourself include:

  • How is building a website going to benefit my business? My art? Myself?
  • Is the internet a medium where my idea can thrive? (Hint: not if it’s a 500 page novel!)
  • Is my idea original? (If you don’t know, research it!)
  • What problems will my idea solve for people?
  • Who are my competitors, and how is their business doing?
  • Will people use the site?

In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s a lot of crap on the internet. It’s mostly crap, in fact. If I had to estimate the amount of crap on the internet like a jar of jelly beans, I’d say that 95% of websites on the internet are worthless crap. And that’s me being generous.

Another common misconception: “I need a website!” We’ve all heard this from clients, and when web tinkerers ask their clients questions like “Why?” and “Where’s the content?” and “Who are your customers?” they often get a blank stare in response. Don’t be that person.

2. Outline the Goals

Where’s the finish line?

Every project has a desired outcome. Once you figure out what the website is, you have to figure out what it’s going to accomplish. Ask yourself a few more questions:

  • What actions will users be performing on the site?
  • How often will users be visiting?
  • Do I need a blog or other regularly updated content?
  • Do I want to sell products on the site?

These are the kinds of questions we ask our clients. They help us evaluate exactly what our clients need out of their website, what the end goals are, and what needs to be built. That should help get you started.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Trying to compete with a behemoth like Amazon by creating an ecommerce site without any unique spin on it is a sure path to failure. Not that you can’t compete with them: but know what you’re up against.

Also, if your idea can be built off an existing platform, then let that platform do the legwork for you. It will save you lots of time, money, and headaches. A lot of app ideas start that way. Facebook apps, for example, are built off of an existing platform and they have seen a lot of success.

This flowchart is also a savvy litmus test for your website idea.

3. Figure Out How It’s Going To Be Built

Learn what tools you need and define the scope of the project.

Tools

Websites vary greatly in the amount of time, effort, and money it takes to build them.

A photography portfolio is on the lower end of the time/effort/money scale, for example. They are not typically too complex, and the web has been around long enough that free, customizable content management systems are available in abundance that are adequate to get the job done. Same with blogs. You can use an existing platform (like Tumblr or Blogger), or you can download WordPress and install it on your own server.

Not every website is so easy to create. Web apps are more complex and costly due to the necessity for back-end development (read: complex programming for customized functionality). eCommerce sites can be a massive drain on time and budgets simply because of their sheer size. Adding all the products, descriptions, a checkout system, user login, a settings panel, etc., and keeping everything up-to-date requires a lot of time and human resources.

Scope

The scope of the project is like its blueprint: what’s being built, what it needs to do, all the features included, et cetera. If you’re not sure what your scope is, an experienced design and development agency can help you define it during a paid discovery session. Once that’s done, you can get a fairly accurate estimate of the time and cost of completing it.

Underestimating what it takes to build a website is a very common pitfall with uninitiated entrepreneurs, and can become a point of contention if these issues are not cleared up early in the project.

Web Style Guide has a great article on scope, risk assessment, budget, and much more.

4. Find Someone to Build It

Do it yourself? — or hire a pro?

Now that you know what kind of website you want to build and how much work it will take to build it, you have to decide whether you’re going to build it yourself or hire someone to build it for you.

If you are comfortable with computers, and the idea is pretty simple (a blog, for example), then you might well be able to do it yourself. But there is a lot to learn if you’ve never tried building a website before. Even with all the free, customizable software out there, delving into the coding side of things can be extremely frustrating for first-timers. Let alone metrics and marketing, social media, and professionally tailored design. Learning these skills takes time and you may be better off investing some money to have a group of professionals build it for you.

This is especially true with web applications, which are notoriously more complex than your standard website. For these you often need a design and a development team.

There are many design and development teams out there, and they all produce different work in different ways, and many only take on certain kinds of projects. For example, at The Phuse we offer design, development and strategy through an iterative process—meaning we use a constant feedback loop to move work forward. We prefer projects with budgets of over $10,000. This way, we get to work on cool websites and applications from the ground up and we’re much more involved in developing the product, which we enjoy.

