How To Choose A Web Designer

A little while back I had a bit of a discussion about a certain profession that I will not mention here in case someone from the industry in question takes it the wrong way. Don’t get me wrong, every major profession is there for a reason and adds a tremendous amount of value to society. The fact of the matter is that every industry and profession has good aspects and bad. When you think of a doctor, lawyer, architect, accountant, etc, you tend to have a personal frame of reference, as well as a more widely held stereotype. There are usually some aspects of that profession that irritate you, or that you think could do with some improvement. Perhaps you don’t make use of certain professional services because of these perceptions, whether or not they are commonly held or based on fact.

That got me thinking about my own industry, and what it is about the internet consulting and web design and development industry that drives people nuts, and that if things were different, people would utilize these services more often. What would people change about the industry if they had a magic wand? What would you do differently if you were, for example, a web developer, to differentiate yourself?

These are some of the things I have been told hold people back when discussing this topic with some small businesses:

– Web design and development is too expensive for the average small business

– Apprehension over how qualified an internet professional really is

– There is too much jargon in the industry, which makes it confusing to assess as a non-technical business person

– There is a shortage of internet programming skills relative to visual design skills in the industry

Personally, my big wish is that a certain level of qualification (a degree combining computer science, design and business) was a requirement to practice, the same way that older professions are required to, like accountants, doctors, lawyers, etc. The low barrier to entry makes it difficult for businesses to distinguish experts from hobbyists. Imagine having to choose your doctor based on what he tells you he knows how to do for you!

So, how then does one assess a potential internet partner, who can and should be a long-time partner in the online success of your business? Here are some things to look at carefully when choosing a web designer, web developer, internet business consultant, or related service provider, from my experience:

Technical and business qualifications and experience. Is the business comprised of an inexperienced person with a web design hobby, or has the business got people with tertiary level business, programming and design skills in-house? Make sure they have real-world business experience in developing e-commerce solutions, and look into how far back that goes.

What online business applications has the business developed previously, and how does this match your requirements? Some web design businesses will give you a very nice looking static brochure site, while others will be able to offer advanced functionality, such as a database and content management capabilities, e-commerce functionality, internet business consulting services, site promotion, site management, hosting, domain registration, design, application development, site optimization, newsletter systems, form processing capabilities, logging of user activity, online surveys and polls, user registration and authentication, advertising management, content syndication, and the like. Check how many of these are optional extras an how many are included in the price you are quoted up front. You should always get a detailed proposal up front, and compare apples for apples rather than being too subjective initially. My business, for example, differentiates by bundling over 250 enterprise-level applications into our small business package, at a lower price than most web designers will charge just for the design and some basic functionality.

Long term cost/benefit. What is it going to cost you the next time you need to make a modification? I’ve never yet come across a successful website that was designed and left as it was created on day one. Your site needs to change with your business, so make sure you know how you will be billed for those changes, and what the time frame for them will be. Every site also has hosting, bandwidth and maintenance costs that most people don’t think of when first creating a site. Look into what these will be, and what you get for them, so that you can budget for them when starting your project. Also keep in mind that a cheap solution with one or two features will probably not serve you as well as a slightly more expensive one with extensive built-in capabilities.

Personal style and preference. Different businesses will bring different styles and methodologies to the party. Make sure that the one you go with suits your personal preferences. If your internet specialist loves graphic-intensive Flash-based sites, they will probably develop your informative content-based solution, just not as well as someone who specializes in your preferred style.

Online promotion. Make sure that the business you choose is good at promoting their own online presence. Google, Yahoo, and MSN are the three most popular search engines, so make use of them when choosing a provider. If you are looking for a web developer in your local area, search for the terms you find most important and include the name of your area. For example, I optimize my services for the Joondalup area of Perth, Western Australia, so a search for “web design Joondalup” or “web development Joondalup”, or many other internet-based services, brings me to the top when people are searching for local service providers. An internet business that is no good at promoting itself online will be worse at helping you get yours up to full potential.

Satisfaction guarantees. No website can make a flawed business model work, but an online expert should be able to help you make it everything it can be over time, much the same way a personal trainer can’t make you fit overnight, but they can help you become a top athlete with focused ongoing attention. Find out what guarantees, if any, are provided. This is a real differentiator, because, understandably, many web design businesses won’t do this. Those that do are at least serious and confident in their abilities to ensure that their clients are happy and successful.

Management of expectations. Any internet business that claims excessive short term success rates is probably overselling themselves. Make sure that they (and you) are realistic about the time frames in which your online presence will start producing results.

Consulting skills. Make sure that you are dealing with an internet consultancy, not just a web design house. Experienced internet consultants have the business experience to help you make your business successful online in ways a web designer will probably not.

Find successful web sites online. Many will have the site developer’s details in the footer, or in a credits section of the site.

Why Equity Partnerships For Web Designers Don’t Work

I would be willing to bet that every web designer or developer has been approached at one time or another to do work on a website in exchange for an equity percentage of the company. You see this a lot on ad listings sites: people pitching their great, million dollar to prospective web designers in hopes of enticing them in a once in a lifetime, business partnership which will be the next Facebook or Twitter. Not so surprisingly though, very few (if any) developers worth their salt entertain these offers, and there’s a few reasons why.

