Taking My Business Online, Part Two - 22 Developer Questions

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Going online? Here's 22 questions to ask potential web developers

If you’ve decided that you need an online presence for your business - and let’s be honest here, every business should be online in some form – you're probably well aware it’s a big step.

Developing a website can be a highly stressful and misunderstood process for many businesses new to the online world. It’s a world full of jargon, and in many instances, a lot of assumed knowledge.

However, just like you are an expert on your business, so too are there experts that can help make your business’s move online easy.

Check: Before you go to a web developer, you need to have a clear idea about what you want to do online,

After that, you need to find a web developer that can do the job. A web developer should be chosen based on a number of things, but the following points are absolutely key:


Do you like the people you’re dealing with?

  • If you don’t like the people you’re talking to, there’s no way you’ll get through a web development project happy. Differences in opinion about something as personal and important as your business’s website will come naturally as part of a project, which, to survive, needs a healthy working relationship.


Can they do the job?

  • You need to find a company that can deliver what you need from a technology and business outcomes perspective. In short, they must understand you, translate difficult concepts well to you, and – as a result - instil you with confidence at their capabilities.


Here are some questions you should ask (and an indication of the types of information you want to hear) to help you find the right development team for your new online business.


Finding the right web developer


1.“Have you worked with a business like mine before?”

  • This is important because some industries may have particular legal or compliance considerations effected by/arising from the move to online. It may help to have a developer who’s ‘been there, done that’ before. For example, if you’re a financial services provider (mortgage broker, insurance broker), you cannot give advice online. So, you need a developer that understands this. In many other businesses, privacy considerations may be crucial.
  • But it may also be about the size and complexity of your business. Get a sense of if they understand (or care) about your business. (They should!)


2.“Can I speak to some of your other customers?”

  • This is part of establishing trust with the developer and understanding their technical capability.

If you find that no names of customers are forthcoming, enquire as to why this is the case. Surely, if the development company have done great work, their customers will be willing to tell others, and they’ll want you to hear that.
If still you don’t have any luck, try looking at the portfolio of clients listed on their website. Perhaps you could call some of them and find out for yourself.

  • NOTE: it’s actually more common than you think for potential clients to call previous and existing customers of technology suppliers. Don’t be afraid to ask for this kind of reference; they’ve almost certainly received a request like this before.


3.“What is your issue/dispute resolution process?”

  • If a developer says they don’t have a dispute resolution process, or that they’ve never needed one, then be wary. Things can, and do, go wrong.
  • Good developers have a process to ensure there is a satisfactory resolution for all parties. Knowing what this is upfront means they value customer relationships.


Learning about the website technology


4.“What is the CMS? Is it a custom CMS?”

  • ‘CMS’ stands for Content Management System.
  • The CMS is often referred to as the ‘backend’ of the site, and generally takes the form of a user-friendly interface where content is added and changes are made, (and can often be operated by you, the business)
  • Some developers may have created their own CMS, but many use customised versions of existing systems (e.g. Wordpress)


5.“Will I be able to make changes to the website myself?”

  • You’ll want to be able to keep your site up to date, but you don’t want to have to wait or pay the developer each time you have an update, to do this.
  • So, you need to understand which parts of the site can be changed easily via the CMS – this is important to establish as part of the conversation about the CMS (see #4).


6.“Do you provide training on making site changes?”

  • If the above two points pan out, and you both require and have access to the site’s CMS, you will also need training in using that CMS to make changes to the site. Find out if that training is included or costs extra, and what support is offered after training.


7.“Is Google Analytics going to be installed?”

  • Google Analytics is an initiative that places a small, invisible bit of code onto your website. This code then reports back to your Google Analytics account details on the traffic to you site – how many users are visiting, how often, how long they stay, and what they do while they are there. The Google Analytics account itself is free, but you’ll have to get your developers to embed that bit of code during the building of the site.
  • The data provided by Google Analytics is important information to gather and monitor to help you understand what you customers want and need, and what kind of experience you’re providing them with your website.
  • Google Analytics is a free service offered by Google.


Understanding the brief and development process


8.“How to I provide you with a brief?”

  • A good agency will have a brief template that extracts from you the information they need in order to understand what you want. Then, they’ll go over the brief in detail with you to ensure you agree with the requirements and what’s to be built.


