No matter who you use to redesign your website, it is going to be a significant investment. Using wise discernment is important when reviewing developer candidates to make sure your money will be well spent. Like any business, there are key indicators that help you shift through the good and the bad, and everything in between. These are the things to look for in a potential provider:
Communication and Availability
Developing a website is a collaborative process. Never once in all my years of website development has a client signed off on a redesign, provided initial content and told us, “let me know when it’s finished”. Even in situations when a client has stated they want to be “hands off”, they still stay in frequent contact, realizing there’s more “hands on” they wanted to participant in than they expected. Therefore, it is very important that your selected provider be easy to contact. You want to make sure they will be available when you need them.
Here’s a key test you can try in order to weed out any non-responsive providers:
The Phone Call Test – Get a list of your potential providers together, make sure it’s their business hours, and then call each of them one by one. See if you get a phone tree, a voice mail or a live human being. If you get a live human, say “I’m sorry, I misdialed.” (Don’t be rude and just hang up!) Keep a tally of which providers answer with a human being, and which don’t. You can take the test a step further by seeing if you are able to reach the person you trying to speak with – but in this case, you will probably want make sure you have something to say or ask – maybe a clarification on a proposal item. If your rep is on another line or not currently available, keep track of how many steps it takes to get to their voice mail. Then test how long it takes for them to return your phone call.
If a human answers and directs your call for you, and you get a prompt call back, then that is a good indicator that the provider is accessible. If the provider is hard to reach and takes a day or more to get back to you, you may want to reconsider if that is a provider that has the ability or desire to serve and support you as a client. Obviously, this same test can be applied to any other forms of communications, such as email, text, Skype and social media inquiries.
If you are selecting a local provider, make sure they are available for in-person meetings – and that they have an actual office that you can visit. If you are in reasonable driving distance, you can also check if the provider is willing to visit with you at your office.
Skill Set / Depth of Talent
Building and supporting a website is different than it was 10 years ago. Many more components play into the development process. Our website QA checklist has grown in size since 2007 and our resources in staff has increased as a result. If your potential provider only has excellent design skills, then your site will look good, but it might not perform well. Make sure the provider you select has expertise in the fields of design, programming, SEO, content creation and online marketing. Check out how many staff members they have and what roles those staff members are assigned. What kind of education does the staff have? Are they college graduates? Have they invested in ongoing certification?
Track Record / Portfolio
If a developer is good at what they do, they will be in demand. They will have a portfolio of past projects that showcases their work. Make sure to check the portfolio of the developer you are considering using to see examples of their sites. Most of these examples will be on their website, or available on request.
Many website developers belong to some type of local, regional and/or national trade associations. These trade associations may have annual award programs to honor their members that are producing the best work. This leads to healthy competition that pushes association members to do their best work. If the provider you are considering has won awards through established trade associations they are members of then this is a good indication that not only do they produce good work, but they are leaders in their field.
Succeeding in the field of website development is not an easy task. It requires a constant learning of new skills as the endless stream of new technologies and recommended best practices are introduced to our industry. Developers have to be creative, analytical, problem-solving and also business-minded all at once. Smaller development firms struggle to have the resources needed to keep up with industry standards. Large firms struggle to provide personal attention and to be flexible to customer needs. A development firm that has figured out how to thrive for many years is one that knows how to manage these challenges.
With numerous options for website development providers, it is important to have some guiding principles to help you make a selection. Hopefully the above criteria will provide some guidance for you.
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This article is the seventh in an ongoing series! Be sure to visit us often to catch the rest of our Business Website Success articles.