Before writing this post I did a quick scan online to see what questions other people were suggesting. What I found interesting was that the questions leaned toward the technical and practical aspects of development, but my questions lean toward the professional and “service side” of development.
They’re all valid and important, but fundamentally different in perspective. Practical questions include things like, “Are you comfortable coding HTML by hand?” and “Do you test sites cross-browser and cross-platform?” My service-side questions have included things like, “Who answers your phones?” and “Who do I yell at when stuff goes wrong?”
I figure that if you want some practical questions to ask, you can do your own Google search, but I’m sticking to the professional questions. I’m going to wrap up this series with five more.
When you’re talking about the future of your business, it’s too important to leave it up to chance.
Ask: What Does That Mean?
This one is a catch-all. Simply, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification when a developer starts slinging jargon. Remember how your fourth grade teacher used to tell you there’s no such thing as a stupid question? Take that to heart when you’re speaking with developers and on the verge of parting with quite possibly large sums of your hard-earned money.
Besides, most developers are geeky enough and love what they do enough to be happy to explain in minute detail.
Not sure what SEO means (or even what it stands for)? Confused by the rest of the acronyms? PHP. CSS. XHTML. OMG! Good developers will be able to explain what they do in everyday language that not only makes sense to you, but makes sense for your business.
Don’t get all bedazzled and starry-eyed over important-sounding lingo. Make sure it makes sense.
Ask: How Much Does It Cost?
This question sends little shivers down my spine. It’s the bane of every creative professional’s existence. I almost wish I hadn’t told you to ask it. But it’s at the heart of every business transaction and inevitably it has to be asked.
As developers, we like to reassure our clients that we’ll handle everything so they can get on with their own jobs. But sometimes that “no problem” attitude lulls people into a false sense of how simple everything is (and in most of our minds, face it, simple = cheap).
If that happens to you, you may push a project right into production or shoot two dozen emails to your developer asking for a little bit of work here and there (all of which seems so darn simple). Then you get hit with the price tag. At that point, eyebrows get furrowed, angry calls get made, hair gets pulled. It’s never a good ending.
Avoid the whole calamity by asking for an idea of cost before the work starts (as for us, we’ve learned always to provide one!)
Likewise, don’t assume that just because you’re getting bombarded with jargon, tech-talk and multisyllabic mumbo jumbo that the end result is going to be too expensive for your budget. If you get to the bottom of it by asking the first question – what does that mean? – you may find out it’s not such a big deal after all.
Whatever you do, don’t confuse cost with value. Whether something is cheap or expensive is a matter of value. Ask the right questions, seek the right answers, then evaluate the value of the investment you’re about to make.
Ask: Can I See Your Portfolio?
This is another question that makes me cringe just a little bit, because a website design is only as good as the client lets it be. I don’t love every design that leaves our hands, but if it’s what the client likes and wants, it goes.
There’s also the danger with content managed sites that the client will “manage” their content into mayhem. I’ve seen more than one site morph into something vaguely recognizable as clients add, remove and otherwise tinker with their sites.
That aside, you should be able to see a portfolio, even if the live site is – shall we say, different. Good developers will be glad to show you their work and should have at least a few sites that they’re proud of.
You don’t have to love all the designs but you should have a reasonable comfort level with the quality of work you see.
Look for designs that are contemporary, not something that smacks of a decade ago. Look for designs that are clean. Crisp photos, organized layout, graphics that aren’t fuzzy or broken. Look for designs that are unique. If the sites in the portfolio look like cookie cutter versions of each other, they probably are. That’s a template. Not a design. Overall, just make sure that the person you’re looking to hire has a professional and credible history.
Ask: And Then What?
It’s always a good idea to have a sense of “what happens next”. If you know what to expect before, during and after your project, you can head off some nasty surprises.
When you’re ready to start the project, then what? Will there be a contract, an interview, a long waiting period? Will you be expected to do any homework or is your developer planning on holing up somewhere and building the site while you wait?
The project is in production… and then what? How will you be kept in the loop? What if you want to request changes? What happens if there’s a delay?
Most importantly, your project is done!… and then what? Does your developer provide or assist with hosting services, data protection, security? Who will be monitoring and managing your site? What if you need something changed? Where will you go for search or other marketing services? Ask first, and you won’t have to repent later.
Ask: Can I Get That In Writing?
Before you start a project you should have a contract in writing. Unbelievably, I once had a client who refused to sign a contract because he thought I was trying to “rope him in” to something. But a contract is for the protection and benefit of both parties. Unless everyone agrees to the terms of a project up front, there can be disagreements, possibly irreparable and detrimental, later.
Who owns your website? If you fire your developer next year, will you be able to pick up your site and go, or does his company retain the rights to the artwork or other content? Intellectual and creative rights can be (and have been) hotly debated. If it’s in writing you won’t need to wonder.
Who owns your domain name? If your developer registers it, will it be in your company name, or the developer’s? This is a huge deal and a legal one. Without question you should be sure the domain is registered to your business.
What are the payment terms? For the sake of your budget and your developer’s sanity, set payment terms down in writing. This will protect you from unexpected fees and it will protect your developer from working without knowing when the next check is coming.
Is there a confidentiality clause? This may not seem like a big deal if you’re not a financial service provider or attorney, but every business has information to protect, from email marketing lists to practices and processes.
The list goes on, but the important thing is that you have a contract that answers all of your questions and makes it clear what you should expect. And if you don’t understand the contract? Circle right back to the first question and ask.
If I could sum up this entire series in one word it would be: ask. I’ve given you some questions and ideas for more questions, but you should be thinking up your own and asking away, like a four-year-old who has discovered the word, “Why?”
The more questions you ask, the more you’ll understand and the more likely you’ll be to hire a competent and fair professional who you’ll enjoy working with on your project and for years to come.
Have any other questions popped into your head as you read this? What are some things you think are important to know ahead of time? Or perhaps questions you wish you had asked?
Want To Read The Whole Series? Check It Out Here:
- Want To Hire A Web Developer? Find Out Who You’ll (Really) Be Working With First.
- Want To Hire A Web Developer? Find Out Who Answers The Phones.
- Want To Hire A Web Developer? Find Out Who’s Responsible When Things Go Wrong.
- Want To Hire A Web Developer? Find Out If They Proactively Offer Advice.
- 5 (More) Things To Ask Before You Hire A Web Developer: The Wrapup Edition