10 Questions To Ask Your Prospective Web Designer

It can be a daunting task setting up your on-line presence for most. The whole prospect of talking about “domain-name registration”, “hosting services”, “arranging content”, “payment gateways” and “merchant accounts” etc… can seem a totally alien experience for even those initiated with plenty of on-line experience.

So, to help those that are seriously thinking about getting their business hosted on the Internet here are some Top Ten Tips you should be asking a Web Company before you consider taking on their service.

1) “How long have you been in business?”

While there is nothing wrong with going to a one man start up company (we all started somewhere) you may feel safer going with an established company where you can gather testimonials and feel more secure that the company has a history with hosting etc. You don’t want to lose your hard-earned website if the developer decides to close down.

2) “Do you have a portfolio?”

First and foremost you have to see samples of work, without seeing this how do you know the Web Developer can do what you’re asking? Also, make sure these are live sites and that they actually work!

“Do you have any testimonials?”

All good should be able to provide you with testimonials from previous satisfied clients. An established web design company will be happy to provide you with a list of testimonials if requested.

4) “Who works for you and can I meet them?”

You need to know that the company you are hiring can deliver what they claim, ask questions such as “What are your designers histories?” and “How many years of experience do they have in this field?”. While all companies out-source at one point or another you need to be safe in the knowledge that your prospective company has staff on hand to deal with urgent queries etc and do not constantly have to rely on a freelancer. Finally, any company worth their salt will willingly let you go into their office and meet with the designers, beware of companies who refuse…what are they hiding?

5) “What is the process in developing a site?”

You and the web design company have to be clear right from the word go what part each of you have to play in developing the site. At certain points your designer will require content and feedback from yourselves and you have to be aware when this will be required.

6) “What happens if I need changes?”

All websites will need updated at one point or another, find out whether this is included in the price or an additional cost.

7)”What can you do to make my site visible?”

If your web design company also offers Search Engine Optimization and you are considering this service, ask if it’s possible to have a short meeting with the SEO specialist. You’ll know quickly if they are up to scratch and they should also be able to supply you with previous Search Engine reports and show signs of successful SEO results.

8) “Do I own my site at the end?”

You don’t want to go through the process of developing a website only to lose the rights to it if you decide to get hosting from another company after a few months. Ask if its possible to obtain a full copy of your website on completion.

9) “What software/languages do you use?”

You probably don’t really care about the answer to this but it is good for you to know your site will be created using industry standard software etc to allow the files to be worked on at a later date with a different company if needs be. Look for software names such as Adobe Macromedia and try to get developers with more than just basic HTML knowledge such as ASP, PHP – should you wish to upgrade your site to a dynamic site it will comfort you to know that your designer will be able to oblige without you having to go elsewhere.

10) “Do you provide hosting?”

All good web design agencies should be able to set you up with hosting and emails and you shouldn’t feel that you are paying over-the-top for this service. If they say they can’t and you feel the costs are high then be extremely suspicious!

Cheaper Web Design For Your Business – A New Era is Upon Us

And we can wave goodbye to the extortionate prices of the old days. As with anything computer related, web design and online commerce is a fast growing market with new technology coming out all the time. Tasks are becoming easier and quicker with the end products more robust and better looking. As such the old age of needlessly convoluted web development is drawing to a close. Let’s not get too hasty. The requirement for web programmers will always be there. The biggest of the biggest businesses and corporate entities will need expansive web development and back end databases which require a lot of work to build and even more to maintain. However, Jim’s ceramics shop from down the road is not in need of such an extensive website.

Small Business Web Design for the Modern Era

Many of the small businesses I speak to in and around London realise the benefits of operating online. Chances are that your business will gain an advantage in some form by providing an online service; even if it is as simple as saying – where we are, what we do, and how to find us. The Internet is a beautifully integrated medium and nowadays websites such as Yelp and Google Maps can tell us where to shop and make the whole process that little bit easier. This is a vital medium for any business looking to expand, and could very be the defining feature that puts you above your competitors.

But what are the costs involved? Surely it’s an expensive thing to get done?

Should you forgo the standard route and find a web agency to create your site end to end from nothing. You will be told that a budget of at least a couple grand is required. Starting from the drawing board consumes many man hours and requires a lot of hard work. Many of my clients do not require such a process, and I am happy to advise them that this is not the only way. The chances are that if your business needs a website, even with quite specific functionality, someone else has already been in the same boat as you already. There is a wealth of open source applications, widgets and other material that make many of the tasks that would have been time consuming, quick easy and professional.

As a freelance web designer specifically for small businesses, I can provide a different route.

Many of the sites I build take advantage of open source technology, and my savings in time translate to your savings in money. And this is great news for my clients who are happy to still retain the professional build quality that they expect, at a fraction of the price.

