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Your website is the digital storefront for your business or organization. The homepage is the front door that welcomes people to go deeper by viewing articles, checking out your online store, and connecting with you. More than ever before, your website differentiates you from competition and invites your target audience to connect with you. Building and maintaining your website is not something you want to leave in the hands of a novice or untrusted web developer.
Polycot Associates often gets referrals for work relating to “cleaning up a mess” from another web developer. We wish this was not the case, but it happens often. When a potential client approaches us after having a bad experience, our forensics usually show where the previous developer went wrong, and we empathize with the client’s frustration.
I always stress the importance of asking the right questions before you hire anyone to work with you in any aspect of your business. Effective and clear communication is an essential component to having a trusting relationship with your web developer. The time spent understanding the process, pricing, and expectations prior to hiring your web developer is well worth it for the results.
What to Ask a Potential Web Developer
When entering into a relationship with a web developer, there should be clear expectations on both sides. You depend on your potential web developer to provide accurate cost estimates, complete the required work as defined, communicate effectively about progress, update you about changes, and provide deliverables on time without surprises (including any unexplained and unanticipated cost increases). Here are questions to ask before starting this working relationship. These questions are a first step in developing trust between you and the web developer.
- Ask to see the web developer's client list and for 2-3 references from within their client list.
- How does pricing work? How often do you go over your price estimates? Trusted web developers will provide a clear explanation about how they determine costs, and they will create a good faith estimate (not a fixed bid) for the project work. Why not a fixed bid? A fixed bid is inflexible, and can lead to contention over deliverables and desired changes if the scope of the project has to be adjusted. It’s better to start with an estimate, and to have transparency about changes in scope and cost that might occur throughout the project. If you’re working with a fixed budget, prioritize the work required to ensure minimum viable deliverables within the the fixed budget.
- How clear and concise is the statement of work or services agreement? Does it suggest a clear plan for the web development and, define requirements or user stories? Based on their description of the work, how well have they understood your website requirements? If anything seems unclear, then ask more questions and get clarification. A trustworthy web developer will be open to reasonable adjustments to the services agreement before it’s executed.
- Depending upon your business needs or confidentiality requirements, you might need them to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Are they comfortable doing that?
- How transparent are they? Do they have a system for providing visibility into the web project? For example, we use a system called Basecamp as a project communication platform with our clients. This provides complete transparency into what we’re working on, when we’re working, and how close we are to being done.
- Who is actually doing the work? How open is the web developer about who’s actually working on the project? Is it outsourced overseas or is the web developer in house and accessible if conversation is needed? When work is outsourced, the quality of the end result can be affected by communication issues - and there can be an impact on transparency when subcontractors are involved.
- How much trust are they asking you to put into them for the long-term? Will you be able to operate the site on your own after they finish building it? Or do they expect you to completely depend upon them for every edit and update? What would happen if a meteor struck and the web developer was no longer available? Or if you decided to take your business elsewhere?
- Are they using popular and well-supported open source platforms such as Wordpress and Drupal? Or is their development platform or content management system proprietary and only understood only by them?
- What are their expectations of you? How much content and media do they need from you to build the website? How clear is the services agreement about your responsibilities?
- Will they be integrating basic SEO into your website such as a sitemap and structured data? (This is usually a given with established platforms like Drupal and Wordpress).
Whenever you are dealing with something new and unfamiliar in your business, it’s important to ask the right questions before signing a contract and starting the work. Web design and development services are no exception to this rule. Asking plenty of questions and communicating throughout the process will ensure that the web developers you hire will know exactly what you want, and that you’ll understand the project, avoiding surprises in the final deliverables and costs.
Polycot Associates, LLC, is a cooperative web development agency. Our highly experienced team provides comprehensive custom web development and design services for mission-driven businesses and non-profit organizations. To learn more about our website development services, content strategy, conversion consulting, SEO website optimization, and social media integration visit our Services Page.