Web developers and web development firms seem to be a dime a dozen. There’s very low-cost firms, very high-cost firms, and everything in the middle. What information you may have prior to deciding who to choose may be what you see on their website and what examples you see of other sites that were created. Picking the right web developer is a crucial part of your marketing strategy. The Importance of A Good Website is a great read and will give you some input on what’s actually important, and what’s not, for web development. If you work with the right web developer, you’ll have far more engagement and it’ll be with your best customers.
This article is designed to help you select the right web developer. This article was inspired by Nicole Zokan Cendrowski, a long time business connection of mine. She wrote an article, ‘7 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Web Development Firm‘ and I liked it a lot. I will be using her article for inspiration though much of this content is my own. Though she and I have agreed on many fronts, this article states my opinions and hers states her own. I encourage you to read hers and get her input on this process.
Nicole is the Director of Engagement for A-Line Interactive, web development and marketing communications firm in South Carolina. Nicole is also the co-founder of Fireforge Crafted Beer, a start-up brewery which is opening within a few months of today’s date!
How To Pick The Right Web Developer
As Nicole points out, asking yourself internal questions as well helps significantly in the process. If you don’t have realistic expectations and budget, the project will fail before it is started. If your web developer doesn’t share the same values as you, you may have difficulty in working with them. Always be open to input, though. Web developers are experts in their field while you are an expert in yours if your expectations are unrealistic because you don’t know what you don’t know, be receptive to their input and experience. Do, however, make sure that they communicate that clearly, and with respect. Enough chat, let’s dive in and learn how to pick the right web developer!
What are your brand identity and goals?
How much have you really thought about your brand’s identity? What do your customers say about your company when you are not in the room? Don’t just think about your products, think about what they really mean to you, and what you want them to mean to your clients. What unique values does your organization have? What about community involvement? Do you have goals set for your brand? The more information you have thought about, the more info you can give your potential web developers. This will help them better strategize and provide you with a more clear outline of what they intend to do for you. Sometimes folks come to me with very little idea, and that’s OK, as long as they’re open-minded to me having so much input on their branding.
When clients come to us with firm ideas and goals, we can more successfully cater to help accomplish those exact goals. Keep in mind, open-mindedness from the client is a must in any situation. Remember, we’re experts at what we do and our experience is very helpful to your brand. We really on you as the subject matter expert to tell us what we need to know to ensure that collaborative success. If you need help determining your brand identity and your goals, we can help with that so you can think about it and strategize, before we move into the phase of creating a strategy. I’m certain Nicole’s team, like many others, will accommodate this too. Before you select a web developer, find out about their experiences in branding and their opinions on yours. The right web developer for you can comfortably talk about these things, and they should be able to do it well and with confidence.
Do you know your target market?
A target market is key to ensuring successful ROI on your strategies. When catering your content to your target audience, you are 13 times more likely to achieve a positive return on investment. All of our strategy creations, designs, training, etc start with target market identification because we believe in the value. Some businesses know their target market, others have been focusing on the wrong one (based on their profit margins). Some have never thought about it. Regardless, you need to have a discussion with your web developer on getting your content in front of the right audience. If you know existing metrics, please oh please tell us! Where are your customers coming from? Give us access to your analytics tools.
The more you can tell us from your perspective what you think works and what doesn’t, it’ll help guide us as to where to look when we’re gauging your existing web presence. Your target market should be determined and discussed on your website is published. If you have a site and are determining what that target market is, or maybe restructuring your business (which may mean your target market changes), look into this sooner rather than later. It’s never too early to readjust your marketing strategies but it can always be too late. To find the right web developer, dig into a conversation with them about the target market. The right web developer should be honest with you about your target market. Even if their skill sets aren’t in helping you find it, they’ll understand the basics about getting those metrics and putting you in front of the right audience. The right web developer should also be very comfortable in talking about the content marketing portion of this, as well.
How do you communicate?
It’s important to know how you communicate because the right web developer will communicate with you in the same style. Some developers are more collaborative and communicate more. Some are very independent and come back around when the project is done. Your preferences and theirs should be somewhat in line or I anticipate you’ll have communication issues. I prefer a collaborative approach and like high levels of communication. Some people just don’t feel the same way and we don’t ‘fit’ in that way. That’s OK. Before you decide on a web developer, talk to them. See if they’re good at communicating in your style. Are they OK always emailing you back? Will they do phone calls? Are they open to your Skype requests? Make sure you are in sync and that you feel comfortable in their ability to communicate with you and vice versa.
Not just profit, or is it?
Your website’s primary goal is to be your best sale agent, working 24/7. It should be able to increase your revenue and by attracting sales from your target market, increase your repeat business. The latter improves your ROI and lowers your cost of acquisition long-term. If you have goals for your website that aren’t just about making more money, you should put thought into this and discuss it with your web developer. Maybe you want ways to drum up engagement on your social media channels? Maybe you want to draw awareness to an organization/cause as well. Good business isn’t always about income. Nicole and I are both huge fans of education and giving people the tools they need to improve their results. Think about what you really want from your website outside of profits to help towards selecting the right web developer.