Need a Website Developer and Don’t Know Anything About Websites? Lessons Learned

If you’re looking to hire a website developer, do your homework. It’s the Wild West out there, especially if you don’t have any experience with websites and coding like me. I launched a website over a year ago and ended up in a good place but it was a lot of working finding the right developer. Here are some lessons learned.

Know If You Really Need a Developer

Before you hire any developer, first explore the possibility of creating your site on a free platform like Word Press. Word Press has hundreds of different themes (paid and unpaid) that offer numerous design and functionality options. Using a platform like Word Press saves money, offers an online community if you get stuck, as well as more control over your site.

I launched my blog with Word Press but needed more functionality for my website than I could get with Word Press, so decided to hire a developer.

If You Need to Hire a Developer, Know What You Want and Write It Down

Before I looked for any web development firms, I wrote down exactly what I wanted on my website – how I wanted it to look and the functionalities I needed. Don’t freak out but it was a 50-page PowerPoint document. I had a page for each page on my website. OK – I tend to be AR about such things and am a former consultant, so it was in my nature to do it this way.

Having the detail was great for comparing proposals. The risk of having such a detailed proposal was that I wasn’t sure if it closed off my developer from offering other ideas, features I may not have been aware of.

Research Possible Firms and Make a Short List

In looking for a firm, I needed a developer within driving distance of Chicago because I wanted to meet them in person at least once. I felt this would help set a foundation for a good working relationship.

I searched online to compile my initial list of 20 firms. I threw out those who took more than a few days to respond or never responded at all, had a string of complaints on Yelp or who misrepresented who they were on their website; for example, displayed different pages of the same website as different website clients in their portfolio, or projected themselves as a bona fide enterprise when it was a freelancer with a full time job doing websites evenings and weekends (freelancers are great for some work but I needed a firm who would be immediately available if the site crashed or had backup if the developer left).

I ended up with a short list of seven possible developers.

Ask for a Proposal and Prepare for Prices All Over the Map

When it came time to ask for a proposal, I was glad I had prepared such a detailed document to give them. It gave me confidence their prices would reflect the same understanding of what needed to be done.

Some developers, when seeing what I needed, immediately knew they couldn’t do the work and told me so (thank goodness). The rest emailed or called with a few clarifying questions and thanked me for the detail as it made their job so much easier.

I was shocked when the proposals came in. They ranged in price from $5000 to $150,000 for the very same work!! The higher prices mostly came from firms who also have corporate clients. They must have figured my pockets were just as deep as their corporate clients.

Check Their References

After narrowing my list to four possible development firms, I spent considerable time checking their references. I did not ask them for references but rather found names from their online portfolios.

I looked for clients who had websites with similar functionalities to what I wanted but also websites from different-size companies – from the mom and pop shops to larger businesses. (This latter point turned out to be a good thing as I was able to talk to not only others like myself who were launching their dream but also to webmasters, with technical expertise, who were managing the website for an employer. The mom and pops could speak to how well the development firm was at working with people like myself, and the experienced webmasters could speak to their technical expertise.)

Once I had my list of references, I emailed each reference and asked to speak by phone. Everyone agreed.

Here is the questionnaire outline I used during my phone interview:

Reference Questionnaire

Intro:

Hi. Thanks for agreeing to talk.

I have a series of questions I’d like to ask you but just want to start by asking you about your overall satisfaction with [name of website development firm].

Top Priority Questions

Do you feel they delivered on the proposal they offered?

Once your site was operational, did you experience any problems? Navigability? Calls for help from users? Other?

When it came to problems, how was their overall attitude toward fixing the problem and what was the turnaround time?

Once the project was over, how was the general support you received?

How close was the original bid as compared to the final cost?

Are you happy with the experience?

What would you do differently?

What were their greatest strengths and assets?

What were their greatest deficiencies?

What are the “watch outs” you would give people like us looking for a web development company?

If Time

Did they follow your “vision” and put it into action?

How did you feel about overall website design creativity and flexibility throughout the process?

When you call/email, did you typically get to talk to the person you needed to talk too?

Were they professional?

Did you get the sense that they were building a lasting relationship with you or just getting a project done?

Checking the references was an invaluable part of the process. I ended with a clear first choice whom I eventually hired.

Find Out How Much Control You’ll Have Over the Back-end

It’s been a year now of working with this firm and I’ve been happy. They’re professional, delivered as promised for the price they quoted and good to work with.

The one step I would have added if I had known better at the time was to find out how much I would be able to do on the site myself. I’m able to make simple content changes directly but not any changes that require coding.

This past year, I learned just enough HTML to make simple improvements but because my web developer has control over most of the back end, I can’t make those changes directly. Instead I need to pay development time which has been the only frustrating part of the process. There are definitely things I would want my developer to do but some of the little things, like putting a line of code into the header, are things I would like to do myself.

These are my lessons learned. Are you a non-techy who’s worked with a developer? What lessons do you have to share?