To be able to provide a good answer to this question it is important that I first understand why do you need a web developer and what you want to accomplish.
Let us discuss you, your business and what do you need at this time.
1. Is a fixed budget important to you or do you care more about generating revenue?
What do I mean by this? Do you have a very specific technical need and you want to pay no more than X dollars to get it done, or do you want to generate more business with your website? In which case the cost is less important as long as the value you get is higher.
For example, would you pay $6k to update your site, if you knew that it would get you a $60k increase in revenue for that year?
Depending on what you prioritize cost or value, the discussion with your potential developer will be very different.
If cost is what you deem solely important to you, allow me to share a story with a lesson to be learned. A business owner was looking to hire a developer to modernize their site by rebuilding it from scratch. They asked the first person and got a price on the spot: $800. Of course, being wise, they asked another developer for an offer. After a 2 hour discussion they were told that an offer will be sent in a few days. After 2 days they got the offer: $5k for phase one and there will need to be another discussion with how to proceed from there.
Who do you think got hired?
Of course, the $5k offer won. Why? Because the developer took the time to understand the business and what was needed before making an offer and the client understood that the first “cheaper” offer was just making assumptions about what was needed. It was a low ball made up number that would have been unlikely to truly resolve the issues.
2. How much responsibility are you willing to take for your online business?
This is an important question, and in my experience ignoring this one is the most common source of big trouble down the road.
It is tempting for both the developer and client to discuss a “hands off” solution, where the developer takes care of all the details like buying a domain name, buying host space on a server, signing up for a newsletter service, purchasing licences for other products/services that may be needed while building the website.
It is fast and very comfortable for both. So what is the problem with this approach?
The problem is ownership. If the developer does all those things for you, they will own your online business. And if for whatever reason the developer becomes unavailable, you are locked out of your own website.
In some cases, like for a quick project where you just want to test the market, this is not a big deal. But when you are building your brand, a reputation and a client list, you will have to decide how important ownership of your data is, over comfort and hands off ease.
If ownership is important, you need to make sure you have all the legal rights and the access rights, meaning you have the right passwords and access information into your servers and services.
3. Who will do maintenance for your website?
Is your website mosty static, like a brochure or a portfolio? Or is it more like web application with a store, newsletter, a forum and a number of other inter-connected services?
If your website is more like of a web application then you will need to have a maintenance plan in mind. As the web evolves, so too will your site have to change and grow to keep working as expected.
Are you willing to maintain the site yourself? Do you have the knowledge? And do you have the time?
I would inquire here how much of your time would you have to spend to be able to maintain your site at the desired level of functionality. Consider the training for the skills needed and then the actual work itself. Do you have that number of hours? Is that time better spent managing or creating content for your business versus doing maintenance work?
Of course the answer could vary depending on where you are with your business. But it is important that you have thought of an answer.
4. I would also want to understand why do you want a new or updated website?
Understanding your why can help a developer (and yourself) focus on what matters to you the most!
For example, you may discover that you don’t actually need to redo your entire website, but just streamline the sales process. Or, everything is working well, but the design looks dated and that affects your conversion rates. So maybe you just need a new design and you are all set.
In my opinion, if you do not yet understand the value of having a website or updating the old one, you need to wait and get that crystal clear, before hiring someone to help. Maybe your question should instead be “What value can I get from a website?” before “How to choose a web developer”.
I know this question is sometimes very difficult to answer, and it is difficult to quantify values that are sometimes subjective. But do put some effort into figuring this out and it will pay off down the road in a number of ways.
5. What is your definition of success?
If we were to work together, how will you know if the project is a success? The answers are as different as there are clients, so let me give you some examples about what I mean.
Eg. 1 – I want to increase my Facebook audience by 10% this year and I think a nicer, faster blog would help me achieve that goal.
We would have to further define what “nicer” and “faster” means and work from there.
Eg. 2 – Our online sales revenue is low compared to other revenue sources – and we would like to increase that because online sales are the most profitable.
Now we would have to clarify how much the current revenue is, by how much you want to have it increased and come up with a strategy for how to do it over time.
So the idea is to know very clearly how success can be measured and what you want to achieve. Not only will this make the communication easier, it is also more likely you will achieve your goals.
