As mentioned in our previous article Business Websites: 8 Myths, we’re back with 14 questions to ask your web developer before hiring them.
Having a website built or brought up to date is an excellent investment for your business. Understandably, you want to make sure you find the right developer for the job.
You don’t want somebody who is going to simply “get it done”… You want to make sure you can effectively work together and that you’re both on the same page so there are no surprises on either side.
Like any other project that involves working with others, effective communication is crucial in helping things go smoothly. It starts with the initial call.
Determining the right fit
While you’re not “interviewing” potential developers or agencies, these questions are to help you prepare for your initial conversation with them – and help determine fit.
What do we mean by fit?
We mean finding a good match to each others:
- Communication style
- Willingness to work together
- Values / goals
The developer or agency will also be looking to determine fit on their end, but this is a good thing! You don’t want to end up having to find another developer halfway through the project because you weren’t their ideal client. Don’t take it personally. It’s better for both parties to find out beforehand.
1. Do you have a website?
This isn’t a silly question. Perhaps someone referred you to a developer friend or an agency they’ve hired previously. You already know their name and a way to get in touch, but you’d like to do some research on them before the initial conversation.
While you’re there looking through their website, take a look at their own design. Do they drink their own champagne (i.e. use their own work, follow their own practices etc.)? Is it up to date? Easy to navigate?
That isn’t to say rule them out if someone else built the site or it’s built through a service like Behance or Dribbble… However, if it’s a site they built themselves it should be an example of their best quality work.
2. Do you have a portfolio I can review?
A developer or agency’s portfolio is a crucial part of the decision making process. Most developers and agencies have a portfolio of previous work on their website. Taking a careful look through this will allow you to see the quality of their work they’ve done for other clients and where their strengths are.
If they don’t have a portfolio or website, ask them for examples of previous work you can take a look at. They’re likely to have something they can share, whether it’s links to client websites or some screenshots of the design / process.
As you go through their work, take note of your favourite designs or elements to use as reference when explaining what you’re looking for later.
3. Can you review my current site?
If you already have a website, it’s a good idea to have your potential developer take a look at it. Listening to their feedback is a great way to get to know them – their ideas, process, and understanding of your goals. Keep in mind they might notice weaknesses you don’t as they have an objective point of view. They aren’t as close to your business or website as you are. This is a good thing. On the other hand, if they try and talk you into getting all the bells and whistles – ask for a second opinion before signing anything!
Within this question, is another one – do I even need a new website?
Upon review, they might tell you there’s no need and recommend making some changes to the current one.
With that said, there can be a number of reasons your potential developer can’t work with your or your previous developer’s files:
- They can’t get proper access
- Broken, disorganized, or not well-documented code
- They don’t work in the same coding language
- They don’t work with the same content management system (WordPress, SquareSpace etc.)
Sometimes it simply isn’t worth working on your current site as the time it would take to fix it would cost more than starting fresh.
4. What is your process?
Your potential developer or agency will likely send over a document or proposal that outlines this, but if you want to know how they work ahead of time, ask them about their process. It’s unlikely your developer will be able to produce an ideal website for your business simply by letting them know your business name and what you do. If they can it’s not going to be very good.
Every developer or agency’s process is going to look different. As an example they might:
- Listen to your needs and ask questions about what you are looking for
- Define the problem you are trying to solve together
- Gather information on your business goals, who your customers are, previous marketing endeavours, etc.
- Go over everything they gathered and start drafting ideas
- Present the ideas and drafts
- Develop them
- Present them again
- Improve upon them based on feedback (revisions)
- Deliver the product
They will typically include a scope of work in their proposal that outlines everything, including a timeline for each. Some will break the steps into milestones and ask each milestone to be paid upfront. Others will require a 50% deposit upfront. Some request to be paid hourly. It depends on how they work, but it’s good to know beforehand which brings us to our next point.
5. How many revisions are included?
It happens. You love what your developer presented to you. However, you can’t stand the way the navigation bar looks or a shade of blue is slightly off.
In between milestones is a great time to offer constructive feedback. That’s typically why your developer will present a draft or “wireframe” for your approval. It’s a great way to make sure you’re on the same page. Don’t be shy, no matter how small the feedback. In fact, just go ahead make a list so they can tackle it all at once.
Now you might be wondering what happens if they deliver the website and you aren’t happy or you want to add something else?
It’s good to know ahead of time the number of revisions included in the cost of your website. Most developers include at least one after presenting your website, before they deliver, to make sure no details were missed. It happens though – maybe you think of something you forgot, you have second thoughts, or something comes to mind that you think might improve it on second glance. Therefore, it’s good to check ahead of time if you think you’ll go over!
In the event you want to add something else at the end or in the middle of the process – if it’s a large enough request or multiple small ones, it might become part of a new contract to prevent “scope creep.” Not only would this affect the cost, but it may also affect the timeline, so it’s good to make sure you’ve thought out all of your goals and ideas beforehand.
6. What is the typical timeline?
Rome wasn’t built in a day. In fact, with continuing construction and maintenance it’s still an ongoing project – much like your website.
That said, while it certainly won’t take that long for your website to be up and running, the creative process does take time.
The answer to this will vary depending on the developer, their workload, and the complexity of the website, but it’s a great question to ask so that there are no surprises on either side.
