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You Give Some, You Take Some: How to Build a Good Relationship with your Web Developer

Teamwork
Running an online business is hard – dealing with a web developer shouldn’t be.

In the fast paced world of technology and competition that we live in, there comes a point when it is necessary to recruit the help of professionals to take your business to the next level. This is the point when a business owner usually contacts a web developer. Being a web development and marketing company, we deal with new clients in this position every week. When a client calls, we listen to the client’s needs, get a clear picture of their vision, put together a plan of action, and work hard to make that dream a reality. This sounds easy in theory, but I know from experience that it can take a lot of understanding, listening, communication, and patience from both parties.

Since becoming a web developer, I’ve noticed that quite a few of our clients share a common background. They’ve come to us with horror stories from a long line of previous developers and technology companies. That kind of experience can be stressful, expensive, and heartbreaking. Having helped so many clients with that kind of background and seeing what they’ve gone through, I want to do what I can to prevent others from going through that. I believe that everyone deserves to have a professional and thriving relationship with their web developer. Hopefully these tips will help you build a great relationship that makes you happy and your business prosperous.

Building a good relationship starts with choosing a good web developer. You may be thinking, “I already have a web developer I like.” Please continue reading.

While you might be satisfied with your current web developer, there may come a day when your business grows to the point where you’ll need specialty services outside of your current developer’s realm of expertise. Think of it this way, even if you have the very best family physician in the state, you’re still going to go see a surgeon if you need surgery. This advice can be used for choosing any type of technical professional.

Sometime before calling a web developer, you’ve hopefully done a little bit of homework and have asked yourself questions like these:

  • What are other clients saying about this firm and their experiences?
  • Do they have a portfolio so that you can see what quality you can expect?
  • What expertise and qualifications do they have?

With a little bit of homework, you should be able to determine whether or not the firm has happy customers, produces quality work, and whether or not they are professionals in their field. I’ve heard of many clients being bamboozled by believing what a firm has to say on the phone, but the firm wasn’t able to deliver on their promises or live up to their claims. The best way to make sure a developer isn’t ‘all talk, no game’ is to see proof of their work up front (such as previous projects, customer testimonials, etc.).

Once you feel comfortable with your knowledge of the company, you should contact them. At this point, you’ve got some idea of what the firm is capable of, but you’re still unsure of how they conduct business. You can learn about how a developer is going to treat your project by how they treat you. If after speaking with the company you feel like you’ve just went through a fast food drive-thru, that’s probably about the quality of work you’re going to get.

Drive Thru Web Design
 

A sad way to do business.

 

When you call to talk about your project and needs, you should get personal attention. Keep in mind at this point that you’re probably not talking directly to a developer. They are busy doing what they are good at – designing and programming. However, the person you are talking to shouldn’t just be a ‘sales’ person. They should be familiar with the services the firm offers and should have direct access to the other staff to get more advanced technical questions answered. This person should be able to analyze your needs and respond with appropriate solutions – not just sell you canned services.

Your consultant should be very open-minded about your project. A big complaint clients have shared with us about previous developers is that they insisted their canned product was what they needed and that they knew better than the client. There is a fine line here. Ultimately, your goal is to hire someone that knows what they are doing. Therefore, it stands to reason that there will be instances when your developer will make recommendations contrary to what you thought you need based on their expertise. They are the pros and often know what’s best. However, it isn’t proper to force a client into tidy boxed up solutions when they need something custom for their business. If you’re confused about whether or not your developer is giving you good advice, ask yourself some questions:

  • Are they listening? Did the consultant actually consider what you said and make a recommendation based on that or are they generalizing what you need and trying to funnel you into general solutions?
  • Who stands to gain? Did the consultant give you valid reasons why this solution would be better than what you wanted or is it because this solution is more convenient for them to slap together?

No two businesses are the same. You consultant should treat your business uniquely and come up with solutions that benefit your business specifically. If the company can’t remember you and your project between calls or you never speak to the same person twice, I recommend running away quickly.

