You hit the target with this. What a useful, engaging, and humorous article. There's something for everyone here. This article gets a million stars in the sky, a zillion points of light, and a hole in one. Nicely done.
“Bouncing off the walls” is a good description of the stress levels I experienced when I first worked with a website developer. Two years later and being older and wiser, I recently had a total reworking of my site and the experience was like a Caribbean cruise by comparison. There are a lot of excellent articles by developers here on Biznik but this article is from the client’s side of the fence. Here, I am going to share with you the steps to successfully choosing a good website developer which in my opinion is critical for ending up with a good website and staying sane.
Steps to choosing a website designer and developer.....What? There’s a difference?
The designer is the artistic side of the team that creates the graphical elements of the site. The developer is the unashamedly self-proclaimed website-addicted-nerd who does all the code writing and makes the whole thing integrate and work seamlessly. If both the designer and developer work well together, you’ll end up with a good website that meets your specific needs.
Good sites take time, so be patient. Also, if you don’t know what you want in your new website before getting into the whole development process, then most likely you will end up with something you don’t like, plus be a few thousand dollars lighter (but that’s a whole other article).
Learn more about the author, Conor MacEvilly.
You hit the target with this. What a useful, engaging, and humorous article. There's something for everyone here. This article gets a million stars in the sky, a zillion points of light, and a hole in one. Nicely done.
Russell: Thanks for accolades. Finally, a hole in one!
Thanks Barbara: just a wee disclaimer that the link in your comment is not actually my site but does match the keyword phrase I use in my Biznik profile to link to my site. I'm honor bound by Biznik rules to not sneak in a link to my site but doesn't say you can't. Kudos for trying!
Great article, Connor! Very informative and concise. Well done - you'd never know it was your first article. Looking forward to more.
Connor, the article is grand, delightful and very informative. I look forward to reading more from you.
Thanks Fred, Molly and Marie.
Conor-- Your blend of solid information, witty descriptions and playful Irish humor make this article a hit! Very informative and not at all painful for us non-techies to follow. And proof is in the results...amazing webpage, chock full of information, widgets, blog, twitter, etc: http://www.mynorthseattlehome.com/seattle-neighborhoods/
Great article AND results, Conor!
I can't argue with that Maureen. Thanks for the compliments.
Now where's all those developers?
Hey Conor, great article, as I would expect, even for your first one. I love your humor, candor and the sharing of your experience with us.
When I was doing sites, not claiming to be a developer, but more of a designer, these tips you have given really make sense. I think what's most important is the understanding between both parties and what's expected and delivered. And as I focus more on training, the instances where I end up talking with someone who has had a bad experience with a developer, arise more and more. But what I have found out is that it's not always the developers fault, it can be two-way. So again, you have listed some good guidelines for both parties to pay attention to : )
But I must admit I do have an awesome developer that I recommend, and since he left Seattle to move to Utah, #3 isn't possible. But anyone who has used him has loved his work.
Site looks great, see that Justin Parra here on Biznik did it, and have to ask if it's a WordPress site or another CSM platform?
Now let's see if some developer comes in and raises hell ; )
Seriously great practical tips, hilarious title! Apparently you could also write an article about writing irresistible titles!
And if I'm hearing you correctly, beer is not helpful in the developer-choosing process?
Yes, I agree with Bob that the problems that arise often aren't the developers' fault. One problem I see arising is that the people hiring the web developer often have no idea what they need. They don't understand the functionality that will be required, they don't understand how much design work they want or need (I saw one person pay $700 for a "website" and what she got was a free wordpress template without even a customized header). And they don't understand the difference between a site they can update themselves and one they can't.
I guess a good web developer asks LOTS of questions so that they can understand what the client wants and needs, and so that there are no misunderstandings.
@Bob- Thanks Bob! Conor and I had a fun time building the site. We developed it as a custom WordPress site and then we integrated the IDXNW API in order to build the real estate search widgets and interactive search map.
