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Will my employer pay me for a new website?
November 16, 2010 2:34 PM   Subscribe

My employer's website is horrible. I've often thought of trying to make it better (even my minimal skills would be better than it is now). What's the best way to go about this, and what are the odds my company would give me a bonus/payment for doing this?

I've thought of two different approaches:

- Approaching the appropriate person and asking if I could do it
- Doing it, hopefully doing a great job, then showing it to them and offering it to them for a fee

I am a glorified accountant, and I do some customer service for the company, as well. I have no real technical skills when it comes to making websites, but I have some basic design skills and a small amount of personal experience making websites. I think it'd be fun for me, and hopefully a great way to impress my company and make a few extra bucks. We're not a huge company maybe several thousand customers, but we're trying to be more modern (automating a lot of things) and the website looks (and probably is) about ten years old.

Do you have any general advice for this situation? Have you done this before? Is this a terrible idea? If you think I could get them to pay for this, what do you think is reasonable? I currently get paid hourly. How would this work?
posted by two lights above the sea to Work & Money (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My employer's website is horrible.

How is that impacting the bottom line? You need to demonstrate how a better looking site would increase profits, even after the expense of paying to have the site redone.
posted by nomadicink at 2:37 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

You could put together a proposal, complete with an associated fee, and present it to the appropriate person. Make it very professional, enumerating the design features and outcomes you feel the website should have. You'll need to offer some assurances that you will not work on the website, should they accept your proposal, during working hours. That will allay any fears they may have about you double-dipping.
posted by DrGail at 2:39 PM on November 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

It's probably a recipe for disaster to try to get paid for this. There are a lot of people out there with more than "minimal" web-design skills and a dearth of work. So (no offense) but, whatever you charge them, they could probably get better from someone else for the same price.

I also wouldn't go with the "just make it for them and see what they think" angle as you might get: "Why did you do this, our website is fine?" Or worse: "You didn't spend work time on this did you?"

But there's not really any downside to going to the person in charge and offering to try your hand at improving the site. Maybe, if you talk with your supervisor as well, you can get approval to work on it during downtime at work (if you have any) and thus get paid for it after all, without having to bill them.
posted by 256 at 2:45 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you volunteer to do it for free, your odds go up substantally of getting a raise at your next evaluation, or a promotion. That's worth a whole lot more than anyone will pay you for a basic website upgrade.
posted by musofire at 2:58 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just get the conversation started first. Make a Photoshop image of an example redesigned front page that can be passed around via email. Show them what might be possible with their own logo, branding and navigation.

"Hey, I was messing around this weekend. Whaddya think?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:04 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Questions to ask yourself:
Whose responsibility is the website right now?
Is this person a superior to you?
Will this person be annoyed/threatened by your efforts?
Am I willing to become the "go-to" guy for the website from this point forward?
What happens when you rebuild the website, it becomes useful and people start asking for features beyond your abilities?
posted by davey_darling at 3:05 PM on November 16, 2010 [8 favorites]

I think if you just wade in with an idea, there's always the risk to tramp on someone's toes. Why, someone has been responsible for that horrible site in the past, and if they're still around, they might have some ego invested in their crimes. [on preview: davey_darling]

So I would first very lightly beat about the bush and figure out what the back story is: mere stagnation, policy, a management dude with a retro-bee-in-the-bonnet, what else?

Then I would analyse carefully what's wrong with their stuff.
Is it merely visual (straight Windows 3.1, for example, or Lemmings-style animations [aaah. Lemmings]), is it content, or style and grammar, is it functionality (as in, dud links, wobbly visuals, unhandy buttons, stray double content), or is it layout (one headline in caps, the other in italics, that kind of thing). Make an action plan for fixing your greatest worries, and then look at what you actually would be able to do well. Stay away from everything else.

I don't think it is a terrible idea, but it ultimately depends very much on the company spirit you're working with.
posted by Namlit at 3:08 PM on November 16, 2010

If you volunteer to do it for free, your odds go up substantally of getting a raise at your next evaluation, or a promotion. That's worth a whole lot more than anyone will pay you for a basic website upgrade.