Your website’s primary goal is to be your best sale agent, working 24/7. It should be able to increase your revenue and by attracting sales from your target market, increase your repeat business. The latter improves your ROI and lowers your cost of acquisition long-term. If you have goals for your website that aren’t just about making more money, you should put thought into this and discuss it with your web developer. Maybe you want ways to drum up engagement on your social media channels? Maybe you want to draw awareness to an organization/cause as well. Good business isn’t always about income. Nicole and I are both huge fans of education and giving people the tools they need to improve their results.
Will you have access to changes?
I am personally a big fan of providing a content management system for the client because it allows you to make what changes make sense based on your business model. If you have weekly food specials or your blog, you don’t want to wait for someone to do this for you and have to pay them to do it. What if your developer gets hit by the proverbial bus, what then? You need to be able to access your site because it’s yours. If you change something significant and break something, there’s going to be a cost to fix it, but a basic change that’s normal for your regular processes should be able to be easily done by you.
Having something you can’t EVER change can affect your budget much more in the long-run. I often ask “how often do you think you’ll…” type questions to find out what your opinion is on how you envision changes to your website. Generally, unless the answer is “never” I’ll encourage the idea of having access under the hood. Just because you don’t make changes now doesn’t mean you won’t when business picks up. We may suggest a strategy that would behoove you to make certain edits to your site. You should be blogging anyway and that alone is worth you being able to put those blogs in yourself.
How are results measured?
Google Analytics is popular and quite common. There are a lot of strategies to search engine marketing. Much of this starts with a budget. There are firms that facilitate your SEO needs monthly for a recurring fee and then there are options of content focus with organic SEO to deliver slower results, but more pointed and less costly. There’s a lot of conversation that can occur regarding the different digital marketing techniques that are out there. The budget will play a big part but the conversation still needs to be had.
Every business owner should be able to access Google Analytics and at least have a basic idea of what they’re looking at. How are you and the right web developer going to determine results? What is there opinion on digital marketing? What is yours? This conversation needs to happen early before you get a website up and then you’re trying to figure out whose responsibility it is. It’s OK to have a third party firm manage this. It’s OK to have your web developer handle this. It’s OK to handle it yourself if you know how to do it. It’s not OK to have no plan, or not discuss it at all.
Do you have a budget? How about two budgets?
Before you spend too much time with a web developer, discuss what your budget is. Budget isn’t mutually exclusive to money, either. How much time are you willing to devote to the collaboration of the project? Projects take time, money, energy, ideas. You may be asked to devote these to the project. The more you are willing to give, the more successful the project generally is but each web developer is different. Some may ask you to devote little time, others much. Some may be very low energy as they like to control all the ideas and design, others may want a very high-level partnership. Think ahead of time about how much you want to devote, or perhaps how little, and discuss this with your web developer.
I always recommend having multiple budgets. Personally, I prefer the method to have at least two budgets. I have the ‘ideal’ budget which is the reasonable cost in which I’d like to attain the product/service. Maybe I decide to set my ideal budget for web development at $1,500. I then have a ‘pie in the sky’ budget which is the maximum budget I can allot at this given time. Should additional services and development be offered that’s of value, I need to be able to have the flexibility to try and get the extra value. Maybe my max budget for the same project is $3,000. If the project quote lands at $2,500 I either have to decide what to remove, if possible or I can add the extra benefits since I’ve already planned what to cut to get there ahead of time. Having two budgets is helpful when you’re shopping for anything services related because the service provider, an expert can often suggest valuable needed things you may not have known about. Like digital marketing, professional content, videography, etc. Having these budget flexibilities will not only help you pick the right web developer, it will make the process of affording the right project much easier for you.
Security, and Other Fine Print
I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t talk about the caveats of everything. Remember, we don’t know what we don’t know. Make sure that whatever project you’re working out that you have something in writing to let you know what you are spending on. Both you and your web developer need expectations. You are reliant on one another to an extent to make sure you both have those expectations covered and that you both have skin in the game. If you, as the client, are uncomfortable with your project being copied to another client in a similar industry, or you don’t want any of your inside info discussed, consider a Non-Disclosure Agreement. I’ve signed many of these. I need to see your books and ask a lot of questions to determine your Target Market so you want to be sure I won’t discuss your margins with anyone. Most web developers should be open to this. Also, consider having a legal plan just in case. It isn’t likely that you’ll need it, but it’s always when we do need it that we wished we’d thought about it more.
Depending on the parameters of your agreement, you want to be sure both parties play fair. If you’ve paid in full and your website is being held hostage, you need legal counsel. If you still owe 40% on the project and that bill is past due, you might get your site yanked. Just be sure you’re aware of what you are agreeing to. Most professionals will not lead you astray but unfortunately, there’s always a few here or there that might. Trust your gut! If something smells fishy or seems too good to be true, it probably is. It’s OK to use your instincts in business. To pick the right web developer, you may just have to call on your spider senses.