Do some research and ask friends/colleagues who they’d recommend. Choose a team that works best with you and you trust to make your idea a reality.

5. Find The Time and Money to Build It

… and come prepared!

Time

Even if you decide to use all free software (i.e. a WordPress blog with a free theme), and do it all yourself, time is money, and the time you invest into building the site is time that could be spent creating content or marketing it.

Which brings us to another point: make sure you have valuable content ready before you launch the site. That means investing time and effort.

There is nothing more wasteful in the web design business than a pretty site with zero content value. Think Traffic has an excellent article on the value of epic content with specific examples from successful websites.

Costs

Whether you do it yourself or hire someone to build it, everything costs time and money. When you’re doing it yourself, hosting typically charges per month and domain names charge per year. Web development companies either charge hourly or a flat fee for the whole project. There are benefits and drawbacks to both ways that we won’t go into right now.

Website projects cost anywhere from $500 to over $50,000. It would be impossible to list all the different possibilities. If you aren’t sure, crunch the numbers yourself or (once again) get a professional estimate.

Don’t have a lot of money?

That’s okay, many entrepreneurs don’t! Here’s what we recommend:

  • Learn about pitching to VCs. Contrary to popular benefit, venture capitalist investment is about more than money—it’s about creating partnerships that can grow and sustain your business and keep you accountable.
  • Start going to accelerators and meetups where you can meet like-minded people. This might be events in the industry you want to break into, or pitch/entrepreneur meetups. When it comes to accelerators, Startup Weekend is a really valuable experience in sketching out ideas and leaving with stellar prototypes.
  • Consider crowdfunding. If your idea is really fantastic, create a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign to get started. Just make sure that you’re prepared to fulfill those perks and bring your idea to fruition!

6. Make Sure You’ve Got The Follow Through

Follow through is everything.

The biggest killer of good website ideas is a lack of follow through. Make sure—before you start—that you have the nerve to see it through. Overnight successes are the exception, not the rule. Sometimes new brands and products stagnant for years before they find success. But then, that’s true about many things in life, and if you’re really serious about your idea, you already knew that.

Once the site is built, your job is far from over! The type of follow up depends largely on what type of site you’re running. With a blog, for example, nearly all of the time and effort are put in after the site launches. Content continually needs to be added.

If you built a portfolio, it’s important to keep it updated and relevant. Last year Google added a relevancy factor to its search rankings to improve the quality of results.

Cameron Kellogg also has some good advice about follow through from a business standpoint.

Final Words

There are many opportunities out there for a successful website, whether it’s a business or a blog. Yours may be the next big thing!

38 Comments

  1. william acciu on | Reply

    What I am proposing is a website that would focus the minds of the electorate and get them to choose post haste those that they want to elect and those that they don’t.We could vote in hung parliaments and basically choose exactly the make up of a forthcoming government.I don’t know what the name of it would be though.Election Choice,or Electioneering as in engineering.

    • James Costa on | Reply

      Hey William! Sounds like a fun idea! Let us know if you need our help in building it! :-)

  2. Michael Ruthem on | Reply

    I have a great idea for a website, if I go to someone to have it developed how do I keep proprietary rights? I’m worried they will take my idea basically the way Mark Zuckerberg did with Facebook.

    • Matt Herron on | Reply

      Hi Michael, the best way to protect your idea when working with development shops is to get a signed NDA, or an agreement of some kind that covers confidentiality and will stand up in court. Best of luck!

      • Matt Maiura on | Reply

        Matt,

        I found your post very informative. I have an idea for a website that I feel could be something big. I am a contractor by trade with little knowledge about how to take my idea to the next level. The idea seems simple to me but could be complex with obtaining the data to feed the website. Send me an email when you have a chance to discuss. Look forward to hearing from you. Thanks.

  3. Shane on | Reply

    Hey Matt – Nice article. The goals are essential. I also found this page which gives you a little bit more detail for actually creating the website: http://www.howto-expert.com/i-have-an-idea-now-what-how-to-make-your-websiteapp-idea-a-reality/

  4. Bill W. T on | Reply

    Matt,
    Excellent article, also very informative . Could you please respond back to me via my email address, regarding assistance and more information regarding a potential website/service that I have envisioned. I have questions that I would rather not discuss on an open format. Thank You.

