Web Services Needed: What SMEs Need to Know When Hiring a Web Developer or Designer

Your business is… well, whatever your business may be: human resources, plumbing, running your restaurant. Many SME owners are privileged to do what they love and work very hard to make their businesses successful. Whatever you do, you want your website to work for you, but you want to spend your time running your business, not working on the nuts and bolts of website design, so when you need web services, how do you ensure that you are doing the right thing for your business?

This straightforward checklist will allow you to manage your web service needs from start to finish and to make sure you get the best quality and value web development for your company.

Which web services do you need?

If you don’t yet have a website, the first step is to write down exactly why you want a website and what you want it to do for your business. Is it an online business card for reference? Do you want to sell products or services via your site? Is it to improve communication within or outside the organisation? All of these factors influence the design and development of your website, who might be best suited to do the work and the potential cost.

If you already have a website, try to pinpoint exactly what you do and don’t like about the existing website and how things might be changed. Try and be specific: rather than noting that it looks outdated, identify what makes it so: is it the colour scheme or the fonts? Is the navigation clumsy or out-of-date? You don’t have to be a web design expert to do this, but it will give you a head start in looking for a web developer to solve these problems.

Next, prioritise your “wishlist”, which may be a combination of specific points, e.g. improving the layout and more general needs e.g. “I want to drive more business to my website”. Once you have this, you have a brief which a web developer can use to work out the web services needed and how to achieve the desired results. Since the list is prioritised, when it comes to obtaining quotes for the work, you can decide how much is achievable within your timeframe and budget.

Choosing the right person

Do you need a web designer, web developer or programmer? The terms may all sound similar, but there are distinct differences in the work they do and therefore what you can expect from their web services for your site.

A web designer focuses primarily on the appearance or look and feel of the website, including the layout. A good web designer should be an expert in making websites visually powerful and impactful and in drawing visitors to the right areas of your website. Some web designers combine their services with graphic design, so if you have a new look and feel branding on your website, they can incorporate it for you on company letterheads and business cards too.

A web programmer focuses more on functionality. He or she might program solely for the web or may do software programming too. The programmer’s concern is getting features of your website to work. Examples may include building an online intranet or database application, where information can be stored on your database and manipulated via your website. In larger companies, these roles are often split so that programmers work on the “back end” – the features that make a website work and then apply the “front end” created by a web designer to make the site more attractive.

A web developer muddies the water considerably, sorry. Web developers can incorporate elements of design and programming. Web development is a broader term for getting a website online and making it work. You can expect a good web developer to have an eye to both the appearance and functionality of the website.

If you need to narrow it down and you’re not quite sure about the technicalities, have a look around your site. Most likely your URLs in the address bar will have some kind of extension e.g.(.html,.asp,.php,.cfm). Try Googling for terms like “asp developer” to find someone with the specific skills to enhance your website.

Grill the portfolio When you visit a web developer’s website, check their portfolio thoroughly and don’t stop there – look for their clients’ website online. If you are looking for website redesign to allow you to update content more easily, how well are the developer’s portfolio sites maintained? If you are primarily concerned with Search engine optimisation (SEO), how do client sites fare on search engines for the relevant terms?

The personal touch Above all, pay attention to client recommendations. The website can show you the end result, but the recommendation can tell you about the web design process with this particular individual or company. Every SME is different, but with all those I have worked with, one thing has remained the same: the importance of the personal touch. Whether you are employing a freelancer or a big web development company, you need to ensure that you can establish a good relationship with your web developer. How quickly and thoroughly do they respond to emails or phone calls? Are they forthcoming with advice and what sort of advice do they offer? Again, you don’t have to be an expert, you just have to judge whether you think it rings true and fits for you and your business

Go big or go local? Web design and development is big business and variety is the name of the game. Google, Bing and Yahoo! can play a big part in your decision, but rankings aren’t always the whole story.

It is well worth considering a local web design company or developer, because they may have local contacts to help you promote your website or greater access to resources like online business directory listings which can boost your search engine rankings.

I worked with a Cambridge charity who wanted to employ a Cambridge web developer because they knew the web services needed would be ongoing and that discussion and meeting face to face in Cambridge would be important to them, rather than discussing their needs over the phone or email.

How much should web design cost? As with any investment you make for your SME, it goes without saying that you should shop around and get a few quotes. Even if you know which developer you want to go with, it is worth checking that you are being charged the going rate for the web services needed. If the web design prices are above average, you need to decide whether your relationship with the company or freelance web developer are worth paying the extra cost. If the prices are considerably below average, this should set alarm bells ringing. Canny SMEs know that you always get what you pay for.

Working as a freelancer, I know that my clients prefer me to be upfront about costs and that it builds trust. Beware companies who hedge their bets with quotes as it might be a telltale sign of inexperience. However, it is worth bearing in mind that quoted prices are only a starting point. As an SME, it is down to you to hash out exactly what is included and what is not. For example, many sites offer SEO friendly websites. This means that the web design will incorporate the features needed to give your site a boost on Google. However, SEO does not stop here. In my experience, building websites for Cambridge companies in search engines is an ongoing process which takes place over a period of time.