9.“How do you run your project delivery?”

  • Ask about the process that will be used to deliver your site. Will there be regular updates? If so, how often? What happens at the updates, and how do you give feedback?


10.“How long will the development take?”

  • It’s good to know exactly how long it’s going to take to build your website. And, if your situation is urgent, if there is a way to expedite the process to meet your timelines.


11.“How are change requests or scope variations managed?”

  • The ‘scope’ of the project (what’s included, what’s not included) will be determined after the brief. You need to agree on the scope before the developer progresses into the build phase.
  • If something needs to be changed, or, if during the development something needs to be added or removed, how is this process managed? Understanding that upfront can significantly decrease stress (and costs).


12.What documentation is provided?

  • Will you be given manuals on how to update your site? Will other documentation regarding the contract, agreement, servicing, hosting and other services provided by the developer be provided?


13.How does sign off occur?

  • As the business owner, you will need to sign off on the brief, then the scope, and then finally, the live site. Understand what parties need to give sign-off, and by what time relative to the date you have set for delivery.
  • You may also have to sign off on the visual design of the site. Understand how many iterations of the design you get before you incur extra fees. A good design brief will ensure fewer versions are required to give the desired result.


14.What is the warranty on the site?

  • If there are bugs or problems with the site, what is the warranty period for these to be found and fixed under the contract? What happens if they are discovered outside of the warranty period?


15.Who owns the site once it is completed?

  • Check the details of the contract to see who owns the site once it is completed and live. It should be owned by your business but there may be a license agreement for the CMS. Have a lawyer who understands the digital space check out the contract if you are uncertain.


16.What will it all cost?

  • Yes, this question is a long way down the list. By the time you get here, you should know enough about the company and what you’re getting to see if it’s good value or not.
  • Don’t always go with the cheapest quote you get. Understand what you are getting, the scope, the quality, and the service. Cheap sites are often cheap for a reason.
  • Understand what the site build will cost. Ask if there is an ongoing cost for hosting (the keeping the site online on a server) or licensing? Is there any additional cost for changes or upgrades?
  • Then ask, “What other costs are there that I haven’t asked about?”


Handling online marketing

Some developers will offer or include elements of online marketing as a part of your site development. You need to understand what you are getting.


17.How will customers find my site online?

  • New sites can still be submitted to search engines so that they can be added into results. Don’t pay anything extra for this.
  • As a search engine, Google regularly trawls the internet to identify new content on existing sites and, brand new sites. This will happen but can take time before your site appears in Google.
  • To speed up the process, web developers can submit a new site and its sitemap (a list of all the pages on the site) to Google so that the search engine is alerted to its existence.


18.“Who will create the content for the site?”

  • Some agencies will provide this for an additional fee. It is essential to have relevant, professional content on your site.
  • Will your company be responsible for creating the content for the site? What sort of content is needed – written copy, images, videos?
  • If you can produce the content in house, ensure you have allocated enough time and resources. If not, ask for a referral to a website copywriter or content producer.
  • Good copywriting will also include SEO (Search Engine Optimisation). This means that the copy being created will include the search terms your customers are using to find the products and services you are offering.


19.“Is email marketing, SEO, social media or other online marketing included?”

  • Some developers may provide additional online marketing services. It’s important to understand first what is available, and at what cost, before you enter into any further agreement. (refer to other article).


20.“Can you recommend a marketing consultant to help me?”

Depending on the complexity and the required outcome for the site, you may need the services of a digital marketing consultant who can help guide you through the entire process of going online.
Some developers may have a marketing or strategy consultant in house who can help. If not, ask for a referral.


Hosting the site


21.Where will the site be hosted?

  • Once the site is live, you need to know the location of the server on which the site physically lives.
  • It can be anywhere in the world - and it doesn’t really matter - but it is a good idea to know where. It’s your site, and knowing where the server physically resides can help you with your mitigation process if there is an outage.


22.What are the guarantees around hosting?

  • If your website is critical to your business, you need to know what SLAs (Service Level Agreements) are in place with the hosting company.
  • The SLA should outline the guaranteed uptime for the site, what support is offered, and also what you need to do if the site is not available. It should also indicate who to contact and what is the response time for identifying and solving problems.