    • James Costa on | Reply

      Hey Bill! Thanks for getting in touch – sorry we didn’t see this sooner! We’re sending you an email now to catch-up!

  5. sumeet singh chadha on | Reply

    Hey there.Please Help. I have a great website idea which will be used by almost every people Daily and will definately have more members than facebook. Its actually an ‘once in a Century Idea’.But the problem is i m doin electronic engg. and not have any idea about mking websites and web designing. Whom should i approach to make it for me and should I make that same person as my partner? If yes then how much amount of percentage will he get from profit? How can i protect my idea from stealing with such website developers? Please Help..

    • James Costa on | Reply

      Hey Sumeet!

      Thanks so much for getting in touch! There are lots of communities online like CoFounders Lab to find potential partners, and going to events like Startup Weekend might be a solid idea to get your idea off the ground and to connect with people who can build it and partner with you. The best way to go about saving your idea from getting stolen (however rarely that happens) would be getting a non-disclosure agreement put together to be signed by anyone before you begin detailed discussions about your idea with them.

      Hopefully this helps! Please let us know how else we can be of assistance!

  6. Siobhan T.B.C. on | Reply

    Hello Matt,

    Thank you for your article. I am wondering if you could respond, via email, as to how you go about hiring a professional to help in building a rather complicated website. I am unsure of where to begin.

    Thank you,
    Siobhan

    • James Costa on | Reply

      Hey Siobhan! We’re sending you an email now – thanks for getting in touch!

  7. Toni on | Reply

    Hi Matt,

    If I fill fill out the project questionnaire is there any guarantee that my idea will protected? Thanks for the helpful article.

    • James Costa on | Reply

      Hey Toni! Thanks so much for getting in touch with us – our project questionnaire is secure, but if you’re worried about us taking your idea and running, we’re more than happy to sign a non-disclosure agreement for your project should you need it.

      Looking forward to hearing from you!

  8. Michelle on | Reply

    I think I have an idea for a website, it’s so simple but there isn’t anything like it on the internet, I’m not sure if it’s even any good although I would use it. I don’t have a clue what to do, where to go and how to find out if my idea is any good? Please can you reply via email so we can have a chat. As you can see I’m UK based!!

  9. Prathamesh Bhatte on | Reply

    Hi Matt & James,

    I am from India. I have some ideas, which can be implemented. I am a graduate in Computer Science but well…. suck in programming!!!! Ya.. you read it correct. So I am unable to proceed with my “out-of-the-world ideas”….. You people sound pretty much logical to me and I won’t be having any issues sharing the ideas with you (of course…with THE NDA….).

    However before starting I want to get clear picture of our future collaboration..(Did I just say the golden word …PARTNERSHIP???) frankly I am aware of the fact that I won’t be contributing at all on the core programming front; but as it’s my idea, I would like to know my share of cake.

    You have my email, so contact me asap…. Lets give Mark & Co. some competition !!!!!

    P.S.: I might be sounding like a young dreamer…but half of my dreams have already beacame reality when my beautiful daughter entered into my life. So my only desire left is to be happy & spread it wherever posssible, because our world needs it very badly.

    • Emma Woolley on | Reply

      Hey Prathamesh, thanks for swinging by. James will be in touch with you soon!

  10. Charles on | Reply

    I have an idea I have been tossing around for a while, there’s nothing like it online and would have a huge sponsorship. I have talked to a few people about my idea and everyone loves it. I already know theres a large demand for this, and it’s never ending. There’s no question it’s a great idea, I just need help building it. It covers age groups from 9 to 90, and will have repeat use by the same users plus add new one all the time. I came up with the idea by looking for something like it, and could find nothing, this is huge, I just need help.

    Charles

  11. jeizan dadani on | Reply

    Hey guys you’ve got a great article and I wanted to share my idea for a website with you. Its unique but I have no idea how to move ahead with building it. I need to sign an NDA with you before I can say anymore. Thanks a lot looking forward to your reply.