Web design prices: break it down If in doubt, ask the web designer or developer to break the cost down per task. That way, if there is a time-consuming feature which is not at the top of your web design wishlist, you can decide whether or not it is worth the web developer’s time and – more importantly – your money.

Your SME, your website Love or loathe the internet: your website is a big part of your company’s identity. It pays to get it right; it costs to get it wrong, so take your time to find the web services you need.

Is Your Web Developer a Cowboy?

What do you think of your web developer?

Over the last few years we have quietly, but at every opportunity, been asking this question to business owners, marketing directors and executives responsible for their company website whether for commissioning, developing or maintaining their online presence. We also asked if they were happy with the website that the developer had provided, or if they thought it was bringing tangible benefit to their business. The responses were sharply divided. It seems that the businesses’ experience of Web developers is like Marmite: you either love them or hate them.

Shockingly, over 80% of respondents reported a ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ experience of working with a website developer or designer. Many made comments that were very uncomplimentary toward their web developers. Some stated that they felt they had been, “Taken for a ride,” by those who had either baffled them with technology and jargon, or had – deliberately or otherwise – raised their expectations beyond what was feasible with the investment they were making. One had invested tens of thousands with a web development company to build an online presence for their business and now has a website that not only makes no contribution to any business objective, neither has it produced a single enquiry. The overall impression that we gained from our research to date and a term used by more than one unhappy respondent was that web developers are: “A load of cowboys.”

These poor experiences have a knock-on effect, not just for those who have been unhappy with their outcomes but for the web development and internet marketing industries as a whole. It results in an increased conviction that all web developers were likely to be the same, and that there was no-one out there who could be trusted. In addition, the inclination to invest any further resources and capital on online promotion of their business was greatly reduced. “We’ve done that and it didn’t work,” was a common response.

What do the web developers have to say?

To balance the picture we also surveyed web developers and web design companies to see if we could identify what had created this tale of woe from businesses.

Many were unaware of the situation and some were quite frank in their derision of business owners. Common responses included

  • “They don’t know what they are doing,”
  • “We’re not telepathic you know!”
  • “They don’t understand what is involved.”
  • “We never get the right information.”
  • “They keep changing their minds, often before the previous changes are completed.”

Each side seemed to blame the other for what might be interpreted as a straightforward breakdown in communication.

So why does this happen? There are no doubt numerous reasons, but focusing on the communication issue, we asked the web developers if they ever asked for, or received, a web design brief from their clients. The majority response was: “Rarely!” The design briefs received mostly consisted of a single page of vague information that lacked the detail and specifics required. Although they usually included requests for things that far exceeded the budget or amount the business owner was willing to spend and were full of wish lists and ‘good’ ideas that require bespoke development or even new technology (for the words ‘bespoke’ and ‘new’, read – interchangeably – ‘difficult’ and ‘expensive’)!

So whose job is it?

Isn’t it part of the web developers’ job to write the brief? Actually, no it isn’t, it is the responsibility of the business owner to communicate their requirements, their goals, their current situation and future plans. After all, as more than one developer pointed out, “We’re are not telepathic you know!”

In addition, the pressure of trying to keep a small web development business running (let alone in profit) in this ever increasingly competitive industry means that there is no time or other resources to be teaching the business owner how to write a web design brief, even though it would create a better outcome for everyone. For the majority of situations, there is often no clear or effective communication, more a case of asking questions of the business owner – which they often don’t understand clearly, which is no-ones fault – to get some sort of outline and then on with the job of designing and building the website.

Our experience – Web developer

Our experience indicates that the majority of web developers really want to do the best job they can for their clients.

They have the skills and knowledge to build websites that could work for their clients’ businesses. They have the equipment and resources to carry out the work. We also observe however that there are web developers who mistake the functionality of the software that they use for their own creative skills. Ultimately over a period of more than a decade we have encountered very few who would deliberately, “Take their client for a ride,” as some businesses have claimed.

Our experience – Businesses

Websites for businesses create a particular quandary for the business owner, manager or similar. There seems to be a huge barrier of technology and jargon to break through to be able to even speak the same language as the web development world. In addition, it is very difficult for anyone without extended experience to make any kind of value judgement about what is good or bad. Consider a different situation: whether you eat in a restaurant often or not, because you do eat every day, if you go into a restaurant, it is possible to make some kind of judgement as to whether you had a good experience, whether the food was good, whether the service was acceptable or excellent. Of course this is subjective to your own preferences and experiences, but at least you understand what a restaurant is, what it is supposed to do or be for and so on.

In our survey we ask a further question of businesses: “What is your website for, why did you get a website?” Very few offered any kind of clear response, the most common being: “Because we needed a website,” or “Because our competitors had one.” We also hear: “To generate sales/leads/enquiries etc.” quite often, which is at least focused on business, but is nowhere near specific enough to be called an objective.

