How to Choose a Web Developer

and

How to Safeguard your Interests

Your Objective in choosing a Web Developer

To find a web developer that can provide a website package that
  1. meets your specific requirements
  2. with an acceptable delivery time
  3. at a good price
There is one more thing. Getting a quote that looks satisfactory is one thing, but how do you know that the Web Developer will actually deliver all your requirements, deliver them on time and without cost overruns ?

There are a great many excellent web developers out there. You just need to know how to recognise them. Even when the client ends up quiet dissatisfied it is not always the fault of the website developer. More often than not it is a communication problem where the client understood one thing but the developer saw it differently. Whether it is the web developer’s fault or not it is usually the client that looses out because they did not do their homework. This guide is designed to help safeguard the interests of the client when selecting a web developer, drawing up their requirements and making a final agreement.

Step 1. Develop your Specification, listing all your requirements

  • Find an experienced friend to help you develop the specification
  • Hire a consultant to develop this specification with you
  • Find a developer that offers complete web development packages (including hosting, emails, tech Support etc.) where the list of features is clearly identified.*
  • Work with your Web Developer to develop your specification. **
  • see A guide to Writing a Website Specification
* In the case of the 3rd option and if the features are very clearly identified, you may not require a specification. You may just need to select all the features that you need. This option would save you time and money.Be careful with this option, however. Never make a deposit on a vaguely described web design package until you know exactly what you will get in return.
** The last option is not usually recommended except where you have established trust and where the developer had previously completed work to your satisfaction.

Step 2. Make a short list of likely Web Developers

There are several ways to make your starting list. Always begin with developers that have completed work for people you know, followed by Developers recommended to you. It is a good idea to also look independently by searching for specific terms related to web design and web development. For example web design London or ecommerce web design, affordable web design etc. depending on what is important to you.

Step 3. Reduce the list to those who meet 4 key criteria:

Key criteria:     Trust  –  Necessary Skills  –  Business Experience  –  Easy to work with

Rather than attempt to give each developer a score decide yes or no on the suitability of each. Discard from the list any developer that is not satisfactory in ALL 4 criteria. You will be requesting a quote from those that remain on the list.

It will not always be possible to fully evaluate each of these criteria for every developer, so consider substituting safeguards that the developer will agree to, when you cannot be sure that the criterion is met.

TRUST: You are mainly interested to know if the developer can be trusted to keep their promises. Will they deliver everything without cost over runs or delays?

The only way to know this is to ask previous clients. Try to avoid asking the developer or clients that have provided positive testimonials on their website as you cannot rely on their response.

NECESSARY SKILLS: You need to know if the developer can deliver the quality of website that you are expecting. Examine 1. their website, 2. websites from their portfolio and 3. their own placement in search results. When examining the websites pay attention to navigation, speed, style and responsiveness (appearance on mobile devices). View them using different browsers. Would you be happy with one of those websites?

When examining their work take care to know that the developer performed all the work or the relevant work on a particular website and look especially for websites they built that resemble your planned website, in function. Run a site check (consider using Screaming Frog) to verify errors and to get an SEO grading, if you know how.

BUSINESS EXPERIENCE: Read the developer’s About Us page. Read their BIOs, particularly on LinkedIn, if available.

A website is not an end in itself, your business goals are. Your website is a tool. It needs to provide a return on your investment. It’s really about business, not just a design and not just a list of functions. Does the Web Developer have real business experience? Does the Developer talk about the purpose of your website and ROI (Return on Investment).

EASY TO WORK WITH: There are two parts to this a) ease of dealing with the developer, time to answer/return calls, do you get to speak directly with the people doing the work etc. and b) the developer’s process. Is it simple? Does it make your job easier? Ideally, for clients with less experience, a good developer will examine your business and ask about your goals for the business and for the website and then develop options for you to choose from.

You will need to ask the developer these questions, however as regards how they are to deal with, as with trust, above, the only way to know this is to ask previous clients. It is well worth finding out.

ADDITIONAL SKILLS (Optional): It is good practice to plan for the long term, giving consideration to developing the next phases of your online strategy with the same web developer that completes your initial website. Depending on how comprehensive your initial website project is you may need to add ecommerce, or lead generating/customer engagement functionality (Blog, newsletter, social media integration etc). If not implemented with your initial website, you will very likely need SEO optimisation and a digital marketing or social media marketing strategy etc. in future phases.

You should ask the prospective developer to list their areas of expertise and businesses for whom they provided those services. In some cases, such as with SEO, you can check the quality of their work but in most cases it will be worth your while to give some of those companies a call.
This last criterion is considered optional since a developer not offering all those additional services may deliver the website package that meets your requirements at an exceptional price. There is nothing wrong with that. It is not rocket science, it should not be expensive.

Step 4. Submit a Request for Quote (RFQ) from each developer on the list

By now you should have already engaged with all the prospective developers and your specification should be firmed up. Your RFQ should include 1) a comprehensive specification and 2) a request for itemised and total cost, 3) delivery schedule and 4) the payment schedule and 5) a date by which you need the quote.

Step 5. Discuss guarantees and safeguards with your preferred Developer(s)

Because you have done your homework you will be getting quotes from developers that can meet your requirements. You should be able to reduce your list based on price and lead time and still have at least a few good developers left. Engage with your preferred developers and make sure to discuss safeguards. Is there any penalty if the developer does not deliver on time etc? see safeguarding your interests below.

Step 6. Select the developer you trust the most or that provides appropriate safeguards.

Obtaining written guarantees and putting safeguards in place is not easy. The developer may resist it. The less resistance the developer has to providing you with safeguards the better they are for your business. It is your money and you have a right to get something usable for every money you spend. If you end up with only 50% of the website completed, for some reason. You may well have nothing useful but your money is spent. Try to avoid this.

How to Safeguard your Interests

You should reasonably expect to get what you were promised or your money back. A good developer will make a reasonable effort to ensure your satisfaction. However, when things go wrong, unless you have taken the necessary precautions it is you who runs the risk of losing out and either settling for less that you thought you agreed to, or paying more that you thought was agreed. Remember that the developer has the right to be paid for their time also, provided they kept their end of the bargain. The only way to be completely sure of satisfaction is with a written agreement/contract that includes a complete specification, payment terms, penalty clauses and guarantees.

  • Ideally every payment you make should be for something that has that value to you and that you can use, even if the project went no further or the developer leaves the project. Consider implementing a minimally viable website at first. This will limit your risk.
  • When in doubt about something, seek to put an assurance or guarantee in place.
  • If you do not have an agreement that sufficiently safeguards your interests and if you already have a hosting service, ask the developer to either develop the website there or to keep a copy of the latest version of the website there so that you are sure to end up with the website, in the event of a dispute.
  • It is better being careful in your selection of a developer than being careful with your agreement. To be sure, you should do both.