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Your Guide to Finding a Quality Web Site Developer

by Clay Huber on February 8, 2013 · 13 comments

  
Website Developer

Last week I wrote an article on real estate investing website marketing that talked about how important a website is to not only your ongoing market efforts (remember, a website markets for you even when you are sleeping or out on vacation), but also the first impression you make on potential customers/clients.

I’ll admit, that article was pretty theoretical in regards to application. Sure, you know what bullet points to consider and watch for, but what about stepping out into the real world and actually “doing it?” My hopes are this article will assist you in that quest.

Let’s first consider this question though…

Do You Want to Be a Real Estate Mogul, or a Website Guru? 

This question is important due to the fact that the premise of this article is going to be about finding a 3rd party to build your website and web presence. I already know what you’re thinking, “Yikes! Third parties cost money, and my marketing budget is very limited! I’ll be better off doing it myself.” While that is completely understandable, remember the question above. Along with the question above, refer back to the article I did last week.

Some problems with “I’ll do it myself” mentality when it comes to websites…

  • Time – what sounds more productive, working on building your business infrastructure and bringing in leads or reading through “How to Build a Website” books from eBay?
  • Education – this is repetitive, but I’m trying to make a point. You will need to learn how to build a website.
  • Risk vs Reward – I personally think this is the strongest reason. The reward of doing it yourself is you save a few bucks. This risk is you create a very unprofessional looking website, but worst yet, in doing so you’ve wasted your time. While there may be templates available for you to “fill in the blanks”, using these highly increases your odds of your end product being CHEESY. Point being, taking on this sort of Risk in order to save a few bucks (Reward) just doesn’t add up in my mind.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that a website developer is the best way to go, even if it does cost a few bucks out of your pocket. Let’s now take a look at three attributes that you should use when looking for and hiring a developer.

Ask About The Web Developer’s Information Policy

I don’t care how good/cheap/friendly/professional a web developer seems, you need to ask about how they deal with information. What do I mean by “information”? Are you given access to everything? Are you given the passwords and login information to access your sites/hosting? If they tell you “they will take care of it” or “we can’t give you information since there are other sites on the server”, then find someone else.

The last thing you want is to try and change your website to a new server, or host, or developer, and then have your current developer hold you hostage in a sense because they have all the information.

A quality web developer should have zero issues with giving you all the appropriate information so that you can make ANY KIND OF CHANGE you want in the future.

“There”, “Their”, & “They’re”

Do they know the difference in these? If so, English is more than likely their #1 language. I know it can be tempting to go overseas and find someone cheap, but at the end of the day, the communication barrier is a time/life sucker. Ask me how I know. I tried it once, and that could probably be an entire article in and of itself. All I’ll say is that after the experience, I only want people that can speak and write in English.

The Developer’s Portfolio & Past Clients

Treat a web developer like you would a plumber, electrician, carpenter, etc. While they may not work with traditional tools, you need to view them as a contractor nonetheless. You should request to see some of their past work. If they have past work, there is nothing wrong with asking if you could have the contact information for the owners of the site for referral work.

If they are confident in their work and customer service, then neither of these requests should rub them the wrong way. In fact, they should be happy that you asked because now they get to “show-you-their-stuff!”.

Perhaps they are just getting started and don’t have a lot of clientele  Nothing wrong with this; however, this needs to be factored into your pricing. If they are quoting you what an established performer is, then they are just way too high.

Three Strategies to Use When Choosing a Web Developer

I’m sure there could be more added to the list (so please feel free to do so in the comments section below), but these are three strategies I use when looking.

