Writing a brief for a website, or indeed any marketing or business requirement, is not commonly a regular undertaking. When you, or the company you are employed by, decide it is time to create, redesign or enhance a website, you will need to work out what is to be achieved, and how much a solution will cost.
You will also need to find and select a supplier who is able to offer you the best value for money, while capable of delivering to your requirements. The most effective way to begin this potentially daunting process is to create a brief.
What is a Brief?
To brief someone is to prepare or instruct them by giving a summary of relevant facts. In this situation, your brief is a document that informs the potential supplier your requirements, what you wish to achieve, what market and audience you are targeting, and any other related information.
The production of this document should allow you to establish which solution an agency proposes, how much it will cost, and how long it will take.
As a generic term, a brief could cover all types of projects, from a small five-page website, to a large scale, fully integrated business database system. For small projects, it may just begin as a few lines in an email, but for larger projects, it will take the form of an invitation to tender (ITT), and may span 2-300 pages in size.
In general, the response from the receiving agencies will reflect the brief supplied. For this reason alone, it is important that you set a good balance in terms of the information you provide for the agency to respond to.
Before you embark on putting together a brief, here are some general guidelines that will help you set the right tone, and gain the most from your efforts.
Have a look at websites you visit critically, and note what you do and don’t like about them, with regards to design and functionality. It is best to look at sites in the same or similar industry to your own. Keep your notes as reference material, as you will need them for your brief.
Be absolutely clear about what you wish to achieve. The more accurate you are, the more accurate an agency will be able to cost out their solution for you. Statements such as “We wish to update parts of the website ourselves”are ambiguous, unlike “Ideally, we will be able to update the price list, products, news and contacts pages as independently and as easily as possible.” Ambiguity tends to be punished by an increase in the estimate to cover all eventualities.
Avoid writing the solution
You may already have ideas in your mind at the sort of system, layout or process that may provide part of a possible solution to the challenge you propose. Resist the temptation to hint or elaborate on your own ideas in the brief, therefore asking the agency to fill in the blanks of your outline. Including such information could restrict the types of solutions that are proposed to you may mean your project will suffer in the long term.
Whatever you do write in the brief, it is almost inevitable you will change your mind about some of the issues in the future. For this reason, give yourself the room to do so within the brief, without lacking detail. Request that there is some provision for flexibility with specific points, or within the project as a whole.
Writing your proposal
Following the format of any bestseller, there are three main parts to a good brief: beginning (introduction/background), middle (requirements) and end (supporting information).
However, unlike a work of fiction, it is not necessary to embellish situations, create twisting plot lines, or provide excessive character descriptions.
Your introduction will provide the agency with basic but vital information, including who you and the company are. Check out our example brief below;
3. Supporting Information
Having compiled all the important information for the agency, you will need to tie up any loose ends in the supporting information. You may not always need to include supporting information, but you may wish to include some of the following:
on a local, national and international scale as applicable. Include a quick analysis on brand strengths and weaknesses to give the agency a very quick overview of your market.
Corporate Identity Details
such as examples of brochures, the house style guidelines, whether high quality logo and branding files are available, examples of marketing material and adverts, especially if the design needs to match or even contrast clearly from it.
Examples of Sites you Like and Dislike
In respect to the design and/or functionality. You compiled these as part of your initial research. Include reasoning to illustrate
Technical Details of Existing Systems
Or current website hosting, especially if you wish to host the project there, or wish to move everything over to new hosting with assistance from the agency.
Budgeting is a final issue, which you can approach in two ways. Both methods have advantages and disadvantages, which are summarised below:
State Your Likely Maximum Cost
This requests that the agency looks to provide as much value for you, within the budget as possible, a tactic often used by charities, public services and start-up companies with a strict overall annual budget.
Pro: relevant costs
Pro: return realistic solutions for your budget
Con: receiving a lower quote is unlikely
Con: agency may not be able to meet all the requirements within the budget
Don’t Specify a Maximum Cost
By not specifying a budget, the agency is free to propose the best solution for the project, rather than be limited by a low budget.
Pro: may receive lower than your expected cost for a solution
Pro: discover the full possible cost for an ideal solution to suit the complete requirements
Con: cost could be higher than anticipated
Con: you may have to amend your brief and lower your expectations to fit your budget
Here is how Eldi expressed their budget limitations:
The project does not have a fixed budget but we wish to seek the best commercial value possible. We would not, therefore, expect the total capital costs of the site to exceed £9,000.00 unless strong justification could be given to the additional investment suggested.
By this point, you have a full and effective brief to approach agencies of your choice with. The time you have spent creating the brief will save a great deal of money, both in the short term negotiating with agencies, but also in the long term, for formal project quotes and meetings. Most importantly, by creating a brief, you have helped to ensure you get the best value from your marketing investment.