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Top 10 questions for a website developer Add to ...

Entrepreneurs often make the mistake of hiring a website developer before they've done their homework. That's the consensus of entrepreneur Stephen Joyce and consultant Jennifer Galley, who both have extensive experience in website development.

Joyce runs Sentias Software Corp., a Vancouver firm specializing in Internet applications for the tourism and retail sectors. Galley has helped numerous clients with e-marketing projects. They both stress the importance of being well prepared before meeting with prospective website developers.

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You should start the process by asking yourself some important questions. What do you intend to do with your website and why? Do you want to generate sales leads, sell products online or handle bookings? Do you expect to generate a measurable return on investment from your website? What is your budget?

Look at other websites and decide what you like in terms of look and feel so that you have an idea of what you want. Joyce also recommends developing a web plan. "It keeps you focused and serves as a blueprint for your project," he says.

Your plan should lead you to ask a developer the following questions:

  1. How much do you know about my business and the industry I'm in? Familiarity with your business and industry makes a difference. "If you are in the heavy manufacturing business and the developer has only worked for non-profits, for instance," says Galley, "they may not be the right fit for you."
  2. Do you have the right technical, business and creative mix for my company? Choose a developer you are comfortable with. Do you prefer a team that has been around for a long period of time and has a traditional approach, or a young team with more creative flair?
  3. How many repeat or long-term clients do you have? This can be an indication that the developer nurtures client relationships and follows up with maintenance and upgrades. "A lack of repeat business can be a sign that something went wrong on previous projects," Galley says. "Get referrals," adds Joyce.
  4. How many other projects are you currently working on? A small shop with lots of work on the go might not be able to give you the attention you need to complete the project in a timely fashion. Make sure the firm you choose has the resources available to complete your site on time.
  5. How will the project unfold? Find out what the major milestones are and when you should expect them to be completed. "These should include creative options, site structure and page layouts, and then a test run," Galley says. She and Joyce agree that six to eight weeks is a reasonable timeframe in which to produce a website.
  6. What happens after completion of the website? Joyce points out that maintaining and updating a website is crucial to its success. "You wouldn't leave the same display in a storefront all year long," he says. "A website is no different. You need to keep the content fresh. This also helps with search engine optimization. You should plan for ongoing maintenance, adding new photos and keeping product information updated." Find out whether the developer will turn the site over to you so you can do the updating, or whether you will have to go through them. Check to see whether the developer provides monthly reports regarding traffic to your website.
  7. What is the payment structure, including continuing and future costs? Payment structures vary from developer to developer. If you meet with several, make sure you are aware of how each one works and where the money is going. What percentage is being spent on programming? How much on creative work? And so on.
  8. What options are included? Much like buying a car, points out Galley, you can select the "fully loaded" website or the basic one. If you can't afford all the options, determine which are essential and which you can add later. Maybe a shopping cart is essential, but you don't need to add social networking feeds right away.
  9. How much of the project will be outsourced? How much is the developer doing and how much is being subcontracted? "For example, find out who is hosting your website," says Galley. "If it is being contracted out, make sure you have the passwords and access codes."
  10. What are my responsibilities as a client? The developer will most likely expect you to provide photos, logos and content. "If you are selling a product online, you need photos," says Joyce. "The web is a visual medium and your photos need to be compelling." Clients also need to develop content, such as product descriptions and pricing. "There are rules for writing web copy that differ from print copy," explains Galley. "It's worthwhile hiring a writer with web expertise to help you. "Stay in close touch with the developer. Assign a person within your organization to be the main contact. "This should be someone who can make decisions or who is close to the decision-makers and can respond quickly," Joyce notes. "This will help to keep things moving."

Content in this section is provided in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada. BDC provides entrepreneurs with financing, venture capital and consulting services. To find out more go to BDC.ca.

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