One thing to watch out for with this plan is that you may be roped into adding "Webmaster" to your job description without any promotion or pay raise. When you build a website, it is generally not a one-shot thing where you hand over the finished product to the client and they use it as-is forever without coming back to you to ask for changes. Make sure you know what you are signing up for, even if they don't offer to pay you for it.
posted by burnmp3s at 3:09 PM on November 16, 2010

Something that might be worth pointing out: The website appears to be "powered by Pages". I don't really know who is "in charge" of the website right now, but part of my efforts would be to revive the website AND make it a place where we can put important and time-sensitive information for our customers to access. Right now, it looks like it's been unchanged for years (certainly since I've been here), and it not no where near a "masterpiece". We don't really advertise our website to our customers, so this might be something we could start doing.

As far as my skills are concerned, I'm pretty computer/web-savvy, and I'm a quick learner. I also have a SO with a lot of skills, and since this income would be "our" income, he'd be more than willing to help out.

Thanks so far, though. Lots of things to think about!
posted by two lights above the sea at 3:15 PM on November 16, 2010

Also, I'd be fine with this being an on-going project, and I'd obviously be honest with them about what I could/could not do.

Keep 'em coming!
posted by two lights above the sea at 3:18 PM on November 16, 2010

What does your company's org chart look like? Is it a handful of people wearing lots of hats, or is there some actual structure with a marketing department, IT department, etc.?

If it's the former, then you may well find that the person who originally built the web site would be thrilled that somebody wants to revitalize it, and give you their blessing and all of the original materials/passwords/etc you need. If it's the latter, you may find yourself inadvertently stepping on toes... for example, everyone on the company may know the site needs help, but the CEO's son owns a copy of Frontpage and calls himself the resident web expert, so nobody says anything. Or the CTO built it himself 10 years ago and still thinks of it as his baby, even though he's way behind the curve and has no time to work on it himself.

But there's not really any downside to going to the person in charge and offering to try your hand at improving the site. Maybe, if you talk with your supervisor as well, you can get approval to work on it during downtime at work (if you have any) and thus get paid for it after all, without having to bill them.

I like 256's approach; you would still get paid to work on the site and hopefully acquire some new skills in the process, and possibly set yourself up for a lateral move in the company (if that's something you might interested in.) If you do try to get paid extra for this, I doubt you'd be able to get more than whatever your current hourly rate is.

Also, you mention that the company is trying to automate more things - maintenance of the web site should be one of them. I wouldn't bother rebuilding the company's site unless you were going to use a CMS like Wordpress or Drupal, which may or may not present an additional learning curve for you depending on the personal sites you've built... but in 2010, there's no reason anyone should have to go through tedious, old-school static HTML management and all of the misery it implies (Change the site design? Now you have to go update every single page on the site, save them, and FTP them to the server. Add a link to the main menu? Now you have to go update every single page on the site, save them, and FTP them to the server. Ad infinitum)...

If well-implemented a CMS can let anyone in the company update the web site via a web browser, without having to know HTML... and can make it a whole lot easier to implement a redesign in a year or two, if all you have to do is swap out some templates.
posted by usonian at 3:20 PM on November 16, 2010

If this is a small company, I think it'd be easier to approach someone about reviewing this. You could even volunteer (after you do some basic feeling-out and research on the website re-design plans/timeline, whose domain it is, no pun intended, it is, etc.) to help.

There are two previous AskMes about somewhat similar situations which would be worth a read:

Short Discussion
Long Discussion
posted by polexa at 3:32 PM on November 16, 2010

I've done this when I worked for a Charity, and had a very multi-faceted job anyway. It was something I thought was very important for the organisation, and important to get right, as well as being interesting - and I still ended up finding it one of the most stressful bits of my job.

Multiple reasons:
- it needed to be really accessible. You soon find that 'really accessible' and 'works in IE' are not very compatible concepts. Even if this isn't as big a concern, there are intrinsic parts of web design/site creation that make you want to go out and strangle someone.

- no-one understood why it took any time to do. They just saw the polished final product and couldn't understand why I couldn't knock it up in five minutes (never mind that I was learning how to do it as I went). So there was never enough time allotted to do it properly.

- lots of inputs as to what the website needs to do, now that there is someone actually doing something about it. People suddenly get great ideas about web presence once word gets around.

- knowledge cascading. When I left I had to create a manual for the person replacing me, a total step-by-step walkthrough of how to do everything - and they were still e-mailing me for advice a year later. You're going to have to not just do this, but be able to teach other people how to do it if they want their spot on the site, or you move on, or whatever.

I may think of other things.