6. How important is your business data to you?
If you were to lose your website, or your customer list, or your analytics data how would that impact your business?
We generally don’t think about this until it is too late. And I have learned this lesson the hard way when I lost all my work on a project just the day before my deadline. And I have other stories of woe from clients I have worked with.
If the answer to this question is: my data is very important to me and I cannot afford to lose it, then you need backups and a restore plan. Having backups can mean the difference between restoring your site within hours with minimal loss versus rebuilding your entire site and client list from whatever is left.
7. Are you looking for someone to manage or are you looking for someone to solve a problem for you?
Depending on your business type, your skills and your time, it is important to consider who do you want to work with. If you hire a problem solver, you describe what the problem is and allow them to find and implement a solution for you, while you focus on your business.
But if oversight is important to you and you want to decide on how the problem will be solved and have a say in the implementation of the solution, then you will have to manage your developer.
Find your answer to this question and then make sure it matches with the person you choose. Expecting self-management from someone who is not able to do that is just as stressful as trying to manage a self-managed independent person.
8. Is automation important for your business and website management?
Depending on what the purpose of your website is, there may not be anything that you could automate. But in other cases automation can save you a lot of time and money by reducing the risk of human error.
For example, backups should be automatic. They should not rely on someone to remember to do them and to do them correctly every single time.
There are also automated tests for your website.
Have you ever had to find out that your store is not working from one of your customers? Have you ever had to wonder for how long was your website not functional and how many potential customers you have lost? What will that do to your brand and reputation?
If this is something that matters to you there are ways to automate tests on your site, so if something breaks down you learn about it quickly and you can act accordingly. This will also give you peace of mind that any upcoming promotions will not be sent to a page that is not working as you would expect.
9. How is website performance affecting your business?
Does your customer base expect your pages to feel fast? And how fast is “fast”? Do you have an idea on how site speed is affecting your conversions and would you like to work on that?
In some cases, the costs of optimizing a website are not justified by the increase in revenue, but in other cases it may be the missing link into getting your conversions higher and reaching your financial goals.
10. Do you need to monitor your Key Performance Indicators?
This is linked to question number (5) about How do you define and measure your success, but goes deeper by tracking those metrics through time to discover trends, patterns and anomalies.
Looking at your metrics evolution through time you can quickly notice if what you are doing is working and is getting you closer to your goals or not. It is a measurement of effectiveness.
You have to decide if having this data is something that is relevant for your business or not.
11. Are you concerned with your website security?
Depending on your business type (and if you have a good backup/restore plan), website security may not be a priority to you. But if your business requires storing private customer information, or credit card information then security needs to much higher on your list.
There is no easy answer here and you may need a professional audit to determine your risk. Web security is complex and changing so you will have to determine how much you are willing to invest to get the level of security that you need for your business.
And remember, having a good backup/restore plan can go a long way with mitigating this risk.
12. When hiring a web developer are you looking to save money or to save time?
I have kept this for last because it is the most important question and the main take away I would like you to have from this discussion.
Here is a real-life example: a client hires a contractor to do their website for $1,500. A couple of months later, after much frustration, they decide to hire someone else for over $10k to do it right.
If they had hired the right person from the start they would have saved some money, but more importantly, they would have saved time. While the website was not working as it should, that was time when the website was not helping your business. It was time when the business owner was trying to get it fixed instead of working on their business and building their audience. And no matter how much you decide to spend later, you cannot get lost time back.
How valuable is time for you and your business?
If creating your working website costs the same, do you prefer it done faster or slower? If you want it faster, you value time.
What is more valuable to you?
A website that costs $1,500 and it takes 6 months to create and then another 6 to fine tune it and get it to where you wanted?
A website that costs $10k and it is ready and working great in one month and you have the rest of the year to just focus on and grow your business?
If you favor the $1,500 site, then you value saving money over saving time.
After finding your answers to these questions you will be well prepared for a discussion with your potential web developer, you will know what to ask, what to respond to their questions, when to say yes and when to say no.
If there is something that your online business needs that I have missed please write a comment below. And I would also like to know what the most valuable takeaway was for you.