Hey Bob and Kate: I completely and whole heartedly agree with you that it takes two to to play and some times it's the client who's to blame for the chaos. As I intimated in the ending paragraph, the onus is on the client to know what they want before even looking for a developer. I was going to include that stuff but the article would have rivaled War n Peace in length (just came up with the title for my next article!). Kate: funny you should mention the title. Last week I read a great post on Bloggers for Bloggers (kudos to Bob and friends) about spending 25% of the time you spend writing an article solely contemplating an attention grabbing title.
Justin: thanks for answering Bob's platform question and nice work Sir!
...that should be "For Bloggers by Bloggers". Still kudos to Bob and friends though!
Great points Connor - can't agree with the meeting in person recommendation enough.
Boy o boy, did you hit a sore nail on the head. I'll bet everyone over the age of 25 has many tales of horror. I've certainly got mine.
Your article provides some great guidelines and thank you for that.
The conclusion I finally came to, though, after making more mistakes than I can count, was that I had to indeed make those many mistakes before I could even figure out what questions to ask.
I guess it takes what it takes, but I wish I had had a bread-crumb path to follow when I was "coming up..." Great guidlines.
Great list, Conor. Thanks.
One thing I'd add...timeline. How long will the project take? Does the designer include milestones and how are milestones hit? And what's the consequence of the designer not hitting milestones?
And gosh, be sure to ask references what the communication frequency was like and whether the designer delivered on time or not. So many web projects drag on and on. I've solved that in my own business but I don't know many people who work like I do.
The other thing to ask about: scalability. How will the site scale as you add content, want new features, need to add new functionality, add new offers, etc. Discuss this beforehand and make sure it's accounted for throughout the site's development process.
Really important distinction. Most clients don't know what they need nor do they have realistic expectations of what should be delivered at what price.
It's really important that you communicate clearly and at length with your developer so that they have a better idea of what you're thinking. That way you can discuss realistic expectations on cost, functionality, etc.
As for the breadth in pricing, not all of us do the same type of work. For instance, my clients get marketing and business coaching along with even my most basic package. So while installing WordPress and a free theme may not warrant $700 (I don't think it does), if there were other services included it may. This is what makes comparison difficult. I deal with this every day because there simply aren't that many web designers/WordPress geeks who have solid marketing/business development skills. I do. So I teach/coach/training alongside developing and design their website.
Good article. How many stories you hear of web developers not completing the jobs they are paid to do. I have had a developer tell me once he did not want my business anyway but only after he took my deposit and the development was not as easy as he thought.
Luckily I found a company specifically aimed at small business who understand not every person understands graphics or HTML. Thanks Sitesuite.
Great article Conor, I have been building my own site through word-press now for several months. While I do plan to eventually have it "fine tuned" once I believe the site is ready, part of the uncertainty I am dealing with is how to find a site developer who is not out just to get my money but will genuinely embrace my vision for the site and make it happen. Are my expectations too high? I agree with Bob, in any business arrangements both parties should be sure they explain their expectations to each other. As the professional, the developer should not make promises they can not keep. As for the client's, they should not expect anything they did not specify in the original agreement. Clarity from both parties will avoid lots of disappointment in the end. My favorite experiences have been when I expect a certain result but the other party over delivers. I try to implement this with everyone I work with. Under promise , over deliver. No one will ever hate you for that.
Thank you for this article. I love the client perpective. As much as I try to convey to prospects what they should be looking for, it's hard to get past the "biased opinion" hurdle. It's refreshing to see my recommendations are in line with website clients concerns. Dawud's points on timeline and scalability are pretty important too. On timeline, I have to add some times the client become the obstacle to wrapping up. Being prepared to work with the designer/developer is the best way to keep the timeline in check. Things like: having the content ready (copy, media, links, username and passwords of third-party services, etc...) and reviewing the work in a timely fashion go a long way.
Thanks for the comments everyone.
Susan: agreed...the advantage of screwing up the first time is that you know you're doing it right the second time. Every cloud has a silver lining!
