by: David Risley
Today, most businesses want a website. Some already have one. Others want one. They don't want to hire IT staff and probably can't afford any. And in most cases, an in-house IT staff, especially for your typical small business, just isn't necessary. But, that doesn't mean that you have to go without or will be forced to use some cookie cutter website or a personal Frontpage experiment gone awry. You can hire a web developer/designer to create a professional website for you, set it up, then hand it over to you for you to do what you want with it. But, how should you go about finding someone to do this? What should you look for? There are literally thousands of companies/individuals out there offering to do your website. How do you pick from this large group?
What Do You Want?
The first step is to decide exactly what you want on your website. This is very important as it will determine what the requirements are and, in turn, what skill set your web developer needs to fulfill your needs. Here are some questions to ask of yourself:
* What kinds of information do you want to have on your site? Approximately how large do you envision the site (# of pages)?
* Will your site require regular updates? Do you want to do these updates yourself?
* Will you be engaging in e-commerce on this website?
* Will you need a database?
* How fast do you need the job done?
* What is your budget?
Start Your Search
Doing a web search for someone that has the skills you will need for your website will still give you a humongous list of possible choices. Referrals are often the best method of weeding people out. IF someone recommends a developer, it is because they are happy with the service they were provided. So, if someone recommends a developer to you, you should check that developer out and see if they have the skills you will need from them.
Often, the developers you are pondering are not located in your town. In today's day and age, this is not usually a problem. Yes, there are instances where a face-to-face meeting is really beneficial, and if you are the kind of really considers this meeting important, you should limit your search to developers within driving distance of your location. Otherwise, the internet and phone system provide all the communication you will need, regardless of distance.
The first thing to do when considering a developer is to check out their website.
* IS the site well-designed and attractive?
* Is it easy to navigate?
* Are there any broken links?
* Is the information complete (introduction to staff, company location, contact methods, etc.)?
* Does the site load quickly?
* IS there a portfolio? (Very important. A developer without a portfolio to display is a total question mark. You simply don't know if the people are good or are snacking on doritos trying to figure things out as they go).
* What skills does the developer have? Do they do design only, or can they do dynamic web development and database design? Also, ensure that they do not advertise themselves as a web designer but focus mainly on print media. Internet design and print design are different ballparks with different requirements. Also, keep in mind that good use of Dreamweaver or Frontpage does not in itself make a web designer. Check their portfolio and ensure the developer really knows his stuff. A person well-versed in internet development should know not only about creating the site, but also maintaining it, marketing it, and promoting it. Ideally, a web developer has successfully done all of the above on his own sites.
* Does the site offer customer testimonials? Read them. And, you might even contact those clients independently to ask them questions of the service you were provided.
Small Freelancers vs. Big Firms
You need to decide if you want to work with a large design firm or a small freelance company (or even single developer). There is more security for the client when working with a larger firm. The skills they offer vary widely because their staff is so large, and they often have a very large portfolio. The caveat, though, is that large companies often charge more money. The overhead costs for such companies is larger, so they will charge more. Additionally, larger companies often come with more beauracracy. With so many developers, often communication is just not what it should be, leading to inconsistencies in the project due to miscommunication. Also, sometimes you will find that these companies pay a little too much attention to process rather than simply getting the job done.
Freelance developers offer better value for the money, and because they are a single person, the communication flow between them and the client is usually much better (one-on-one). If there is a staff, usually the size is small, meaning communication will still be more tight-knit. This will lead to more consistent coding and coordination. Also, you know who is responsible for your project and there is more accountability. In larger firms, nobody is responsible in some cases. (or so they say). The downside of freelancing is that their skill set is their skill set, and if you need something that they don't know how to do, they must research it. Also, freelancers are limited by their size. If they already have a high workload, then their throughout is limited and it may force you to wait. So, depending on the size of your project, a large firm might guarantee the job gets done quickly.
Rates and Guidelines
Check out the rates of the developer. Often, you will not find the rates directly posted on their website. This is usually because they like to do things by estimate, so simply contact them, give them a few specs, and go back and forth until you get a ballpark figure. When getting an estimate, make sure it is detailed and exact. Ask any questions that you have. If you think the price is too high, ask them about it. Don't be afraid to counter-offer. They can always refuse.
Check out the developer's contract. Make sure the client is protected. PAy attention to guarantees of response time. You want to make sure your developer is available for you. Also, look for their policy on project changes. Obviously, you cannot alter the specs of your project once an estimate is agreed upon without expecting additional fees. Ask them about this. Also, inspect the contract for warranty of work. Who will they handle bugs in the work they have done?
Talk With Them
Any developer you consider should have a method of being reached by phone. Call them and gauge their personality. Make sure they are good people who you can talk with and bounce ideas off of. See if they treat you right or act like they barely have time for you. Good communication is very important to a successful project, and if you can't properly communicate to your developer, you should not hire him/her.
Evaluate your potential developers using the advice above and you will be more likely to have successfully completed project with minimal frustration.
About the author:
David Risley is a web developer and founder of PC Media, Inc. (http://www.pcmedianet.com). Specializes in PHP/MySQL development, consulting and internet business management. He is also the founder of PC Mechanic (http://www.pcmech.com), a large website delivering do-it-yourself computer information to thousands of users every day.
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