Setting up a customized website is no plain sailing nor is working with web designers and developers. If you want get out alive and have your website finished in time, you’ll need to keep everything and everyone on track.
Last edited: March 5, 2015
The design and development of The Girl With The Blueprint, my online city guide and blog, should’ve been completed in 3 months. Sadly, it took more than 12.
What went wrong? Most likely, everything.
I had no idea what it takes to build a customized website. I didn’t know anything about web design and development–and I didn’t know that I needed to.
Furthermore, I didn’t have any experience in having people work for me. Little did I know that I’d constantly have to be on top of a bunch of web designers and developers.
Looking back, it was naive of me to think that once I found a web designer and developer, my work would be over.
Nonetheless, I am obviously not the only one to blame. Green Chameleon Design, the web design and development company that I hired, lacked experience and professionalism.
265 emails and a few massive tears later, I can’t say it’s all water under the bridge but the ache is wearing off.
In time, I hope to remember the good things, like the exiting introductory talks and the first functioning design that made me jump a hole in the roof.
For now, I take comfort in knowing that I learned a lot from this undertaking: invaluable lessons which I’d have to learn sooner or later which–and ones which I can now share with you.
A. Learn what makes a good website
Before you contact any web designers and developers, you need to gain a better understanding of what makes a good website and what features you’ll be needing for yours.
There’s so much more to the design and development of a website than you can possibly imagine.
For example, do you know what the terms SEO, hosting and ownership refer to? No? Well, It’s important that you find out.
Spend a week reading blogs and articles on the Internet about what makes a good website and what features are available. Educating yourself on these topics makes you a smarter customer.
You’ll know exactly what you want and need and you’ll be able to get your ideas across with confidence to web designers and developers.
Furthermore, understanding what web designers and developers are talking to you about, will help you with the negotiation process (it’s more difficult to mess around with an informed person) and with the overall communication.
B. Talk to someone who has worked with web designers and developers before
If you’ve never been through the design and development process of a website, it’s a good idea to talk with someone who has.
Ask this person to give you an overview of their experiences and to point out potential pitfalls. Also, use this opportunity to ask questions about things you don’t understand.
If you don’t know anyone who has worked with web designers and developers before, you can book a Skype talk with me.
Before you do though, make sure you’ve followed my advice in point A. This way you’ll already have the basics covered and I’ll be able to talk to you about the stuff that really matters.
Side note: Most people consider it a waste of money to pay others for advice. The common thought is that: “If those people could figure it out, I can do it too.”
I used to think like this as well, until I booked a few talks with experts on topics like online advertising. The information I got was priceless. It saved me time, trouble and money.
I am convinced you’ll think the same once you give it a try. To give you a push in the right direction, I am willing to give you a 100% refund if you’re not satisfied with our Skype talk for any reason. No questions asked.
C. Use the introductory talks to your advantage
Web designers and developers are sweet as peaches during introductory talks. With their eyes on your money, they seem to have all the time of the world to talk to you and to answer your “stupid questions”.
Once you sign the contract though, things change a little and chances are you’ll be begging for attention.
Whatever doubts or questions you have, bring them up during the introductory talks. It’s when they still love you.
D. Have a briefing and specify all requirements before signing the contract
All websites were once blank sheets of nothing.
Though this may sound logical, you can’t understand the full scope of what this means until you’re in the process of the design and development of a customized website.
What it comes down to is that everything you see on a website: colours, fonts, logos, contact forms, social media buttons etc., have to be designed first and then defined in code and developed.
This takes time and therefore money.
Not a problem whatsoever, if you understand that whatever (and I mean everything) you want to add to your website, which wasn’t specified from the start, is extra work and you’ll be charged for it beyond the initial quote.
Therefore, to avoid surprises, make sure your list of requests is as complete as possible and have a briefing with your web designers and developers.
In this briefing your requests should be carefully noted and acknowledged. Also ask your web designers and developers now, if there’s anything that you may have forgotten to think of.
For example, I never mentioned that I wanted The Girl With The Blueprint to have a mobile-friendly version. Meaning that I could’ve ended up with a website that’s pretty much useless on smartphones and tablets–yes, oops.
Take this step seriously.
You don’t want to have disputes later about the implementation of certain features that you took for granted (“of course, I wanted a contact page”) but didn’t specify.
E. Guard your money and never pay upfront
Whatever you do, never agree to pay a deposit. The promise of a paycheque is what keeps web designers and developers on track.
The possession of your money is the only power you have. Once you give it away, there’s no way to make sure that you’re website gets done in time.
Some web design and development companies will propose you to do a payment in stages. For example, you’ll pay them 3x a part of the total amount as they complete a milestone. This is absolutely reasonable.
However, only transfer the money if they actually meet a milestone and transfer the last part when you absolutely know for sure that you’re website is bug free and up and running.
Furthermore, if deadlines aren’t met and you want to stop the business relationship, you need to make sure you can get the money back that you might have already invested.
If you’re paying through PayPal or by credit card, and things go wrong, you’ll be able to open a dispute to try to get your money back. However, this process can be rather slow and the outcome uncertain.
The best thing you can do is to use escrow.com, “a third party that collects, holds and disburses funds according to Buyer and Seller instructions.”
Escrow is an independent intermediary who allows you to inspect the (un)delivered work before disbursing any funds, but they also protect the web design and development companies by verifying your capital and making sure they get paid for their work.
Using Escrow for your transactions is a win-win situation for both the web design and development company and you.
If a company refuses to have the transactions go through escrow.com, you should ask yourself if you want to work with them (the answer is no).
F. Keep your web designers and developers on track
Don’t assume that your web designers and developers are working 24/7 on your website only. It’s more likely that they’re busy with a couple of projects at the same time and are handling new requests as they come in.
This is normal.
However, it’s important to set a few deadlines (not just the final one) and to make sure that these are being met. It’s the only way to ensure that you’re website will be finished on time.
Don’t fall for the excuses. If deadlines aren’t met repeatedly, don’t accept it.
Terminate the project (which should be easy enough if you followed my advice in point E.) and find another company to take over.
Remember: you want to work with a company that takes your time, money and satisfaction seriously. Period.
F. Hire an assistant to oversee the design and development of your website
If you have the budget for it, hire an (virtual) assistant to be on top of the design and development of your website. It will save you time and energy.
You’ll still have to be involved in the process, pointing out changes that need to be made and letting know when you don’t like something, but this is the easy part.
Enduring the head aches that follow from needing to ensure that everything gets done properly and in time is the burdensome side of the whole process.
Getting an assistant to take care of the intensive correspondence and time consuming testing rounds, allows you to concentrate on things which can only be done by you.
Furthermore, if you can outsource a part of the work, you’re more likely to stay passionate and enthusiastic about your project until the end–and that’s the most important thing.
Tell me what you think. Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram (links match discussion pages for this post) and let me know: What is your experience in working with web designers and developers? Do you have a helpful tip to add?