A great friend is getting ready to launch a new enterprise and asked for my advice about web sites. I'm glad he did. Why, back in the days of the WWW (wish I had taken a screenshot from Google 2001) my little web site development sole proprietorship appeared on the first page of Google search results. I've seen a lot go down since then. I'm hoping my friend can simply print out this post (a face-to-face interview is optimal) or send a link (Skype or a phone call is second best) and ask prospective developers (at least three) to answer these questions:
- With whom will my domain name be registered and how will I access that registration?
- What web site development tool or content management system (CMS) will you use to create the site? Is it open source or proprietary, i.e. is it 1) widely used and known with lots of minds working on it, or is it 2) a product you have developed in-house? (My two cents: Avoid 2. Things change, technology changes, people change. Go with "lots of minds.")
- Where will my site be hosted?
- If my site will be hosted on your servers, what is your uptime, how is your speed and scalability, and what is your data back-up system?
- If my site will be hosted with another company, what is the name of that company so I can do my own research on its reliability and service?
- How do I get in touch with you in case of an emergency, such as when the site goes down? (Not "if the site goes down." All sites go down.)
- These are the goals for my site: I want visitors to be able to x, y, and z. How will your web site development services help me achieve my goals? (Note to friend: Figure out "x, y, and z" for yourself before you have the meeting!)
- Who will design my site? What is the process for me reviewing and approving the site's design? (Note to friend: Just like with a great idea for a mobile app, the more you can map out your great idea for your web site with as much detail as you can muster, including the pages you want, diagrams of their layout and text for each page - content creation is expensive and good content creation is hard to come by - the better you will communicate your vision to the developer, the more likely you are to be pleased with the result, and the more you will cut your development costs.)
- What is your process for documenting the work you do and the code you write to create the site?
- Who will make updates to the site?
- If you will make updates, what is the process for requesting updates, how much do you charge to make them, and how much time will pass between the request and the appearance of the update?
- If you make the updates, do you have different rates for different types of updates? For example, when the year changes and a new copyright date needs to be added to my site, how much would you charge for changing one numeral? If I wanted to replace my 300-word bio with a new 500-word bio, how much would that be?
- If I will make the updates, do you provide training? If so, how many hours? Are those hours included in the purchase price or are they extra? How much do you charge for additional hours of training?
- I may want to blog. Do you have the capability to add a blog to my site, what software or blog service would you use, and how much would adding a blog cost?
- In addition to upfront costs for design and development, what will by my additional monthly and yearly fees?
- If we part ways, how do I get my site’s code and documentation?
- If I want to move my site from your company to another company, what is the process for that?
- How many sites have you created?
- How long have you been in business?
- What is the URL of your company so I can see if you "walk the talk" of web site development excellence?
- If you don’t have a client list on your company site, what are the URLs of 5 sites you have developed for others?
- What are the names of 3 people I can call to ask about what it's like to work with you?
- What are the top 3 reasons your development services are chosen?
- What are 3 reasons not to do business with you?
For any enterprise, a web site is a mission-critical, costly investment. If developers haven't asked and answered hard questions about their own business operations and business models, they can't help you with yours.
If "Huh?" happens in answer to any of these questions, or outrage happens, move on to the next potential developer. Otherwise, listen to answers for signs of the two most important traits of a web site developer: 1) technical expertise, and 2) business savvy.
What questions am I missing? Help me help my friend! Feel free to leave questions and suggestions in the comments.