With the creation of content management systems like WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix, everyone is a web designer and developer. With so many experts out there, how do you know which one can actually help you build the website of your dreams? Hiring a consultant who doesn’t know what they’re doing is probably the worst thing you can do for your business. Your website is the front door of your business. It’s often times the first experience potential customers have with your company. You cannot afford to have an ugly, malfunctioning, slow, empty or cluttered website. So, it is imperative that you properly interview your website designer/developer prior to signing on the dotted line. In this post, I will discuss the most important questions you should ask during the interview and what answers you should be expecting.
Question #1: How do you handle maintenance after the launch of my website?
Once your website has been completed, there may be features that need to be adjusted or updates that may need to be installed. Your developer should set expectations up front on what she will or will not handle under the umbrella of the project contract and what will be an extra cost. Be careful of anyone who does not have maintenance packages. Paying a developer on a per hour basis can quickly add up and cost more than you expected.
Correct Answer: “I have a maintenance plan that can be purchased on a monthly, quarterly or yearly basis. The maintenance package covers anything that breaks on your website and any software or platform updates that need to be made.”
Wrong Answer: “I don’t have any maintenance packages, but you can just pay me per hour to work on anything that breaks.”
Question #2: What is covered for features that break in the first 30 days?
There is one thing I can promise you about your website design project. Something is going to break. I have not worked on a project that didn’t have at least one problem. Things happen, technology isn’t perfect. Because of this fact, it is imperative that you discuss what will happen if anything breaks on your website in the first 90 days. Are you out of luck or will your developer fix it without charging you?
Correct Answer: “I will troubleshoot any issue you have within the first 30 days of launch. If I deem that the issue is due to my code or design, I will fix it without cost. If I find that the issue is due to some other cause such as an update that needs to happen or a change you made on the website, I will pull together a quote for a smaller project to fix the issue.”
Wrong Answer: “Anything that breaks after I launch the website will require additional funds. I do not provide warranties on my work.”
Question #3: Do you place any code within my website acknowledging your company?
Many years ago, it was customary to allow your developer to place a link to their website in the footer of your website. As the cost of website design and development has increased this practice has disappeared. However, it is not unheard of that developers still add some sort of Easter egg in a website to acknowledge they were the developer of the masterpiece. It is better to ask if the developer will do this than hoping or assuming that they won’t. On the other hand, most developers will simply ask if you could be a reference for them when they are courting new customers.
Correct Answer: “No I don’t place any code in or on your website promoting my company. I may ask at the end of the project if you will be a reference for me, but that is only if you are satisfied with my work.”
Wrong Answer: “Yes, I add a link to my website in the footer of all pages on your website.”
Question #4: Does the total cost include any images or fonts you may have to purchase in the development of my website?
The design of your website may require the purchase of stock photography or specialty fonts. If this is the case, you will want to ask the developer up front, if the cost of the project will cover these purchases or will these be an additional cost. Depending on where the developer is purchasing the images, graphics, or fonts, they could be fairly expensive. So if this is an added cost, inform the developer, they should not purchase anything without your explicit permission.
Correct Answer: “Yes, the price I quote includes any image, graphic, video, audio, or font purchases that need to be made to complete the project.”
Wrong Answer: “No, I will just bill you any extra charges that are incurred as I move through the development of your website.”
Question #5: How do you handle any changes I may want to make during the project?
There may be features that do not turn out the way you expected or circumstances may determine a change needs to be made within the project. If this is the case, you should know what the change control process is for your developer. Many times, changing the requirements of a project after the project has begun will incur additional cost and affect your launch date. Making changes in the middle of a project throws developers off and can be detrimental to a project. Many times developer plan projects to begin when another project has ended. If you make a change that moves the launch date, this could throw off all the developers other projects. Try to only make changes if they are absolutely necessary.
Correct Answer: “If you need to make changes to the project, inform me as soon as possible. We will sit down and discuss what changes you need. If I find that these changes will affect the scope of the project in a major way, like increasing the cost or moving the launch date, we can then decide how you want to proceed.”
Wrong Answer: “I don’t allow changes to be made to a project after it has begun.”
Question #6: Do you use sub-contractors?
Some developer contract pieces or all of a project out to sub-contractors. Sometimes these sub-contractors are friends and colleagues that the developer has worked with in the past, and sometimes developer contract out to other companies. Most clients and this may be your preference too, prefer developers not contract out to others. Clients build a relationship with the developer, interview the developer, engage with the developer, they don’t then want someone else working on their website. Also, it can get a little strained if something goes wrong in the developer / sub-contractor relationship.
Correct Answer: “No, I do not use sub-contractors. Everyone that will work on your website works for my company and you will be able to meet and engage with.”
Wrong Answer: “Yes, I do not do the coding of websites myself, I always use sub-contractors.”
Question #7: What is expected if you go over the hours you originally predicted?