Kevin, good to hear from all the way from Sidney. Is Biznik in Oz? Did you get your deposit back?
Juan: on-line reviews are good but you'll get a lot more juicy info by talking to past customers directly
Dawud and Nando: agreed, pre-agreed timelines are important to keep everyone focused then again. And yes, I must admit I was suddenly caught off guard when I had to start producing content to fill the site, start writng blog post etc before launch. Fortunately, I was transferring most of the content from my prior site otherwise would have been a mad scramble.
Daniel: great points and good choice going with WordPress. I would have liked to have tried and made my own site too but generally too busy working plus the site required a lot design work and I'm no Picasso. Good to have high expectations. Once bitten, twice shy, so I was fussy when picking a developer and spent about 3 months screening. Justin and Jason at Creation-1 did a great job. One of the reasons I went with them was because they have a diverse portfolio and I knew (at least hoped) that they would be able to grasp my slightly odd ball site concept....I wanted to avoid the usual jaded Realtor website at all costs....you know the ones where a head shot of the agent takes up 50% of the homepage and the remaining 50% is taken up with them telling you how fabulous they are.
This is a great point. Because there's nothing consistent with how web designers work, it needs to be made clear what they do, what the client does, what gets farmed out and - most importantly - when those deliverables are due. Certainly there can be some flux time in there as a project matures. Yet it's so important that all parties on a project know the timelines for their bits.
Hey Dawud, you must get this all the time but with your last name being "Miracle" there must be a lot of pressure on you to deliver! ;)
Connor, congrats on your first Biznik article being a huge hit! You nailed it. And congrats too on your great new site. Justin did a lovely job of creating a uniquely FUN and "you" site. Didn't you two meet at a Capitol Hill Walk & Talk?! Another great advantage of Biznik is being able to meet prospective providers in non-interview settings so you can get a feel for them in the real world.
Dawud hit it on the head when talking about how hard it is to make comparisons. I too offer a marketing perspective to the work I do. And while I do not train my clients to build a custom website in WordPress (not good use of their time) I do teach them how to maintain their site. I live with one foot in the design world and one in the geek world ("dev-signer"). So I'm able to offer a unique one-stop service. Your site needs to look great, reflect and help you achieve your mission AND function well both in front and behind the scenes.
As several have mentioned, it's all about the communication and relationship. When you're checking out possible people to work with, see how long they've retained their clients. I strive to build a successful long-term relationship with my clients. Not everyone wants this, but my clients appreciate knowing I'm there for them down the road.
I will say that while a face-to-face is nice, it's not necessary in this day and age. I have clients all over the country and with email, phone AND Skype... it's not a big deal if we can't be in the same room.
And yes, you should definitely know what you're getting for your money and if there are any hidden costs or limitations. I work with a flat fee structure. So my clients never have added fees for any number of changes.
Looking forward to seeing you at the next Sit-n-Schmooze.
There is. But having lived 40 years with the name, I'm pretty used to it by now. Interestingly enough, I do turn websites into WordPress - sort of like water into wine.
Well put, Sheila. The whole point of a successful relationship begins with communication. And as service providers it's relationships that keep us in business. No one is served when we don't communicate well.
And I want to mention as well, the only time in the past 10 years I've been face-to-face with a client is when I moved from Ann Arbor to Boulder (last Oct) and have now met a number of my clients who are along the Front Range. I haven't worked with someone locally in forever. In fact, about 25% of my clients are either in the UK or Australia. I've got this odd following in Perth.
Anyhow, with all the ways we can touch each other, there's little need - if any - to be in person. It's nice, sure. But not necessary.
Good advice for those seeking a website. As a designer/developer, I try to be flexible with my clients. Your insights are spot on, except for the one about meeting face to face. I have clients all over the place, face to face won't work, although Skype is a good alternative. Thanks for a good read!
