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Your Economic Development Website Budget

Every economic development website is unique and its budget will depend on the municipality’s priorities and circumstances. Nevertheless there are best practices that can be applied universally to help managers plan their website budgets.

Relate Dollars to Goals

Expenditures must be planned realistically so that the website can be an enabler for your department in achieving its goals. And those goals must be consistent with the municipality’s strategic economic development plan.

Budgets for economic development websites in North America can and do vary by a factor of 1,000 — but a website’s success does not depend as much on the level of investment as on the appropriate allocation of expenditures under the headings of your economic development goals.

Plan for Continuous Improvement

Technology solutions such as websites, by their nature, are designed to grow and evolve. Your economic-development website will require upgrades as new functions and capabilities become mainstream, as your needs change, and as the technology itself changes. It is important to remember when planning your budget that the website will always be a fluid solution, one that requires a continuous improvement approach.

Unfortunately many economic development website projects are the result of stop-and-start cycles. A department will realize that its site has become outdated and will obtain funds for a new or upgraded site as a one-time project. The shiny new site will be a showcase for a while, but then will deteriorate just as the previous one did.

Meanwhile, competition for site selection and business investment never stops. Processes move forward in stages but can take a long time. A site selector who is impressed by a municipality’s economic development website when it is launched might return for more information in a few weeks or months. If the site has nothing more to offer, the initial positive impression will be overturned.

Your budget planning must recognize that all aspects of a website, from the home page to the back end, require continuous improvement to remain competitive. For this you will need a plan to spread your budget funds over time and to have someone accountable for the site’s continuing high quality.

Set Two Budget Categories

You need two categories of budget expenditure for an economic development website. Some dollars will need to be allocated to setting up the new or improved site. Equally important, other funds should be included in the budget to enable the site to be properly promoted.

A website is not complete until it is packaged. Money spent to establish the site will not produce the desired return on investment unless promotional initiatives and techniques are implemented to draw the anticipated visitors and build a community of interest around the site.

Budget Categories for Initial Expense

In accordance with your municipality’s goals, your budget for setting up a new or improved economic-development website should allocate funds in five potential categories:

  • Design — The branding, look and feel, and navigational structure of the site all create a first impression to viewers. It may be the only message that a site selector sees before moving on to evaluate the next municipality. Your site must be distinctive, visually appealing and effortless to use.
  • Content – Will you spend the time and resources to identify where the gaps are in your site’s content, and gather and update content most relevant to your economic-development goals? You might decide that the existing content is generally sufficient – but compare your site with other comparable municipalities before making that decision. Consider engaging a professional writer to help you make the best impression.
  • Content includes more than words. Professionally produced maps, charts and graphs make your site inviting and engaging. And photographs, too – surprising as it may seem, some municipalities neglect to use photographs to show off the attractions of their community to viewers who have never seen them. An increasing number of advanced sites make use of videos and animations to appeal to web-savvy visitors.
  • Content management — If website content is outdated, the credibility of your site and organization is at stake. With the right content management system, your economic development staff can easily make additions and modifications to the site without requiring technical knowledge.
  • Interactive functions – Is it a goal of your department to promote engagement and involvement with visitors through your website? Consider allocating funds to implement geospatial tools such as interactive maps and business locators, or a directory of local businesses, or two-way communications such as polls and surveys.
  • Infrastructure fees – This last category of expense is not glamorous but must not be overlooked. You will not be able to maintain an effective website without allocating budget funds for hosting, software licensing and technical support, whether from internal or external providers.

Having made your budget decisions for establishing or improving your economic development website based on the principle of continuous improvement, you must turn to the task of promoting the site so it can do its job. The next article in the Tech Trends series will provide guidance for that aspect of the budget process.

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