Finding a Great Referral for A Web Developer

Choosing a web developer can be very challenging if you don’t understand how things work at a basic level. Just like cars, everyone admires a good website, but it is hard to know which salesman to believe.

So many people look to a friend or business associate for a referral  to a web developer. This makes sense as long as you ask the right questions of that person. Most people don’t understand their website needs from a technical aspect. This makes it difficult to know whether your friend or associates website is a good measuring stick for yours.

In my opinion, the best source of information on web development comes from someone in a similar line of business. For the most part, you will want similar functionality on the site and perhaps have a similar marketing approach.

Here are questions to ask when getting a web developer referral:

1. How well did the client define their project ahead of time?
Often people will have an idea of what they want in a website but will not have the true scope or details identified. Taking time to answer some basic questions and you will have an easier time managing the project. Specific details to ask about include:

  • Did they have your information architecture (IA) set? IA is the design for the information flow. Did the developer help them refine it?
  • How complex is the content on their website? Is some of the content inter-related? Was the website built in a static fashion or in a relational fashion? Did they need special programming, such as Joomla, to accomplish what they want?
  • Did they have a project plan with milestones? Was it reasonable technically or simply “what they wanted”.
  • How often will they make changes? Are they simple text changes or design changes? Did they allow for this in your design and vendor agreement? Who makes the changes, client or do they pay the developer?

If the responses are not all positive, the client and developer may share the blame.

Developer issues that can cause delays:

  • Lack of key technical knowledge
  • Poor project management skill
  • Shabby ethics

Client issues that can cause delays:

  • “Two many cooks (stakeholders) in the kitchen” may create a confusing project scope and priorities. This could also delay critical decisions.
  • Poor conception of development costs: If you have a comparable website that you are going by, it’s important to know how much it cost to build so you have an idea of the costs involved. If you want super technical by don’t have the budget for it, this can cause disappointments and delays as the client tries to get the developer to create what they don’t have the budget to pay for.
  • Taking too long to develop content. This is the number one reason we see delays on sites we build. Putting content together is the hardest part of a project, so ask your friend to honestly answer how prompt were they about delivering content to the developer?

2. Did they need to adjust their expectations during the contracting process?
If a project has any complexity at all, the developer will need to explore how to implement the client’s design best to meet their needs. This may involve some changes to the client’s vision because of budget, technology limitations, or the desired timeline of the project. This may mean implementing the project in stages or developing custom functionality provided the budget allows for it.

It is common to work with clients who don’t have all their content done. In the course of creating their content and IA, they discover that their original design is poor. In looking at the IA, they often discover better ways of doing business or a better marketing approach, and this changes the scope of the project.

3. How clear was the agreement with the developer?
Some problems in development are easy to avoid by having clear contracting language. If you want results that meet your expectations, you need to ask enough questions to clarify how the site will work. You can express the results you want in an agreement without knowing how a developer will implement this technically. When this is done, it is easy to hold a developer accountable.

4. Was it difficult to communicate with the developer?
Many developers are good at coding but have a hard time understanding the client’s needs. It is important for developers to have a sense of the user’s experience as well as the business purpose of the website. If a client finds a developer does not show an understanding of this part of the project, it will make the project more stressful.

5. If changes were needed along the way, did the developer explain things well?
Did the developer provide options for challenges? If a project has any complexity at all, it is not uncommon for both the developer and the client to learn in the course of the project. As a result, changes in the scope or implementation may be needed. If a developer is not flexible or diligent enough to be a partner, this part of the project will be a challenge.

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