Really appreciate you sharing your experience. I happen to be a web site designer & developer (gasp)...they can be one in the same:) But if you're looking for some jabs from the other corner of the ring, you won't get one from me. I agree with most of your comments and I think my favorite is "Avoid website factories!" The best sites are unique - as is true with all marketing. We here at BlackDot Agency develop a personal relationship with our clients that causes us to be almost as invested in their business as they are. I think it comes down to working with good people. Thanks for your perspective.
Ditto on Skype. Did you know one can share the screen on Skype? Great for going over mindmaps, wireframes, etc...
hey Shelia, thanks for the thumbs up! You are correct, I bumped into Justin at one of your biznik and then a week later at a biznik "drinking event". Even so, I still met him for coffee and bombarded him with 50 questions.
Dawud: I spent a Christmas in Perth a few years ago (my brother lives there) and compared to other Australians they are a little odd so might explain your Perth following.
Pam and Sheila...I'm just old fashioned and figured I wanted to support a local developer since I had benefited from so many Biznik freebies. Once the project was up and running we discussed drafts on skype and yes Nando, you can do a shared screen on skype
Thanks Christen...I'm was expecting to be savaged by some developer comments but so far so good!
@Conor: So, I'm odd huh? Just kidding. I get that people in Melbourne and Syndey would know my work. It's just Perth is so far away from either. Certainly no complaints. I love the folks I've worked with from Perth...and elsewhere, truthfully. I always feel fortunate that I actually like my clients.
Great points. Owning a design firm for over 15 years now I've kind of become an advocate for client education. Since being a, "web designer" is one of those things that doesn't actually require a degree of some sort, there's many in the field that frankly are terrible - either from a design standpoint, a business/work ethic standpoint, or both!
I admit I haven't read everyone else's comments so some of these points might have been brought up, but I disagree with #3. Successful client/designer relationships can most certainly happen remotely. You do NOT have to ever physically meet them or be in the same room if they're a professional, experienced designer who has their act together. We've worked with companies as large as MTV and never once set foot in their office (although the invite still stands if we're ever in NYC!). We've also worked with a ton of small businesses and individuals on successful design projects where no physical, "face time" ever took place. So guiding people to think that you must have that face-time I think is off base and uniformed.
On #7 - detailed quote for sure - but definitely get a legal contract as well. Any designer that just has you sign the estimate isn't a pro in my book. You can be a fantastic, rock star designer, but if you're missing out on basic professional business elements like having clients sign a legally binding contract (created by an actual lawyer) then you're seriously lagging in the business end - which to me, also calls into question other aspects of how you might work (ex: How do you handle revision requests or scope changes? How about meetings - phone or in-person? etc.)
Great article, Conor! I develop websites and this pretty well covers the gamut of concerns.
I agree that local is best, but Skype is a close second.
The one comment I would make is that I would highly recommend a developer that uses a CMS like Wordpress, Drupal, or Joomla because you will get MUCH better results for the money. These are open source platforms with tons of developers, so I don't think they are overly proprietary. It is good to know what platform they use though.
Your point is spot on that clients need to be informed before they start shelling the dough. I just met with someone who's company spent over $100,000 on a useless website because they didn't really know what they wanted, other than a website with their logo and a couple blurbs.
I am inspired to better inform my own clients before accepting any payments!
Great article! As a designer and developer myself, I would agree with your comments, those are excellent points for anyone looking for a new site. As many have expressed in the comments, Wordpress is a great option for a CMS. I love it mostly because of it's user-friendly features for my clients. There are a bunch of really great and powerful CMS's out there that developers love, but it's really useless if your client can't manage their own site after it's setup! Wordpress gives you the best of both worlds, better than any other CMS out there, in my opinion.
Glad you received a great site in the end, and thanks for sharing what you learned with everyone! I find that I hear many of these complaints expressed by my new clients about their previous designer/developer so I work hard to educate them on the whole process and ask tons of questions to find out exactly what they're looking for in the beginning. Education and communication are key, and it sounds like you found a great working relationship with those 2 things.
Thanks again for sharing!
