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Find Web Developers

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?

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