How should you determine the right W2P provider for your business?
That’s really a subjective question. You may base who your provider is based on price without much consideration for anything else. You may also want to consider someone that comes recommended by someone you know or close to your operation. If you are going to make a sound decision that will last in the long term, then here are some questions that you might want to ask:
- How long have you been in business?
This is probably one of the most logical questions and one of the questions most frequently asked. This question is generally an indication of whether the company you’re speaking to knows what they’re doing in either web development or the print industry. People seem to take comfort in knowing a company has been around for a substantial amount of time. Although a word of warning. There are web to print providers that have been grandfathered into the industry, yet they can’t keep the pace of modern technologies. They have massive infrastructures and their technologies are too cluttered to be able to clean up and get current. Meanwhile you have some hot technologies that look great, but lack the sophistication to accommodate different scenarios within the print industry. Therefore, if you think you received a satisfactory answer with respect to the age of the company, the next question should be…
- What advancements have you done most recently?
You want to avoid a situation where you are subscribed to a technology which is boxing you in to a specific look or limited functionality. The ideal provider has enough experience under their belt to know how to cater to your needs in print, while providing proficient understanding of the web to keep the technology current and relevant to your needs.
- Do you have Saas and Enterprise offerings?
Says (software as a service) offerings allow you to utilize their providers environment so that you don’t necessarily have to invest in a hardware and environment infrastructure. You share cost with others so that your solution is affordable. You may have a growth plan if successful in which case you may want an enterprise option. If so, you want to make sure there is an upgrade path with the same provider so that growth will be seamless and they can transition you from a Saas solution to an enterprise solution – or vice-versa for whatever reason you may need to downgrade.
- Do you integrate with 3rd Party Solutions? Do you do customizations?
In my experience, close to 40% of our customer base request customizations. You want a provider that is not shy or intimidated to create custom solutions or custom widgets to fit within their existing solutions. If they are, then you need to re-consider your options – especially if you envision requiring custom development or custom interfaces etc.
- Do you have DIY and/or service options?
If the answer to both of these is yes, then you are looking at a really flexible solution. DIY (Do-it-yourself) options means that the system is flexible enough that you can control many (or most) of the elements on your own should you have the infrastructure to accommodate it. If you don’t, then you may want to outsource the services of your website and online stores to the W2P provider. If they have a services department, then they can effectively behave as your own graphics and technology HR. A reasonable way to go about technology investment since you only pay for the services as you require them.
- Do you integrate with 3rd party systems?
If the answer is “no”, then my advice is generally to stay away. The reason is, because there is no perfect system out there. But there is a perfect solution for your business and that solution may be a combination of many different system. If the providers of all these differing systems can “talk to each other” to create the solution you need, then you’re golden. If you find yourself already with a W2Pprovider that does not integrate with 3rd party systems, then start speaking up. They obviously are doing things to keep business in house. But that is at your expense. Consider making a switch because it shows a large elements of closed mindedness and lack of continuity.
- Can I see sample customer sites / demo sites?
A picture is a thousand words and a fully functional web site with online ordering and web to print is probably your best indication that the W2P provider that you are speaking to can do what you are asking. Look at the differing sites. If they are broad in their capabilities, then that’s good. If they are all looking quite similar, be cautious. Don’t hesitate to call up companies to ask for their feedback.
- Is your technology cross-browser compatible?
You want to make sure that regardless of your choice of web to print platform, that there are no issues in displaying the web to print solution on all browsers – be they computers or tablets. As mentioned above, you want to stay away from Flash as well as any other outdated mediums that people might be selling.
- What are your pricing options? Do you have any payment plans? This is probably a question on the checklist that needed no mentioning. It is at the top of everyone’s mind. The 2 general considerations is whether you are getting a system that you “own” and hosting on your server (traditionally referred to as an “enterprise” solution) which is typically particularly expensive as outlined above. Or whether you are subscribing to a technology that will be hosted and managed with your provider, while you pay a more nominal fee.
Even under the Saas options, there are set up fees that may apply. Even under those scenarios, it is not outside the realm of reasonable, to request that the set up be divided so that you can see that the deliverables are actually delivered while you take the chance on a company you may not yet be familiar with. Of course, there are those that offer their technologies without any set up or for a free trial which may be a worthwhile research exercise.
When it comes to pricing though, keep in mind what we said above. Your web to print service provider is your technology partner to a large extent. They are doing the research and on-going development which can get costly if they are progressive.
You are now equipped with enough information to find the right solution for you. Ask the right questions. Take the facts and compare. Make a decision that will be worthwhile for you in the short and long-term, and get your on-line solution launched. Once your website and online ordering portal are floating in cyber-space, be sure to check back with us in the next journal to learn the 101 on how to get your website marketed and found on the web.