Overall, I think it was worthwhile. But that was because the website tied in so very much with what we were trying to do, and I thought that was a worthwhile cause. I suppose the measure would be that I also think that those couple of times I had to get up at 5am for work were worthwhile - I class taking on a website in this way as the equivalent of at least a few 5am starts.
posted by Coobeastie at 3:34 PM on November 16, 2010

The first thing to do is to figure out if anybody even gives a crap about the company's online presence. If not, then updating the Superpages every quarter might be about all the support you can muster. The more they're into it, the more you can try to make yourself a part of it. I like to think that a business case can be made for looking more professional, but not everybody agrees to the same degree. If the company doesn't do business online and it's just a phone number and an email address and directions or whatever, a static site of plain pages, there's not a lot you can say other than maybe a design review and they give you $200 to pay some kid to add rollovers.
posted by rhizome at 3:46 PM on November 16, 2010

I sparked a mini-controversy once when I defended an example of a wretched site on on a webmaster forum. My point then was that this example was exactly what this kind of company needed (some DC belt contracting firm). Yes it was essentially meaningless, but what that KIND of company needed was not much more than a placeholder. Any more information may have hurt the company in some circles, but it needed a sign on the superhighway that said they existed, but essentially hid what they were.

Probably not the issue here, but do deconstruct what your companies site is for, what it means. What you think would be cool, may not be what is needed in your industry.
posted by sammyo at 3:54 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ah, I've twice now done what you are considering doing. This endeavor can turn into a big pain in the ass if not handled correctly. This is why good professional web development people can make decent salaries. Tread carefully and ask yourself and coworkers some serious questions. Are you okay with having the website added to your job description without getting any kind of additional compensation? Who needs to approve what the website looks like and the content? Will you be writing the content and creating images? Do you need to work with a committee to decide on the web re-design? Are the leaders in your organization technologically and design savvy enough to what goes into a professional looking website and how long it might take? What if your organization's management's idea of a cool website is one that has an animated GIF of a cat wearing a top hat? How much control will you get on the design? Are you going to end up doing an online shopping cart system or a bunch of corny flash animations? If you design the new website, can you turn it over to another staff member to regularly update?

In my experience, the leaders of my organizations had NO idea how long it actually took to design and update the website. In one case, I was asked to do a full redesign and spent many hours working on it, only to have my boss look at the final result, hate it (for semi vague reasons, including the fact that he didn't like having to scroll down on a page to read content) and ask me to redo the whole thing and add a lot of bells and whistles that I didn't have the coding skills or software to do. I quickly found myself in over my head and was making a crappy office worker wage for my efforts. I now plead ignorance when asked to do anything but minor website updates.

If you are going to do this, you and your SO should submit a proposal, establishing what you want to do and how much time and money the project will involve. Provide examples to other websites you have designed. Then both of you could work on the website as a freelance project in your spare time.
posted by pluckysparrow at 5:11 PM on November 16, 2010

I may just be adding to the chorus, but if so, so be it...

I hired onto a company, and even WITH a downward-directed sorta-mandate to upgrade the website (which is part of what I do for a living, both before and after I went with the company, i.e. it's part of my job description), I still wound up stepping on toes by not checking in with enough people before making changes. IOW, I find it much easier when the client is external, not internal. :-)

nthing all of the above, but I think you're better off to make a simple proposal to your management that some changes ought to be made and refer them to an outside webmaster. If they buy into, your skills are best put to use being the inside advisor to this outside firm. If it's not "really what you do" and/or "part of your job description," I think the most likely thing is that you'll get in over your head, and even if things go great your company will not want to pay you what the work is worth. They've shown you what priority they place on paying top dollar for a great website by what they've had up to now.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:28 PM on November 16, 2010

I did this once. It turned into a ridiculously complicated, committee-driven website redesign project that was an enormous pain in the butt and made what had been an easy job really stressful. I also didn't get a raise.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:56 PM on November 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Be aware that this has the huge potential to blow up in your face. It is so beyond easy to accidentally step on toes about this sort of thing. I had a co-worker fired for doing jobs that weren't her "responsibility." Even though it seemed like she'd gotten the go ahead from the right people, it still went terribly. If you're less than positive about the office culture, watch carefully. See if you can tell how independent projects are treated. Is initiative rewarded or punished? If it's rewarded, I think you're in a great position. If one person really wants to be completely in charge of the Vision of the company, you're just asking for trouble.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:33 AM on November 17, 2010

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