  1. Make it Black & White – don’t sit there and try to describe in words “what” you want. Go do some surfing of the web and find some sites that you like. Send them the link and tell them to refer to whatever aspects you like and ask the simple question, “Are you able to do that?”.  There is no gray there. They either can mimic what you are showing them, or they don’t know how. Pretty cut-and-dry. (not to mention, a major time saver)
  2. Incremental Payments – again, treat your web developer like a contractor. Would you ever pay 100% upfront before any work is done to your carpenter? I hope not! The same should be the case here.
  3. Customer Service – how are they during the contact/bidding phase? This is when someone should be at peak performance (assuming they want the job). If things are rough during this phase, then don’t kid yourself thinking they will get better AFTER they have won the bid. These people work at a computer, so there are very few valid excuses for not responding in a timely manner. Heck, the web guy I use gave me his cell phone number and I can text him whenever I want. Now THAT is customer service.

    Along with this, what type of post-service do they have? For example, I recently wanted some traffic code inserted into one of my sites. I shot my guy and email and it was done within the hour… with NO BILL. If someone’s policy is to nickel-and-dime you for ANY kind of work, no matter how small, then I’d advise looking elsewhere. There is definitely a line where it becomes justified for them to bill you, but if you are asking for something very basic/straight forward, the ones that just do it are the ones you want to work with.

Places to Look

  • Your Social Circle - Do any of your friends, family, associates have a website? Who did they use? If you’d like, drop me a message and I’ll gladly give you the person I use on all my “techie” stuff. Speaks English. Great customer service (like I said, he gave me his cell phone to text him whenever). Does good work.
  • Freelancer Websites - eLance.com is one I have an account with. I haven’t used them in a long time, but they have a nice system there set up. There are other sites out there along those same lings. On sites like this, previous customer feedback is key!
  • “Google It” - you can go the old fashioned route and just use Google.
  • Local vs. National vs. International - I would first say, stay National (USA) for the whole language thing. To me, it’s worth paying more. Then it depends. If you work in California where the cost of living is much higher than, Grand Rapids, MI (where I am), then I’d go with my guy for example. If you live in Fargo, North Dakota, then I’d look for someone local. There is no right or wrong answer to this, but it’s basic economics. Someone living in a higher cost of living area will need to charge more than someone living in a cheaper part of the USA.

How about you? What tips and tricks do you have for both finding web developers and screening them? If you’ve already been through this process let’s hear about any recommendations you have. Just leave a comment below.
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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason Nickel February 8, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Good points all around. It’s always helpful to work with someone who understands the industry that your site is targeting as well.

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Clay Huber February 8, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Good point Jason. Working with someone who is also in the business, while not a ‘must have’, certainly can’t hurt the process.

Thanks for your thoughts.

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Larry T. February 8, 2013 at 1:29 pm

What a great article on how and what to look for when finding a web developer. Definitely agree with you on what they will allow you access to as they work, I think that is the most important thing to look at in your search. Thanks for the great post!

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Clay Huber February 8, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Thanks Larry, I appreciate it.

We’re on the same wavelength for sure. If a developer won’t allow you access to certain information, that’s not really a good sign.

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Elizabeth Cody February 8, 2013 at 3:20 pm

This is really good for information for me as a web developer! I absolutely agree with giving examples, it’s saved a lot of time and made many happier clients when they just show me what they want. Also, if a developer/designer doesn’t give you access to EVERYTHING, definitely walk away.

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Clay Huber February 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm

Thanks for the feedback Elizabeth. Great to get comments from web developers who can confirm or deny my thoughts. Luckily in this case, you are agreeing with me ;-)

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Lance Shepard February 8, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Very interesting post. As a developer since pre dot-come I can tell you that most people looking for a site do not even know what they want. They do know that they want more than they are willing to pay for. If, like your site, someone is looking for a WordPress site or something similar that is built for bloggers who just want to be able to add content for themselves they can get in fairly cheap. If However, if they are looking for a fully customized site with full database, backend integration, custom graphics, custom programming, hooks into the MLS or other services, people need to be prepared to invest some money.

You have greatly simplified what a website is and what is possible and I am a little disappointed that, as a developer, Elizabeth agreed with “access to everything”. If I set up a WordPress site for you, you will have access to most everything but if I build you a fully customized site you won’t have access to code, “widgets” and don’t even ask for access to the database.