I’ve worked with developers in the past and the biggest pet peeve I have is when they underestimate how many hours it will take to complete the project. This often means that the designs they showed me, isn’t what I end up with. It’s frustrating and bad business in my opinion. Ask the developer up front, if they stand by their estimations.
Correct Answer: “I aim to provide a quote as close to exact as possible, however, there are times when I may be under or over. The price I quote is the price you pay for the work promised. I do not tack on extra costs for miscalculations in my estimations.”
Wrong Answer: “If I find that I am going to go over the hours estimated, I will remove some of the features from the website, to even it out, so you don’t have to pay more than quoted.”
Question #8: Will I be able to update every aspect of my website after the project has been completed or will I need developer resources for some features?
If you are using a content management system like WordPress, you should be able to update any and every part of your website. Developers can implement features like reusable content, that can ensure you have the ability to manage your website after they are finished. However, there are developers who focus on maintaining your business. They will create some features that require you to come back to them to make updates. This defeats the purpose of a content management system and is, again, bad business. Now, there will be some features that cannot be edited by you, but these are few and far between. Have the conversation with your developer before they begin work.
Correct Answer: “Yes, when I am finished, you will not need developer assistance to make content updates to any part of your website.”
Wrong Answer: “There will be some features that only a developer can edit.”
Question #9: Can you show me the websites you’ve developed that are similar to mine in size and website type?
Web developers love to showcase their portfolio, but every website isn’t created equal. When reviewing a developer’s portfolio, ask to see the websites they developed that are similar to the one you want. Have they ever developed websites in your industry? If you want an e-commerce website, have they ever developed an e-commerce website or do they regularly create blog websites? If your website will have 300+ pages, have they ever created a website that large?
Correct Answer: “Certainly, I’ve developed several websites just like the one you want, here are some examples and some references.”
Wrong Answer: “No, I’ve never created a website like the one you want, but I can learn.”
Question #10: What level of communication can I expect during the project?
Establish up front how much communication you can expect from the developer and her team. Will you be updated at each milestone, or will you receive weekly email updates that describe what was accomplished that week and what is left to do?
Correct Answer: “I will send you an update email every Friday around 3 pm, outlining the major tasks that were completed that week and which tasks will be under construction the following week.”
Wrong Answer: “I will let you know when the project is complete.”
Question #11: Will you host weekly update meetings with you?
Depending on the size of your project, some developers may schedule weekly update meetings with you to get your opinion on their progress. If these meetings are offered, I suggest you take them. You’ll want to keep a thumb on the pulse of your project, and always feel free to ask questions. Remember, you’re paying them.
Correct Answer: “Yes, we will meet on a weekly basis with the whole team on a day and time that is most convenient for you.”
Wrong Answer: “No, I will let you know when the project is complete.”
Question #12: What is the payment structure?
The most common payment structure is 25% – 50% up front before work begins. The remainder is due in smaller chunks over the span of the project. And final payment will be due before launch.
Correct Answer: “50% of the cost is due at contract signing. 20% is due at the first project milestone, 20% is due at the second milestone and 10% is due after user acceptance testing, right before launch.”
Wrong Answer: “All of the funds are due at contract signing.”
Bonus Question #13: Are meetings, administrative tasks and website testing included in the total cost?
The cost of your website doesn’t only include design and development. Developers are normally paid by the hour. So anything they do for your project is a billable hour. This should include time to answer emails, make phones calls, participate in meetings, manage the project tasks, etc. Double check on this with your developer. You don’t want to get a second bill after the close of the project.
Correct Answer: “Yes, everything I do to manage this project is included in the cost of the project.”
Wrong Answer: “No, those hours are separate.”
Bonus Question #14: Will my website look exactly like the creatives?
Developers and designers love to entice customers with beautiful creatives and wireframes that showcase everything they know how to do. But, be careful! It’s like when a car dealer shows you a top of the line BMW. And after you see it you try to figure out how it will fit into your Hyundai Elantra budget. Once the demo is over, ask them how much of that your budget will get you. I guarantee you it won’t get you everything.
Correct Answer: “Yes, this design was built with your budget in mind.”
Wrong Answer: “No, some of these features will come at an extra cost.”
Bonus Question #15: Have you set aside time in the project plan for quality assurance testing and user acceptance testing?
Quality assurance testing and user acceptance testing is imperative! I cannot stress that any harder, it is imperative! Quality assurance testing or QAT, is when a developer tests the website to ensure everything is working properly. User acceptance testing or UAT, is when you test the website to ensure there are no major issues. Under normal circumstances, a project is not complete until QAT and UAT has been completed.
Correct Answer: “Yes, we provide 2 weeks for QA testing and 2 weeks for UAT.”
Wrong Answer: “What’s that?”
So there you have it. Outside of any project specific questions, these are the most important you should ask during an interview. If you have any questions post them to Facebook or Twitter. I love hearing from everyone, I’m always here to help!