With any luck, you’ve been able to pick a developer that you feel will be reliable and that cares about your business. The next step in building a good relationship with your developer is to have good communication. This is essential to getting things done efficiently and effectively. On the onset, make sure you and your web developer are both clear on the details of a project before the work begins. Please hear me on this one thing – don’t be afraid to ask questions. You’re paying for a service; you have every right to know the details about it. If you’re unsure, please ask. Some of the worst experiences I’ve heard about that have caused clients to leave their past developers entirely, were because the client and developer were out of sync to start with and no one bothered to ask any clarifying questions until the project was ‘finished’.

Share your goals with your developer. The more they know about what you want to accomplish, the better they can help you get there. Along with asking more questions up front, sharing your goals gives your developer a clearer view of your visions and expectations. Often times when I discuss these things with a client, I can think of ways to customize the work specifically to their business for added usability. If these are small changes, sometimes they don’t even affect the price or time frame of the project.

Because projects can be so customized, it’s a very good idea to keep track of what is being said and what’s going on. You should have received a very detailed contract or work order of the work to be done before the project started. However, good documentation shouldn’t end there. If you’ve ever worked with a developer you know that many of the finer details (especially design related) come later. If there is a lot of back and forth, or multiple projects, there is a potential for the dangerous ‘he said, she said’ game to blow up. Personally, I avoid this by keeping very good notes on projects. If I talk to a client on the phone about something, I like to follow the phone call up with an email just summarizing what we talked about. Let’s face it – you are busy running a business and we’re busy juggling a lot of clients and projects. It’s easy to forget a small detail or a short conversation if you’re not diligent in keeping track. I don’t speak for all web developers, so please don’t put all your hopes on them keeping the best records. Give yourself some peace of mind and keep your own notes as well.

The last key part of effective communication between client and developer is respect. It goes both ways. When there is a dispute and things get disrespectful, nobody wins. Your developer is a professional. That means they should act and behave like one. It also means you should treat them like one. If you don’t respect their opinions or trust the advice they are giving you, why continue working with them? In my experience, if both parties keep a professional attitude and show the other person respect, then almost any disagreement or misunderstanding can be worked out.

Just as important as respect, is having mutual expectations. A big one to focus on is timely communication. This is a touchy subject, but I will try to broach it as logically as possible. You have a right to timely communication, but keep in mind these points:

  • If you call your developer, they can’t always come to the phone right this instant. If you have an emergency, someone there should be able to assist you. Otherwise, please respect the fact that your developer might be tending to someone else’s emergency with the care and effort you would expect if it were your project.
  • When I say timely communication, I’m talking generally 24 (business) hours. If I can’t talk immediately, I usually get back to my clients the same day. Sometimes, it has to wait until the next morning or so. This is typical considering a web developer’s daily responsibilities. What is not typical is waiting a week for a reply. If you can rarely get a response out of your developer, there is a fundamental problem in your relationship.
  • Your developer should be very patient in listening to all the information you have to provide. However, please make sure that your phone calls and emails are actually necessary and beneficial. If you’re contacting your developer for status updates every five minutes, that’s less time they have to work on your project. By all means, stay on top of your project, but give your developer sometime to work on it between communications.

Another thing you should expect from your developer is frequent follow ups. After your project is finished, you shouldn’t be left feeling like a one night stand. Your developer should check in with you occasionally to make sure things are running smoothly with the work they did for you. Furthermore, they should check back with you to make recommendations on things that might benefit your company. They live and breathe technology and therefore should be the first ones to know about new and exciting changes in the world that can make your business money or make your job easier. You have enough to worry about with running your business let alone follow thousands of technology trends. Let your developer be your eyes and ears.

Hopefully these tips will help you pick out a professional or company that you can have a long lasting and rewarding relationship with. Remember that clear communication, respect, and having appropriate expectations go a long way in building a good relationship. Nobody wants to be hoodwinked, so please take these suggestions to heart and build a relationship you can count on!

Stephanie Rawson

Stephanie has 15 years of self-taught HTML and web design experience along with an associates degree in Information Technology from Colorado Tech. Her previous experience in eCommerce and customer service gives her a unique insight into what clients and their customers are looking for. Outside of work, Stephanie is active in Christian ministry and loves geeky hobbies.

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