Have you been banging your head against a brick wall trying to customize your WordPress website? Has the design of your business site become more ambitious with each passing day? Has this project taken away time from running your existing business or consultancy?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, now is the moment to make an executive decision and call in the pros. Have no fear; there are lots of professional web developers just waiting for your business.
Bringing on a seasoned web developer is a great investment in time and money to ensure your small business website starts off strong with a fully functioning, bug-free, engaging online presence your customers will come to know and trust.
But you can’t just hire the first freelancer or firm that pops up on your Google search. Take a moment to familiarize yourself with the questions you need to ask prior to hiring professional help. Getting these answers at the beginning will make the process much easier in the long run, and you’ll be happier about your investment.
A portfolio of work similar in complexity to your needs is the key step in moving forward.
Depending on the type of website your small business requires, you’ll want to be confident your web developer has a portfolio of work in similar areas. If your business requires an eCommerce site and all their work is reflective of commercial photography and self-published authors, then it’s time to move on to the next expert.
How long have you been in business and do you track the success of your recent clients? In other words, ask not only for a portfolio of recent work, but case studies if applicable. This will be especially useful for an eCommerce website.
If you are a visual designer or photographer, when looking at their previous work, it is a good idea to see if the navigation and ease of use translate to a creative eye. In other words, sometimes web developers don’t understand visual flow as well as web designers and are focused more on coding than usability for professionals in the creative arts.
Some software development firms build a wide range of solutions, from custom software to mobile apps, operating systems, CRM integrations, and dynamic website functionality. Many agencies specialize in internal web-based systems that help companies perform niche functions and automations. It's smart to compare local and global companies, then refine results by location, team size, pricing, and reviews.
When looking at their portfolio, keep an eye out for usability and navigation, especially on mobile devices and tablets.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a must-have for your website. Therefore any developer you work with should have an integrated plan for SEO to ensure that your business ranks high within search engine results.
What is their experience with SEO and will they offer training on how to optimize your website as you update and add to it on your own?
A good way to gauge their expertise before you even start is checking out how their site appears in the organic search results! If they are not ranking high, chances are they aren’t that experienced with SEO.
Ask about what WordPress plugins they favor and if they are aware of how coding practices can affect SEO standing.
Request that they follow all the SEO rules and not cut corners. A developer that uses dishonest tricks to improve your ranking can get you banned from search engines.
In the case studies they provide, can they share their page ranking or analytics? If they’re good with SEO, they’ll want to brag on this point and will have information at the ready.
Web developers should have a solid working knowledge of the technical aspects of SEO. They should understand how these items impact your site’s performance in the search results:
These are all SEO factors that an experienced professional will include in their workflow.
Another seriously important question for your web developer is about the future. Someday soon you will part ways, and when that happens, you’ll need to take care of your online business without them (unless, that is, you’re going to pay their firm for ongoing, pricey upkeep).
Tasks you will take over once your site is live involve monitoring analytics, posting blogs, featuring new products and services, etc. Does the web developer offer training and can they create something that isn’t so complicated that only they can work on it post-launch?
If you do have the budget for ongoing maintenance, ask about fees and options.
Not to sound paranoid but… Actually, it’s not paranoia at all but rather a sensible business practice to protect your online presence.
Ask if they will create a page with a custom error message that can limit any hacker’s ability to access the backend. If they are maintaining your server, will they provide updates? Will they secure your database and install an SSL certificate?
Regardless of whether you’re an eCommerce site or a small business consultancy, protecting your content and your customer’s private information is paramount. Prioritizing this aspect of your small business website will save you a lot of headache and anxiety in the future.
There are a number of methods to implement security that you’ll want to ask about before launch such as:
You’ll want your web developer to spend their time wisely. In order to do this, you’ll have to put some work into gathering all the necessary materials they need in advance.
Ask them what they need from you in the form of content (images, text, media) and how that content should be formatted. If you are not tech savvy, can they assist with preparing your files for the web?
Here is a just a sampling of what you need to prepare for your web developer:
All product info such as images, pricing, categories, dimensions, shipping & payment methods, etc.
What is the average timeframe for creating a website for my specific business model?
Get a sense of clear deadlines and deliverables. With dates on the calendar, you can start to think about your marketing plan for launch while the website is being built.
Ask about overtime fees, and how great their workload is at the moment. Are they able to concentrate on your project or do they have too many clients to pay attention to your business in the time you need it?
Take a closer look at a basic outline of what to expect in the order of key milestones:
The big question on everyone’s minds is ‘How much is this going to cost?’ The answer depends on the web developer’s business model. Most will base the cost on the type and complexity of your business needs.
Starter questions to ask would be about payment structure. Do they charge by milestone, hourly, or fixed fee? Expect to pay a deposit up front and the rest upon delivery of the finished product.
The way to tackle this question is to know what type of website you want, then have a preliminary discussion with a potential web developer. They can assess the scope of the project itself which may be more involved than you anticipated from a coding standpoint. From here, your developer will give you a quote and a proposal. If this seems very far out of your budget range, take this first quote as a starting point to compare and contrast with other firms. You’ll be quite knowledgeable within a few discussions and able to negotiate costs.
Ask if they offer a warranty or maintenance plan. Are these included in the budget or are they separate bills? Things break, and it’s a good idea to work with the people who created your website from the start to fix whatever goes wrong in the future.
What happens if the project goes over-budget, time, or scope? What if you change your mind mid-way into the process? Find out what their policy is when new developments arise that push the project over-budget.
In the case of eCommerce sites that involve a certain level of complexity beyond your average plug-n-play web builder, it is wise to invest your money in hiring professionals. Be realistic about what you want to spend, but don’t be cheap! A good website is worth every penny.
A good checklist to set your personal budget:
Once your website is live, there are certain tasks you’ll need to be able to either do yourself or ask a professional to assist with.
Do they offer a maintenance contract with a discount if you hire them from the start of the whole process?
If there are any bugs or errors after the site is live do they offer fixes and if so, within what amount of time after launch? If they cannot provide a maintenance package for period monitoring can they refer a service to you?
Depending on the workload of the web developer, they may have too many clients to do heavy monitoring and maintenance. If your website doesn’t require that much work, it could be possible to request monthly or bi-monthly check-ins.
In addition, there are outside vendors like SiteLock that will monitor the security of your website and provide customer service. Security-based tools can detect threats and alert you before any problems arise that could take your site offline.
The guidelines here are by no means exhaustive, but meant to give you a good basis to start with in finding the right developer for your project. Don’t be afraid to ask more during the interview process. These questions will help you figure out if you and your developer understand each other and have a good working rapport before you sign a contract. You’ll also demonstrate that you understand the process of web development and inspire confidence as a rock solid client in return.
Once you hire a great web developer, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief that the technical pressure is off and your website is in good hands!