How to write a good brief

We see briefs from potential clients all the time. Some are fantastic, and some are a bit...lacking. In the hope of creating a future packed full of pithy, information-rich briefs, we've put together a primer on how to write the sort of brief that will help your developers (us!) build you the website or piece of technology that before now, you've hardly dared to dream of.

If you only tell us three things, tell us what problem you're trying to solve, how much you have to spend on the solution, and when you need it by. We need all three of these to define the space of feasible solutions; everything else just narrows it down (sometimes to the point of unfeasibility, but if that happens we'll let you know).

What problem are you trying to solve? What are the business requirements for the project? What are your measures of success?

You wouldn't believe how many briefs skip straight to the 'we need a widget that does x' part, without telling us why. Without the 'why' it's harder for us to understand the problem from your perspective, which means we could potentially miss offering the best solution.

Also tell us what success looks like, from a business point of view. More customers? Higher profits? Fewer mistakes? We'll craft our solution around improving those measures, if possible.

Budget

Requesting a proposal from a developer without providing a budget range is much like going to a car dealership and asking to test drive only one car, without saying how much you want to spend. You'll see a car, for sure, but neither you nor the dealer has any firm idea whether it's really best car for you.

Could I interest you in this little beauty?

Beater

Or perhaps this one is more your taste?

Lamborghini

We realise that the reason clients don't indicate budgets is that they want to evaluate responses at a range of price points - like looking at all the cars in the yard. But looking at all the cars in the yard is a waste of everyone's time when you already know which will break the bank or not. It's easy to characterise informally what spending more, or less, will get you, so if you need that understanding, by all means ask for it before issuing your brief.

And unlike showing cars to buyers, preparing a proposal is costly for most agencies, which is why you only usually get to see one :). If we are to justify investing the time and effort necessary to produce an on-target proposal, it really helps to know the target we should be shooting at.

(By the way, websites and apps do in fact cost about as much as a car, but that's a post for another day.)

What is the product / service you want us to provide?

OK, this sounds like an obvious one. Consider:

  • Who is your target audience? Describe a few of your current / intended visitors.
  • Think about age, profession, interests. How do you know this?
  • What do you anticipate to be the main components of the product / service (e.g. wireframes, blog, events calendar, ecommerce)?
  • How do you want your visitors to feel about your company/organisation? Please use as many adjectives as possible, for example: warm, corporate, trustworthy, playful, technical, innovative.
  • Do you have any collateral materials - strategy, wireframes, brand guides?

The more you can tell us about what you already know you want, the more on-target our response can be.

However, it's risky to assume that untested ideas will work. Also, it's expensive to ask for things that you're not sure will be needed. Ask yourself: how confident are you that what you're asking for is the best way to solve your problem? e.g. are you sure that a new website is the most cost-effective way to solve your problem, or does it just sound like a neat idea? Better to check now than to go down the wrong path.

If you're confident, that's great - tell us what makes you so sure. If you're not sure, then tell us that too. We can help with that, since we create and evaluate digital strategy all the time.

When do you aim to complete the project? Why is this date significant? (i.e. does it coincide with a business launch, or an exhibition?)

If there is an external driver for the deadline, then that's all well and good. If it's a nice-to-have, it's nice to know, because often scheduling flexibility allows us to provide a better-value response.

Which services are you looking to engage us for? For each service you need, if it's not us, who will be providing this service?

It takes a lot of collaboration to build a website, and it helps us to know what's to be done, and who we'll be working with.

  • Creation of a new website
  • Maintenance of an existing website
  • Rebuild of an existing website
  • Digital strategy / consultancy
  • Information architecture / user experience design
  • Graphic design
  • CMS / database (back-end) development
  • HTML / Javascript (front-end) development
  • Mobile / tablet app development
  • Content entry / copywriting / editing
  • Information visualisation / digital mapping
  • Animation / video / multimedia production
  • Website hosting
  • Email / newsletter hosting
  • Integration with existing systems and data
  • Training

Do you have a budget for maintenance?

We recommend reserving at least 15% of your budget for changes and upgrades in the three months following a project launch. The strongest features and ideas often don't come to light until people start using a site, and the power of a digital project is that nothing needs to be set in stone.

Last thing: what would you like to ask us? We're ready and waiting for all your questions, so get in touch!

Pili is a content writer and strategist. Her background in corporate advisory, coupled with a degree in English Literature puts her in the unique position of being able to understand what’s important to businesses and to communicate those messages to audiences and customers.