If it is not common for businesses to even understand what the website is for, or why they are getting one developed, how can it be possible for them to make a judgment on what is good or bad, other than it produces no results. Even this judgement requires something to measure the results – or lack thereof – against.

Management by abdication

In so many cases the business abdicates responsibility for the website to a web developer in the mistaken belief that ‘they know best’. While the web developer knows about websites, they are likely to know little or nothing about the client’s business and even less about the customers who will use the website. Together with the lack of communication between the web developer and the business owner it is not difficult to see why so many websites are poorly designed, deliver bad user experiences and ultimately poor or no results for the business.

Is there a solution

The first step to a solution is to address the communication problem. It is clear that there must be effective communication and the first stage of this would normally take the form of a clear and concise website design brief.

The website design brief

The last time we reported on web design briefs we had surveyed 57 web development companies, further surveying has now brought this number to nearly 100. While everyone does it slightly differently, they all had information requirements in common.

Remember that:

  • The document needs to be clear and concise,
  • The document is prepared for someone outside your business who doesn’t necessarily know anything about your business or industry. Even if they claim to have worked in your industry before, unless they are specialists, then you should assume nothing.

Its purpose is to state clearly your requirements, including:

  • A profile of your business, its existing image, brand and products or other offerings including future plans
  • The objectives of the site – stated clearly in terms that can be measured, not woolly ‘to generate enquiries’ or similar, think detail and be specific.
  • The target market – who will be the users of the site, what will be their requirements?
  • Functionality requirements – often expressed as an outline, and as a business owner you may not be able to describe this well, but for example, do you require online payments and if so are you already accepting credit cards in your business. – remember, adding functionality usually increases cost far more than increasing the number of pages in the site.
  • The scale and scope of the development project – how big, how many pages, who will provide what and so on.
  • What are the project constraints, budget, timescale etc.

This document is not a wish list (although you could include things that you would like to do as well as but not instead of the above), it is the document that the developer works to and effectively forms part of your contract with them and is therefore subject to discussion and revision before being finalised.

In conclusion

The commissioning of a website is a much bigger project than appears at the beginning. Websites are not ‘job-and-finish’ projects. You need to form a good relationship with your web developer because you will be working with them for a long time, and the first step to a successful relationship is sorting out the communication. It is your business, if you have articulated clearly what you want, why your business needs it, and provided all the information the developer requires including realistic expectations, budgets and timescales then if it isn’t delivered to the brief then you can blame the web developer. Otherwise accept that it is your problem, not their fault that they are not telepathic.

Furthermore, you need to take responsibility for the project, but also recognise that the development of a website is a team game, not something to be simply handed over and then moaned about when it was not quite what you were thinking of.

Last word

If you are serious about selling online or using the internet to promote your business it is important to recognise that you need to make a considerable investment of time and effort or you might as well take your money and simply thrown up in the air!

Why Hire a Professional For Web Development?

The Australian economy is booming and the strong corporate infrastructure is supporting the surge in business processing and development strategies of the Australian companies. As the businesses develop, they find a pressing need of getting an access to a professional web service provider to get solutions for their online business development needs. Web development in Australia may be a relatively younger industry as compared to the major players like US, India, and China, but this does not rue in the potential of the upcoming IT industry from the country down under. Australia was never known for its IT industry in spite of the futuristic infrastructure. The scenario is fast changing as there has been a significant emergence of various web application development companies on the horizon over the past few years.

The plenty of these companies does get a business into confusion. The hunt for an ideal web service provider often ends up in contacting a firm that may not comply with your business standards and yet agree to sign the deal for your web development in Australia. The right tactics and patient search and research help in getting to know of a genuinely good web development company which is capable of addressing all of your online business development needs. Remember, a good web application development firm will not only deliver an exact web application to automate your online business processing, but also get into online promotion for your website.

A web developer brings in a lot of experience and technical expertise to the business development and co partners the enterprise in deploying a scalable web application comprehensive of all features and functionalities. The enterprise may even get a flexible business model from a prominent web development company wherein the client may either choose to get a fixed cost solution from the service provider or may enjoy the services of a dedicated web developer for the time that the client business development requires. The hired web developer works exclusively for the client as an extended employee of their company outside their organization. Web development in Australia is comprehensive of a full software development lifecycle (SDLC) wherein on receiving a request query the web service provider analyses the client business development requirements and their competition. On analyzing the project, a proposal is passed and the actual web development kicks in. First a web design is created that would loyally identify the business and convey the intentions precisely. Coding is done along with testing of the system. Once the web application has been approved by the client it is deployed at their workplace.

Hence the enterprise gets a comprehensive website solution from a professional web development company. This would significantly boost the web presence of the client enterprise and make them visible to more audiences on the Internet. Targeting and reaching out to a maximum audience increases productivity and improves profitability multiple folds.