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If you’ve ever started the process of commissioning a new website project and ended up feeling disappointment and frustration with your web development company, this blog is for you. 

What’s that you say? A web development company saying the process of creating a new website will be rubbish and not enjoyable?  No, it’s not a great marketing message, but we’ve got enough experience in the field now to know this does happen – there is no point in pretending it doesn’t.  If you have ever thought, “yeah, the last website we had done was a nightmare” we want to help you avoid that feeling on your next project.

Here are six essential questions you need to ask your potential designer / web development company before you get started.

1. What will your website be built on?

Your website should really have a content management system (CMS) powering it. This is important as it is what will allow you to regularly make changes in the ‘back-end’.  You may have heard of systems like WordPressMagentoJoomla, or Concrete5, these are all content management systems and you need to know what you’re getting, and if it is the right one for you. 

Why is it important to know this?  For three reasons. 

One – If the web development company is using their own bespoke CMS, and not an open-source system, you will have to use them for any, and every little change in the future.  Effectively they have you over a barrel as the system is proprietary to them and it is not much you can do about it. 

Two – When they tell you what system it is, do some research and find out whether it is user-friendly, secure, powerful enough for you.  And if you don’t like the sound of it, put the brakes on. 

Three – If you use a system like WordPress, because it is open source you can always find another developer, or web development company to take it over at any point, giving you future options. 

2. Is it a bespoke build or a template?

This is a really important question.  There are companies who build websites to a specification agreed with the client based on their needs, and there are companies who specialise in adapting pre-built templates for a customer. Both of these approaches have their place in the world, but it is really important that you know which you’re getting.

A template will usually cost about $65 from a place like Themeforest and require around a day to adapt. This is a good option if you’re on a tight budget as it should cost about £400 for a template website.  However, we get really angry when customers are deceived and charged as much as £3500 for a simple template website.  Make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting, and if the build stipulates a bespoke or custom build, ensure you have the details in writing so you have some legal recourse if not delivered.

3. What are the payment terms?

It sounds kind of obvious, but having these written down and allocated to key milestones in the project is really important.  There is no reason for you to pay 100% upfront, nor is it okay to pay nothing until the project is completed.  For a small site that will take a few days, normally 50% upfront and 50% on completion is reasonable as both parties have a vested interest to complete the project.  For a larger web project that will last 12 weeks or so, we recommend four equal installments of 25% to make sure the agency has some cash flow for the work they’re doing, but also that your risk is minimised until milestones are achieved.

4. What is your process?

We can not emphasise how important this is. Imagine you’re having an extension to the house. When you contract an architect, you expect them to explain their process.  It is inconceivable you would go ahead without having a plan in place. If you do not know when the building will start, when it is going to be completed and all the steps in-between, how would you know when to order the new kitchen? It is the same in the world of web development, and as such you should expect the web development agency to explain their process and to outline what input they need from you and when.  Aspects of this process would include:

  • Admin and contracts
  • Project workshop
  • Wire-framing
  • Designs
  • Build
  • Testing
  • Snagging
  • Live deployment

Different companies work on different processes, but if you’re not involved at every stage in some capacity, disaster looms.  We mentioned at the outset of the blog that we know why people have bad experiences with web development agencies, and it’s usually because of mismanagement of expectations.  The agency has one thing in mind and you, the client, perhaps something entirely different. When those expectations don’t tally up it gets ugly.  Only by communicating, discussing, and making sure everyone is informed does the project work well.

How websites are built from Square Daisy on Vimeo.

5. What are your timelines?

As a direct link to point four, understand the timeline your potential web development company is working to and whether it is realistic.  Everyone wants everything straight away, but websites take time. If you expect, and demand, a rush job, it will be poor and that will be your fault for not allocating enough time to the build. Equally, it shouldn’t take nine months or more to build a website just because timescales weren’t put in place and agreed to/.

Be mindful that agencies have other work booked in, so they might not be able to start straight away. However, if they are the right fit for you and your business, be accommodating with and agree to timescales you can both live with. As an example, if you ring a plumber and they are free the next day, they probably aren’t a good plumber. Go with the one that is booked for the next two weeks as it demonstrates demand.

6. Can I have a copy of the site files and database?

A website is made up of site files. These are all the components you see on the ‘front-end’, and a ‘database‘ that houses all the content and other data.  Once the project has been completed make sure that you receive a copy of these site files and database just in case the worst happens. We worked with a client that had their site hosted somewhere and because of an admin error, the site files and database were deleted. There was no backup and no copy and so they lost their entire site. 

Your website hosting service should have a good backup regime in place, but at least if you have a physical copy of the website on a hard drive, you can easily upload a version of the website rather than be without anything at all, or have to pay for a brand new website.

If an agency says they don’t do wireframes as it isn’t necessary, walk away immediately.  Have you ever seen a building constructed without a set of blueprints?  Do the builders just start bricklaying and hope for the best?  No, so if you hear that answer, the web development company is not a serious outfit and should be avoided at all costs. Asking for 100% payment upfront should be a massive red flashing light and siren in your head. 

Who is the best web development company for me and my business?

This was not a comprehensive list of all the questions to ask, but they are the most important. If a company gives you comfort in all of their answers to the questions we’ve listed, you can expect them to be a good choice. Give yourself the best chance of making a good choice by interviewing the web development agency and having a good, honest and open dialogue.

If you need a website and aren’t sure which direction to go in, why not contact the My New Venture team.

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