Your website is the hub, heart and soul of your business. It’s the centre of your online marketing. The right website can even catapult you to success… but for a lot of business owners they are major source of stress. If you’re not careful, you can easily waste a MASSIVE amount of time and effort trying to build a site on your own, only to find it doesn’t work, or doesnt capture the right “feeling” you want to share.
Making the decision to outsource your web development to a professional may seem like a no-brainer, but to some it carries an equal amount of stress:
- You worry about the expense.
- You’re unsure if the finished site will do what you need it to.
- It may seem easier to just do it yourself than spend so much time explaining to someone else what you want.
- And you’ve heard horror stories about web development projects dragging on for months on end, racking up endless unexpected costs.
While it’s true a website project can involve a lot of time, planning, costs and stress, they really shouldn’t!
As long as you’re aware of a few key things before outsourcing your web development project, you should have an easy, stress-free experience that gets your dream website up and running in no time at all.
Here are five things to know about hiring a professional web developer, and how to ensure your website project is completed to your satisfaction:
#1 Determine A Timeline
The first thing to get a handle on when you’re looking to outsource your website is the timeline. When you book in a job and agree on a time frame, you need to know your developer is going to stick to it and deliver on time.
BUT this goes both ways.
One thing a lot of clients don’t understand is that if they’re unable to deliver elements on time (i.e. the copy, photography, payment, or feedback and a final okay on the design) it can derail the whole project timeline.
If you agree to get things done by certain dates, and miss those dates (even if you only miss them by a day or two), you can wind up waiting an extended time for the project to get started or move forward.
Because your project will be booked onto a schedule, and while it may be possible to rearrange that schedule and ‘just shuffle things around’, it usually isn’t that easy.
If you miss your slot in the schedule because you weren’t able to get material to your developer, couldn’t make payment on time, or simply didn’t have time to respond to their emails and give the all-clear, you may find yourself at the bottom of the to-do list.
Don’t get me wrong though, you’re not being punished!
It’s simply a logistics issues and it isn’t a problem limited to website developers; it’s a common issue for a lot of freelancers. They have other clients, all of whom have deadlines of their own, and many of whom can’t be swapped with you and started sooner, due to the need to wait for material from them.
#2 Make A Central Plan
Planning a website – especially an elaborate one – is a big deal. You’re going to think about it a lot.
If you’ve been in business a while you likely have a list of things a mile long that either don’t work or don’t exist on your current website, and you want that fixed.
If you’re smart in your planning, you’ll also have looked at your long-term goals and what the website needs to do to support them – not just now, but six months, a year, even two years from now.
Are you planning on launching an eCourse or a membership site?
Do you need a site that supports video because you’re finally hip to the power of video marketing and you’re gearing up to start a vlog?
Were you planning on launching products and need a shop?
Are you wanting to blog and have SEO as part of your marketing strategy? This needs to be taken into consideration, as it can be greatly impacted by your choice of web host, website CMS platform, and the layout and design of your website.
Or maybe you have new services that will require different methods of payment (such as subscriptions or installments), and you need the site to allow your clients to easily pay for everything, whatever they’re ordering.
It’s a lot to think about!
And you’re going to have notes.
Lots, and lots of notes.
This is great – the more specific you can be in what you want and need from your site, the more likely you are to be happy with the finished product, but here’s a huge mistake a lot of people make:
They send all those notes via email.
Lots of little emails, here there and everywhere.
There are several problems with this. Firstly, an email system is not infallible. Your email may get lost and never arrive, and if it’s one of many your developer will have no way of knowing there was another lot of notes you sent through that they never received – you’ll figure it out when they give you the design to look at, and you’re baffled that stuff you clearly asked for is missing.
Even if the email does get through, depending on your developer’s availability, there may be several weeks between the time they first discuss your site with you, and the time they actually come to do it.
You’ll likely send most of your notes through when you first start talking about the project with them, so they can give you an accurate quote.
All manner of things can happen to emails over the course of a few weeks!
They might change server or system, and not realise some of their old messages haven’t carried over. They can be accidentally deleted. Or they can simply not show up when your developer searches for them – especially if you sent one from a different email address than usual!
Beyond this there are also staffing changes that can occur on your developer’s end. Let’s say you discuss your website with one person, and that person leaves the company, changes roles, or goes on leave. Your project is taken over by someone you’ve never spoken to before, and they have no idea what you want.
You could be faced with explaining it all over again. That’s extremely frustrating, and a waste of your valuable time.
It’s also totally unnecessary!
The easiest way to avoid any problems of this nature is to pop all your notes in a Google Doc (or series of Google Docs!), which you share with anyone working on the project. You, your developer, and anyone else involved (your staff, the designer, photographer, copywriter etc.) can all comment on it directly. All your conversations happen in one place, updated in real-time, so you’re all always looking at the most current version of the document.
If the worst happens and your emails get lost, or there are changes in personnel, you can share the document again, and you’re sorted!