The data is yours and you have every right to it. I can do a “data dump” for you or build you an interface where you can download all or parts of it anytime. But giving you “access” to the database is a good way for you to ruin your own site as well as possibly other sites as well.

People need to be aware of what they are going to get. I good customized site will involve at least a couple of specialties. Graphics, content and coding. There are a great difference in these specialties. For example I can write great code (I have done work for United Blood Service, The Red Cross, a number of acting/modeling agencies, several different ad agencies and some others). My graphics skills however are not my strength and I would never try to pass myself off as a content editor or writer (as you might have guessed by now lol).

I find articles like this sometimes give people the wrong idea. Let’s put it in a way that everyone here can understand:

There are home builder that pump out hundreds of homes a year. Those homes are slightly about the quality of a mobile home. The fixtures in the homes are of the cheapest quality that could be found.

There are builders that dozens of homes a year. These homes are mid quality, sturdy home. They are well built with no frills. The construction is solid and in an “ok” neighborhood.

Then there are builders that build only a few homes a year. These homes are thousands of square feet, granite counters, quality floor and are pre-wired for everything. These houses are in elite locations and are very sought after.

Which builder is the best? All of these builders will build you a place to sleep and keep the rain off your head.

The problem is that we all want the awesome house in the great neighborhood but only want to pay for the mobile home.

The web world is no different. You will get what you pay for. Do your research, get references and be prepared to pay a value equal to what it is you are looking for.

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Clay Huber February 9, 2013 at 7:41 am

Thanks for taking the time to write such a well thought out comment, Lance.

I can see where you are coming from on the “access to everything” end of things; however, I still stand by my point.

While I agree 110% that someone messing with things they have access to, but don’t understand can really screw things up, that shouldn’t be of your concern. If the person starts logging into areas they shouldn’t be (and you will know when you’re logging into more “complicated” areas of a site), then they will need to live with the repercussions.

If they screw something up, then hey, that should be more work for you :-)

My angle is if the person has paid for it, they deserve access to it all, even if that puts them at risk of screwing it up. But as mentioned above, getting into areas you shouldn’t be is pretty difficult to do.

Thanks again for the comments!

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Clay Huber February 9, 2013 at 7:43 am

Whoops, I also wanted to mention I agree whole heartily with “you get what you pay for”.

As I noted in the article, this is why it is important to look at portfolios, references, etc. to ensure you are happy with their capabilities.

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Elizabeth Cody February 19, 2013 at 11:20 pm

I’d like to clarify what I mean by “access to everything”: my customers pay me to build them a website, so that login information for them to access it, that’s theirs, they paid for it. If a customer paid me to build them a website, I’m going to assume they know when looking at things when they’re over their head, and not go into the more complicated areas. I agree that some aspects they don’t get access to, like the widgets or databases, but I think some transparency helps build trust. I haven’t had a customer yet who tried to take matters into their own hands, but I can definitely see where you’re coming from, Lance :)

Clay February 20, 2013 at 6:36 am

I agree Elizabeth, I think most would know not to wander out onto thin ice.

I should also clarify that if OTHER PEOPLE’s sites are at risk because they are on the same database, then yes, access to that should NOT be given; however, as Lance mentioned, a “data drop” should then be performed.

All in all, I believe we’re all on the same page, we just needed a bit of clarifying.

Jason Lavis February 8, 2013 at 7:16 pm

I think that people should get started on their own as it can turn into an enjoyable hobby. It can be started part time and with Joomla, Wordpress or Drupal it is quite easy. As the World gets more tech savvy, new skills will help in general.

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Clay Huber February 9, 2013 at 7:45 am

I can’t disagree there Jason, as it easily could become a hobby. However, the article is geared towards people trying to establish a real estate business, and when you’re trying to do this, there isn’t going to be much “time” available to pick up a new hobby.

In theory I totally get (and agree with) what you’re saying, but in the real world and having been through starting up businesses (not just real estate), the literal time involved leaves no room for picking up/starting new hobbies.

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