One of our clients recently wanted to know which questions most small-business owners should ask when shopping for a website. We really could have gone on and on with this one because, depending on your individual needs, the list could get pretty lengthy. So we decided to just pick 12 questions that would help most people pre-qualify a potential web development firm as one that may be worth considering.
It was really interesting to actually sit down and think about this objectively, since the point wasn’t to purposely list self-serving questions. It was a fun exercise, so we figured we would share it with the rest of the class. Enjoy!
1. Will you own the site if you part ways with your web firm? This is not always a given, surprisingly.
2. Are sites built on a Content Management System (CMS), which allows users to update content without a webmaster? WordPress, the most widely adopted CMS platform, is extremely user-friendly. Obscure CMS platforms make it difficult to find a web developer to support your site.
3. How long has the firm been in business? Being a young company isn’t bad, but lack of web experience can lead to catastrophic results, so find out the history of the principals.
4. Does the firm have an up-to-date client list and online portfolio? Don’t let them tell you they are “too busy” to keep their own site current…that’s never a good sign.
5. What is their typical development turnaround time? Depending on the level of engagement, 45 days is a reasonable expectation for a basic CMS web site.
6. Do they offer support after the site is developed? If so, find out hourly rates for updates and/or enhancements.
7. How do they manage projects? A quality web development shop has a project management system, but the devil is in how they manage the details.
8. Do they arrange for hosting or do they expect you to handle it? Make sure you will get a detailed Admin document to access your hosting plan. Most small business sites perform adequately on a basic Linux plan, which starts at $5.00 per month for a basic plan and increases as necessary.
9. Will the web site company handle the roles of both designer AND developer? You don’t want a beautiful site that looks broken on an IPhone.
10. Do they use “off-shore” development services and, if so, why? If it’s strictly for cost savings, choose a different firm. If it’s because they have long-term relationship with their developers, that’s understandable. A great developer who makes sites work across all browsers and all platforms regardless of the level of customization is hard to find.
11. Can they provide you with strategic direction on how to best position your business on the web? An effective web presence is more than just throwing up a web site. Find out other areas of expertise they may have.
12. Do they have references you can talk to that can provide insight about working with their staff? Creating an effective web presence can be intimidating enough without dealing with tech snobbery or firms who are not easily accessible by phone or email before, during, or after a project. A good firm is easy to work with, organized, and responsive to your needs…sometimes even downright fun. Always call references.