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It's Been A Tough But Worthwhile Journey...

Firesnaps: Online Digital Photo Management | Image Hosting | Photo Printing Service It's been a tough but worthwhile journey. A few years ago I had this idea for a photo hosting website. At the time I was pleased to find that there weren't that many around and thought it was the perfect time to strike. Now there seems to be a never-ending stream of them, just my luck. It has taken me over two years of what seems like banging my head against a brick wall to finally realize my online vision. You may think two years is a long time to get a website designed and you'd be right! Those two years could have been crucial to a websites success and in this case I am positive that this has only benefited my competitors. I know my competition is now fierce and it may now be a bit too late for my site and me, but this project has certainly been challenging to say the least. It's been a tough journey getting there and an absolute minefield of problematic issues that I just had to put my experiences to note. I have learned a great deal during development of this project and I hope anyone thinking of pursuing online success should find my trials of some interest. So there I was with my bright idea. The first thing I did was research to see what my competitors were doing, which in turn lead me to putting my own ideas down an paper. I spent a great deal of time planning and fine tuning what I wanted my site to do, how it did it and most importantly, doing it better that the competition. This was the easy part, now I had to realize my sketches and notes into a working website. I own a small graphic design company and am a graphic designer by trade so I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. Although I also design websites my expertise lies in design for the printing press and the demands of this particular project would require web development skills beyond my capacity as a web designer. I already had my domain name registered and so sought the services of a website design company. Dictated somewhat by budget, I set about trying to find a company who could fulfill my design brief. After a load of searching, I decided to use a company I had used previously for some hosting services. They offered a design service and their site seemed to be well designed so I figured I would be in good hands. How wrong I was! After a preliminary meeting explaining exactly what I wanted and providing full written instructions I left the meeting feeling confident and excited. I was assured that everything I wanted was possible and within budget. I was told that it would take 4-6 weeks to complete my site. Looking back this is where alarm bells should have started to ring! 4-6 weeks was, well, let's just say a little optimistic. Guess what? After paying the full fee upfront I didn't see anything until 4 months later! During the 4 months, I tried constantly to communicate with said company and each time was given some excuse for the delays but was assured everything was in hand and going well. So the moment of truth, I get an email telling me my new site is now complete with a link to view it. When I clicked the link I was horrified! Visually the site was appalling, it looked nothing like I asked for and although they had implemented most of the functionality, it was just rubbish! It looked like a 3 year old had done it, no joke. Graphics were incorrectly prepared and the site was full of broken up areas, odd sized type and generally a complete mess. What had gone wrong? I provided as much information as I possibly could so why could this have happened? I called the 'design' company and after a lengthy phone call some things became obvious. The guys I originally met were no longer there which meant whoever took over the project didn't have the benefit of hearing my instructions first hand at our original meeting. It also became apparent they had outsourced the job to an external company (another cook to spoil the broth). Seeing as I had already paid and was this far down the line I decided to give them the chance to rectify their initial efforts. They agreed to make the required changes and re-submit. After another 2 months I received the 'straw that broke the camels back'. They just got it so wrong! I was then told that if I wanted any more changes then I would have to pay more. I was furious! They had over promised and under delivered in every way and they had the cheek to ask for more cash. This was where I pulled the plug on them and their amateur, unprofessional outfit! I had just wasted 6 months with these pirates and had nothing to show for it. My project was obviously beyond their capabilities. Although this was a massive punch in the gut I had to move on. The two most important things I learnt here were a) don't pay in full upfront for something that you haven't seen yet, and b) check previous work to establish capabilities. I eventually got a portion of my money back and left it at that. The sooner I moved away from these guys the better. After a little more research I found what seemed to be a good web design company. They had some pretty good completed projects under their belt and were keen to take on the job. I had to increase my budget and paid 50% upfront with the remainder due on completion. They also gave me a guarantee that I would get what I want or my money back. Good times! I submitted my brief and was given a turnaround time of about 8 weeks. After 1 week I received some initial design options and was very pleased! Communication was excellent and they seemed to have a great understanding of what I wanted. By week 2 we had agreed a style and course of action. Then something strange happened, I heard nothing from them for a couple of months until they had eventually completed the initial structure. It was clear that this was again going to go way over schedule but this blow was softened by a great website. There was still a lot of work to be done, but at least we were heading in the right direction. After over a year of going back and forth tweaking and fine-tuning, we were finally ready to go-live. As part of my original brief, I had already had a suitable hosting package in place and everything about the site had to be compatible with this hosting solution. This was the one thing that they had overlooked and unfortunately had an impact on some of the sites functionality. Another headache! After some searching around we decided to keep our original hosting solution, which meant further changes and some small compromises. I am pleased to say that the design company took our decision on board and promptly made the necessary changes at no further cost. As I write, we are still going through some minor tweaks but I am delighted with what we have achieved and now look forward to providing a great online service. Feel free to check out the my fruits of labor here: http://www.firesnaps.com My advice to anyone thinking of embarking on such a project would have to be:

1. Get the right design company, check their previous work and never pay in full upfront.

2. No matter how many knock backs you get, carry on until you achieve your goal. It'll be worth it in the end. Thank you for reading. Stuart Bayford Firesnaps.com


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