#3 It’s A Project That Needs Management
There are a lot of components that go into a new website, and not all of them will be the province of your web developer. If you’re writing new copy for the website, or having new copy written, that’s going to be a much more time-consuming process than you imagine.
You may be organising a photography shoot for the new site, and that creates a whole other set of time-constraints you probably haven’t thought about. Your shoot will depend on several things:
- Finding the right photographer.
- The photographer’s availability.
- The availability of the location(s) you want to use for the shoot, which may not be your home or the photographer’s studio.
- The weather – it’s not unusual for shoots to be rearranged, even when they’re indoors, because the weather is screwing up the light/ambiance/ability to be outside without looking like a drowned rat.
Even once the shoot is done, you’re going to have to wait for all those lovely photos to be edited. If you’re unfamiliar with photographers you’ll likely assume this happens immediately.
It rarely does!
When you’re booking your photographer, remember to ask about editing times as well as shoot times; just because you have your photos taken in plenty of time ahead of the web project starting, doesn’t mean you’ll have the edited photos to give your developer/designer when they ask for them!
Copywriters also need to be aware of the timing of your project so they can get the finished copy to your developer on time. And if you’re writing your own website copy, here’s a top tip from a friend of mine (who happens to be a copywriter):
“However long you think you’ll need to write your website copy, triple it. Website copy should be succinct, which often leads people to think it’s quick to write. It’s actually a lot more time-consuming to write finely honed copy that’s engaging, enticing, and does exactly what you need it to, than it is to write pages and pages of text.” – Hazel Butler, The Write Copy Girl
Remember, any delays on your end will delay the project on your developer’s end, so be sure to get accurate time frames from everyone working on the project, and hold them to those deadlines!
#4 Changes In Inspiration
We often associate hidden costs with shady dealing and people trying to con you, but when it comes to freelance projects it’s easy for work to expand beyond the scope originally quoted for, necessitating further payment.
This isn’t a case of your developer trying to fleece you!
When you discuss the project and tell them what you need, they will give you a quote for the work.
If you start adding things to that brief after it has been agreed, you should expect to pay extra.
This can be an issue for you because you may not have the budget for it, and any extra work will make everything take longer. It will also delay completion, and you may find new elements can’t be done until weeks or even months later than the rest of the project.
Here are a few common things that get tagged on after a quote is agreed, resulting in additional costs:
- You need more pages than originally anticipated.
- You realise part-way through the development that, actually, it makes more sense to set something up differently than originally planned.
- You use a paid theme or plugin that wasn’t part of the original quote.
- You didn’t realise that things like hooking up email optins and lead magnets weren’t covered in the scope of the project, and you have to pay extra for each opt-in you want connecting to your new site.
- You add extra functions to the site or more product listings than agreed.
- You change your mind on layout and styling – moving menus is complicated and expensive after the layout has already been approved and developed.
- You change your brand colours or business name after the project has begun.
#5 A Clear Vision
To avoid these extra costs it’s super important to be as clear as possible on what’s needed when the project is agreed. Even if you are, there are times when what you and your developer had in mind just don’t work out in practice.
Sometimes a theme you choose looks AMAZING on someone else’s site, or in the preview, but when you get your own images and content loaded into it, it just doesn’t work.
You should receive a draft design, or a rough outline of how your developer envisions the site, which you will have chance to comment on and amend before the website is actually built.
It’s really important you have faith that your expert will be able to realise the vision you have for your site. That said, it’s a lot easier to correct problems in the design at this early stage than after the site has been built, especially if the problem is with your theme and you need to switch to a completely different one.
Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and say if you’re not sure about something – your web developer would really rather you told them before they spent hours building it!
Try to keep your thoughts coherent, succinct, and centralised in your Google Docs so they don’t get lost!
It’s far better to spend time compiling your thoughts and add them to your project document, or send a single email listing everything, than it is to send things over in bits and bobs as and when you think of them – that’s a sure-fire way to ensure your requests are lost!
That being said, it’s also important for you to be realistic in your expectations. Here are times when it’s absolutely okay to ask for changes:
- You asked for something one way, and it’s turned out a different way.
- Something you both thought would work when you were planning doesn’t work in reality.
- Upon seeing a font or colour scheme in place you realise it would look better if they were a little different (this can happen if you have a brand colour or font you want to use for headers and they are illegible on the screen!).
- There is an element you weren’t expecting that has been included, which you don’t like.
- Something from the initial brief was missed.
A Few Final Things…
There are two other things you need to be very clear on before you choose who to outsource your website to.
You need to understand the difference between a web developer and a web designer (so you can hire the right person!). Simply put, a web designer is focused on the front-end visual aspects of the site, and tends to be less technical. A web developer mainly works in the back-end and is more focused on tech than making the site look pretty.
Some people (like me!) do a mixture of web development and web design. My skills are in both design and technical aspects of building your online home – because everything needs to work perfectly, and let’s be honest, pretty sells!
You also need to understand that whoever you hire isn’t a mind-reader!
You need to express to them your needs and wants clearly and completely in order for them to create your vision.