By Uri Foox, founder of Pixafy
If you are a business owner who is not an expert in web development, finding someone (or an agency) you can trust to build your website is critical.
To help with your vetting process, here are eleven questions to ask your would-be developers before making a decision:
1. What do you do?
Developers should be able to explain what they do in terms you can understand. Don’t let them confuse and/or bore you into working with them!
2. What are your goals for my website and how do you intend to accomplish them?
Asking this forces them to outline their future plans… it’s important to know they have some! Website development is not an all-or-none situation and developers always have the opportunity to go above and beyond. Ask about their goals to make sure they are ambitious and are not just looking to do the bare minimum.
3. What part of your job excites you?
You can teach coding in a relatively short amount of time but you can’t teach passion. Look for a developer that will treat working on your site like a creative challenge. The best developers are excited about what they do, and passionate about progressive enhancement, graceful degradation, and user experience.
4. How reliant will I be on you after my site launches?
Some tech firms build sites with the intention of ensuring work for themselves down the line. Most of the time, in the post-launch glow, the clients are so happy with the work done that they don’t think to ask about how the relationship will work 6, 12 months down the line. But next thing they know they are waiting around a week for their developer X to change one word on their site. This is why a responsible developer installs a CMS to give the clients a level of control over the day-to-day operations, while still forming a partnership for any technical needs down the road.
5. Can you break down the process for me from start to end?
Choose developers using an iterative approach rather than a “one giant deliverable” or “waterfall” approach. An iterative approach breaks tasks into small increments with short time-frames, with a working product emerging as the result of each iteration. See what the development team has been working on, and give them feedback based on what you have seen. In a less transparent process, there is little chance for refinement of project goals or client feedback.
6. Do you work predominantly with proprietary or open source software?
One of the main benefits of open source software is being able to pick up where others left off. Because open source allows source code to be openly available, there is nothing stopping you (or another web developer) from developing new features to modify your requirements. The open source community can also help with developmental problems, and it is likely that someone on open source has already come across the same problems you are facing and has code available as a starting point. Should you choose a firm working with proprietary software, however, you may be locked in with that company for good. They might be the only people in the world who know how to update, troubleshoot, expand, and train you in this particular piece of software.
7. Can I see examples of your work?
It pays to do some background research. Look at sites that your prospective company has built. If you have some time, talk to their clients. Are they satisfied?
8. What is the discovery process and how will you learn about my business and business goals before we start the project?
This is critical. Make sure they understand your business goals before engaging with them. Also, pay attention to how they describe previous client outcomes. Do they “get” what their clients need and do they deliver?
9. How long will it take for you to respond to my emails?
Collaborating on websites is all about communication. Whether they’re based out of Jersey City or Jerusalem, you need to make sure you can always easily contact their team. If you find yourself waiting around awhile for answers, chances are your developer team has not been working on your site or has taken the project in a different direction.
10. Do you outsource?
Careful here. Web companies that outsource their projects tend to subscribe to the one size fits all approach, and you are unlikely to get the custom solution you desire. Make sure to take a look at a number of their websites before signing on with them.
11. Will my website be scalable?
There is no point in developing a shiny new website if it crashes the second it gets any substantial traffic. It’s important to know that your developer is familiar with the combination of hardware and software needed to ensure full scalability. Important systems like database clustering, memcache, query optimizaition, and others shouldn’t be foreign concepts.
Uri Foox is the founder of Pixafy, a NYC-based web development and technology firm. A serial entrepreneur, Uri incorporated his first company, CGI for Me, in April 1999 when he was 14 years old.