Shannon, thanks for pointing out the client-side usability of WordPress as a major reason to use it.
You're welcome Nando! It's really the most important reason to choose a particular CMS in my opinion. As a developer, you can learn to work with just about any system, but your client's ease of use is most important in the end.
Hi Sherry, thanks for your feedback. As with the other developers, they are in agreement with remote clients works fine (skype etc) but after I got burned the first time I wasn't taking any risks. I consider myself a really good judge of people and hence my one on one screening. After the initial meeting, I was fine with skype, email, phone etc. Agreed, a contract is important. For the first site I bought a site, they told me that I didn't own the copyright to it and that I would have to pay them some more cash for that privilege!
Aaron and Shannon: Yikes, $100,000 for a logo and a lame site. And definitely, end user, i.e. client, ease of use for content management was my top priority when I had my site redone and that's why I choose WordPress. For my old site I was way too reliant on the developer to change anything which adds up dollar wise in a hurry.
Conor, Thanks for pointing out that web designers and web developers are two different people. I am a developer but I outsource all my graphic design to a freelancer.
I would just also point out that there are some folks out there who straddle both pretty effectively. It's the ones who SAY they do both even though they're really only good at one of them that you have to watch out for :-).
I liked your checklist of things to do to vet the firm before giving them a check. I would also find out about their hosting recommendations, especially if you are going to use a CMS such as WordPress or Drupal. I had a client who insisted on hosting with an unknown (i.e. cheap) outfit and then was unhappy when I couldn't troubleshoot his problems for him (even though this situation was covered in my contract).
All in all, good article, it's always important for us on the development side to see the client's side of things.
Good article Connor.
But lets not end it here. We need to distinguish the purpose of the WEB site firstly. Is the site to simply have a WEB presence, for informational purposes, to generate leads, or a combination of some or all? The first step is to decide the very reason WHY you must have a web site. - Web presence. So people can see your company exists beyond a business card. - Web information. A reference site of unbiased information so people can make informed decisions about your companies product/s or service/s. - Web leads. A site dedicated to generating leads. - Web site that offers some or all of the above.
Next to talk to other companies who have a web presence for the same desired purpose as you wish to have one. They will be a wealth of information. Interview at least 6 companies with exisiting web sites that have the same goal you have in mind.
Keep a pad handy to jot down keywords (glossary of terms) during your telephone interview so you can do some online research based on the information you have gathered. Search the blogs as you will find both biased and unbiased information. Read between the lines.
Be weary of developers who post their own kudos in blogs etc.. Any developer/designer worth their money doesn't do this. Their own customers will refer them at will. Any good developer/designer will use the white glove approach vs gray or black.
I could write a book on the subject but this will get anyone interested in having a web site designed and developed pointed in the right direction to gather enough back ground knowledge to make a more informed decision. Keyword here is INFORMED DECISION.
Remember this; If someone is looking for a product or service and they know exactly what they want your web site has less than 5 seconds to deliver the goods.
If someone is looking for information to make a purchase for a product or service your web site still has less than 5 seconds to deliver the goods.
If someone has purchased your product or service have them refer you on any social network they belong to, . . worth a lot more than an actual referred customer.
If any company tells you they can get you on the first ten within 6 months or less, . hang up.
Hope this helps you all, . .
hey Lisa, good point re the host the site will be located with. I have to confess that my site is hosted with a certain company that uses busty and tight shirted women and female race car drivers to woo the unsuspecting (not that that was the reason I chose them of course!). I'm sure you can guess whom I'm referring to. I will probably relocated to a less crowed host in the near future. I was already on that host with my old site and wasn't exactly my developer's first choice. On the upside, if you complain they will move you to a less crowed server.
hey Frank, thanks for the suggestions. I agree, the purpose of the site should be the major priority and decided well in advance of getting to the development stage. Also, not everyone needs a website...a facebook account could be good enough for some businesses. Funny you should mention "informed decisions". The tag line on my site is "Realize your vision with informed decisions". Pretty much applies to most things in life