If there’s a certain date you’d like to meet, like having your site up before a sale or event, make sure to plan ahead and let your potential developer know. If the deadline is too tight for their workload, you might not be the right fit for each other at that time. Certainly something that’s better to find out beforehand!
There’s no such thing as a website that is truly free. Much like most other products and services, you don’t necessarily want to go with someone who’s offering a “bargain” either. This typically leads to an unpleasant experience, rushed work, asking for extra fees for every little thing, and having to pay someone else to fix it later.
Think of a website as an investment. There are many benefits a website can bring to a business, but if the owner isn’t willing to pay professional rates, they likely don’t know what those benefits are (and there are many). So then they need to revisit the reason they want a website in the first place. Is it simply a trendy thing to do? Or do they want to help their potential customers learn about their business and what they offer?
With that in mind, you absolutely want to make sure you know what you’re paying for, that you’re not paying for those aforementioned bells and whistles, and that it’s within your budget and comfort zone.
If you’re just starting out and your dream website is out of the budget now, perhaps you and your developer can break the project up into smaller pieces. That way you have something sooner and can focus on adding more later if necessary.
8. Who will be my main point of contact?
Effective communication is important in helping things go smoothly – it’s also important in keeping the ball rolling. It’s good to know who your point of contact will be throughout the project in order to reduce friction. That way you’re sending information and questions to the right place, avoiding overlap or delays.
It’s helpful to appoint one on your staff as well if you don’t have the time to collect information and answer questions yourself. By appointing one person it prevents overlap on the developer’s side as well when working in a team environment.
9. What will you need from me to get started?
Nobody knows your business like you. Your potential developer may need things like copy for your product descriptions or about page, images, logos, your branding guideline (if you have one), etc.
Ask them for a detailed list of what they need so that you can put it together for them and send it over. This will help the process go smoothly.
10. Which other services do you offer?
Don’t have copy and don’t feel like writing it? No logo or design experience? Not every developer offers other services, but some might have a skill in marketing or design that’s complementary to web development. Agencies typically have multitalented teams that allow them to offer these services as well.
This will help you determine whether or not you may need to hire a copywriter or graphic designer in addition to a developer. Bonus if your developer can tackle a few items!
11. Can you teach me how to update? (If this is one of your needs)
If one of your goals is to have a blog or store on your website this is a great question to ask in order to ensure the right fit. There are many content management systems (CMSs) out there that allow non-developers to edit and update pages as well as manage their blog or store. Not only do you want to make sure that the CMS they work with is user friendly, but you want to make sure they have the ability to teach you how to use it as well.
If you aren’t familiar with CMSs – they allow users to access and make changes to a website without having to learn or touch code. Users can create posts and make updates using the interface. There are limits to what a non-developer can do but that varies from site to site.
If your website doesn’t use a CMS it’s unlikely your developer is going to be able to teach you to update it. It would be like trying to learn a new language. With any language, it takes a while to learn even the basics. Not to say you aren’t capable, but it’s likely you’d rather focus on your business and let someone else handle the maintenance in this case.
Not everyone needs or wants to update their own site, so don’t shy away from having one built based on this question if that’s not for you!
12. Do you work with custom code?
Some developers don’t touch any code. They use a content management system (CMS) instead to customize a theme and meet your needs. Some build a custom website or theme to be used with a CMS and use code to do so. Others build from scratch (completely code, no CMS)
There is no right or wrong way. This question is only important to know because certain themes or CMSs have limitations. If you have specific features you need – like integrating with your preferred payment processor — you’ll want to make sure that’s possible beforehand.
Think of the different features you want on your website and make a list of them ahead of time. Do you want your visitors to be able to book an appointment? Make payments? Chat with someone? Comment on your blog posts? Run a shop?
Write it down and let your developer know. They may have some recommendations as well.
13. Which content management systems do you work with?
As mentioned above, create a list of features ahead of time. This will help determine which CMS, if any, best suits your website. Some developers work with multiple, while some specialize in one.
It’s also important to know if:
- it’s user friendly
- there are any pay-walls that are going to get in the way
- it’s out of date
14. What support do your offer after the site is developed?
The initial investment paid in order to have the website built isn’t going to cover maintenance fees for the remainder of your developer’s career. There’s no guarantee something won’t break or you won’t get stuck trying to figure something out if you are working in the CMS.
The long and short of it is – all websites are going to need maintenance.
Knowing ahead of time what kind of support your developer offers will prevent any surprises on either end.
This comes in many forms depending on the developer and how they work, but it’s definitely something you want to plan ahead in order to make sure it works for you in terms of availability and cost.
Just as every business is unique, so is every developer. Communication style, budget, timelines, willingness to work together, and values are going to vary, but being specific and asking questions will help you pick the right one for your project.
Have questions? Get in touch with us here.
Here’s the list of questions for you all in one place:
- Do you have a website?
- Do you have a portfolio I can review?
- Can you review my current site?
- What is your process?
- How many revisions are included?
- What is your typical timeline?
- Who will be my main point of contact?
- What will you need from me to get started?
- Which other services do you offer?
- Can you teach me to update? (If this is one of your needs)
- Do you work with custom code?
- Which content management systems do you work with?
- What support do you offer after the site is developed?