In the past month, I've had two new clients come to me because they were deserted, let down, or under-valued by their current web developers. Both of them had existing contracts with these developers, and yet both of them were so fed-up that they were ready to walk away from existing relationships, financial investments, and in one case, established technical infrastructure, just to avoid dealing any further with these other firms.
This should never happen.
Every business relationship should begin with some basic professional understandings that make the process transparent. While you may or may not understand all the things that go into building a web site, a good development house will walk you through enough of the details that you can monitor the success of the project with some accuracy. Today I'll be sharing the pieces of your agreement with your developer that should be in place before the project begins -- otherwise, you're likely to be unhappy with the way it ends.
This seems like a pretty simple thing, but I'm always surprised by how many people tell me that their developers gave them a price for "doing" their web site without detailing all of the things that are involved in that "doing." No one ever gives you a price for "doing" anything without details. You can't get a party catered without telling the caterer how many people are coming and what kind of food you want. You can't get a custom suit made without agreeing on the material and telling the tailor how tall you are. The same goes for a web site. You and the developer need to have as close to the same picture in your heads as possible.
Examples of the kinds of things that should be in writing and crystal-clear to you both ahead of time are:
If you have a deadline in mind -- however far away that might be, even so far off that you think there's no way your developer could take that long to build your site -- you must communicate it clearly to your developer and make sure that they agree to deliver by that date. Your developer should then be held to it unless you have agreed in writing to circumstances that would allow for missed deadlines. Here are some things that could make your timeline shift, and if they occur, you should know before you start what the consequences might be:
Here's where what your developer knows and what you know can be very, very different. Your developer may assume you know all kinds of things about the technology that goes into building a web site, and you may assume that your developer will tell you everything you absolutely need to know ahead of time. These assumptions are both dangerous not just because they are often incorrect, but because they can eventually lead to a last-minute panic about hosting. (Side note: if you're not sure you understand what is domain hosting, web hosting, and content management, you can learn the basics from this infographic.) Here's what you should be sure is clear before you start:
When your web site launches, you may have some expectations of your web developer that are not actually written into your contract. Then, the developer who was so responsive during the site-building process might suddenly stop responding quickly -- or at all -- to your email messages, and you are left with questions you were waiting to ask that now go unanswered. There are lots of things that may come up after your site launches. Knowing ahead of time what you can expect later is important.
It's just a mess when you have to start over with a new developer mid-project. Clear, written instructions are always good insurance against that type of disaster. Projects can become challenging even with the best of plans, but if there is a plan for how to handle changes, bumps in the road, and redirection, everyone can move forward together.