  12. David on | Reply

    I have a great website idea in mind but do not have enough computer knowledge to materialize it. It’s quite unique so I believe it will attract a lot of students. I wanted my idea to be protected and patented first before I could share it with angel investors.
    If you could please contact me and we can talk about it great detail.

    Thank you,
    David

  13. David on | Reply

    Hello, I have been working on an idea for a bit and I would like to see if it is possible to turn into something real. I do have a lot of questions about it and if it is even possible. If we could chat over email about it that would be great. Hopefully we can turn it into reality.

  14. Sonja on | Reply

    Hi I have a website idea I want to maybe pursue. It’s similar to another thing that is already out there and going so I’m not sure if I could even be successful with it. Could I maybe get some feed back? Or have someone email me? For better back and fourth communication. Thanks a lot

  15. Andrew C on | Reply

    I have an excellent idea for a website but i need help knowing if its worth pursuing. Is it possible for someone to contact me about possible development and if its feasible. I really hope this is something you can all help with. Thank you in advance.
    Andrew

  16. Gary Vicars on | Reply

    Hi guys.

    I have a domain name I purchased 3 years ago and simply forgot I had it,now I find myself with a little more time on my hands and based on today’s economy thus is truly a no brainer I looked at the domain name again and there is nothing out there like it IF…I say IF it is built right it would be a gold mine….I am open to perhaps a small partnership agreement,or not…but either way this will get built and get out there to help people….I would love to chat a little with you to hear what your thoughts are on this….I don’t want to put it out there on a open forum so if would like to get involved drop me a line on my personal email and let’s see where this goes.
    Here’s to making a great website,helping a ton of people which would be never ending and making a little money for our efforts.

    Sincerely.

    Gary.

  17. K Wade on | Reply

    I have an idea for a website and would like to get an estimate on costs for development. The extent of what i have to this point is a written description of the site and a flow chart . Is this enough to “get an idea” of what it would take?

  18. Niloofar on | Reply

    I have a great idea for a website that is very high in scale, covers globally, will be one of the biggest websites ever to be created. I need to know: 1- How to have my whole idea first registered legally so no one can steal my idea in anyway. 2- I need extremely high professional website designers to work with me on this idea 3- I need to know how to launch this website meaning sending it out on the internet and giving the ability for users around the world to use it. This is a mega project. I need a lot of good advice from people who are expert in the field.

  19. Emma Woolley on | Reply

    Howdy all! As always, if you’re interested in contacting us about a project you can do so by filling out our project questionnaire: http://thephuse.com/contact/ Someone will respond to you shortly. :)

  20. Keddrick Weeks on | Reply

    I have a great idea for a website..I dont want no one to steal my idea..I dont know where to start but im sure this will be internationally recognized as a grest site..I need valuable info and I am clueless where to begin.. can someone please help me?

  21. Usama Tariq on | Reply

    I have a great idea about a website . I have finalized the main pages , services and every other thing of the website . Trust me it”s a kind of “million dollar idea” . But i”m afraid , like i might fail , what if all of my hard works goes waste , how will i maintain the website alone , how will i make money from it if i”m not going to use Google adsense shit which screws up the whole site …
    These all points make me coward enough to fail to proceed to next step.

  22. Mohamed Traore on | Reply

    This article was exactly what I was looking for. I also have an idea for a website that I would like to discuss. Could you please email me?
    Thanks!

  23. Jake goodrem on | Reply

    Heyy I’m jake from australia I’ve had an idea about a new search engine which there is nothing alike out there at the moment I believe it will change the way we all use the internet. It bugs me all the time that I know something that could be the ultimate way we use the internet the problem I have is finding a way to implement this idea!! Get back to me would love to know your thoughts

  24. Patrick Crowley on | Reply

    My friend and I have a website idea, I have screwed around with building websites in the past but would rather not put the time and effort in to trying to do it again. Please let me know how to proceeed with a conversation. Thanks

    • Matt Herron on | Reply

      Hi Patrick! You can definitely tell us a little bit more by going to our contact form and filling that out if it’s something you think we can help with. http://thephuse.com/contact

      Thanks!

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