Million dollar ideas are a dime a dozen. GoDaddy ran a commercial during the Super Bowl which pointed this out in a comical way. Your great idea which you are certain will make a lot of money and make everyone in your life happy, has most likely been thought of by someone else. That’s OK though, people thought of Facebook before Mark Zuckerberg did, but for some reason he’s the one that made it work. This leads to the other issue with equity partnership proposals.

Web designers talk to owners of start-up companies all the time, and we work with many as well. We hear the great ideas, and in some cases the ideas are great. We feel the passion in the client’s voice in regards to how perfectly planned out everything is – how every corner has been covered, and we hear their excitement as visions of inflating six and seven figure bank account balances scroll past their eyes like a stock ticker. Then the work begins and the vision becomes complete. The website finally gets launched and the client sits back and waits for the money to start rolling in.

As a web developer who may have agreed to an equity deal with this client, I will be waiting for my first cut of 20% to come in. It most likely was a good idea and I probably did a halfway decent job on the site, although chances are if I actually agreed to do this, I didn’t have much experience at all with professional web development. But that’s neither here nor there. Hopefully I would have signed a contract, but anyone who signs a contract most likely understands that it’s about as valuable as the paper it’s printed upon unless you pay an attorney to look it over, amend stipulations in your favor, and then have the client re-do it. This almost never is an option. If you, as the developer, requested this, the client would almost certainly find someone else. But let’s say it was all done legit with a real contract and attorneys for both parties went over it with a fine toothed comb, leaving me as the web developer waiting on my first check of 20%.

A new website is like the elusive Planet X – it’s out there but nobody can see it. This is really the crux of the equity partnership problem. Getting a new website noticed takes time and money. The time component can only be overcome if you happen to get an advertisement on television in front of millions of viewers, or if you get a write-up on one of the major news networks, or maybe if you’re Tweeted multiple times by Lady Gaga or Beyonce with their endorsement. If you can’t get this type of instant marketing, then it will take time. Time and money – in most cases, lots of money.

So as a website developer, when approached by a client to do an equity split in exchange for thousands of dollars worth of work to get a website launched, the first thing that pops into my mind is, “if he/she can’t afford to pay me $5000 to develop their website, how are they going to afford to spend three times that amount, or even more, to get the website bringing in enough visitors and producing enough business to actually be able to pay me back for the time I spent, in a somewhat timely manner? And, will that one year contract even be close to enough time to pay me back given these circumstances?”

The clients that it would be worth while to do an equity split arrangement with, where I as a developer will actually make my money back in a timely manner, and then some, don’t need to enter these arrangements and more importantly, wouldn’t want to enter into one of these arrangements, because it would be cheaper just to pay up front than give a percentage on their million dollar idea.

The Zend Developer Pulse Survey – Expected Trends In The Technology In 2012

Zend recently conducted a survey of various developers from all over the world to evaluate what they are thinking ahead for the New Year and how this may affect different technologies. The survey includes views of 3335 developers from different countries and provides an insight into the expected career trends and technologies that are likely to get a lot more attention than others. Zend, the company that created PHP, believes that the general mood swing of developers will help in determining the technologies and tools that will be used in this year for fulfilling the never ending demand for apps and software solutions required by organizations and businesses.

The competition for businesses has moved from local to global competitors and the World Wide Web provides a perfect platform where the current war for market leadership is being fought. This requires businesses to effectively connect and engage with their customers, suppliers, employees and other business related personals at any time. The current business competition is being carried out over internet through web tools, cloud technology, mobile apps & platforms and social media. Let us see what the developers think about the coming trends in the technology and their career inclination.

An insight into the survey and its findings:

1.) It seems like mobile application development is going to be the key focus of developers in 2012. Around 66 percent of developers said that they will be targeting mobile apps development projects in the New Year.

2.) 40-50 percent of developers assured that they will be working on projects based on cloud, social media integration, API production and big data/analytics in 2012.

3.) Over 75 percent of developers said they would opt for next-generation User interface development as a possible career ahead.

4.) Out of all the developers surveyed, 67 percent are looking to enhance their mobile application development skills on different platform. Whereas, 46 percent said that they will be enhancing their cloud application development skills.

5.) Seems like cloud technology is going to get a lot of boost from the web and application development industry as 60 percent of developers are determined to use public cloud in their projects. Year 2012 is going to experience some extra clouds this year.

6.) The survey shows that developers will be focusing on dynamic open source languages and using multiple languages for their projects.

7.) PHP, Java, JavaScript and C were the forerunners in the most favorable and likely to be used programming languages section in the survey. Other languages were left far behind them.

8.) Seems like PHP is still the most favorable programming language with more than 67 percent of developers admitting that they spend more than half of their time working on PHP and use it as their core language. However, 33 percent of enterprise developers said that they used both PHP and Java in their projects.

9.) The demand for skilled PHP developers is expected to increase in 2012 as compared to that of last year and more than half of the developers agree with that.

The survey clearly indicates that 2012 will see an increased demand for cloud, mobile and social apps development. Web development companies are going to invest more heavily in PHP development and will definitely enhance their PHP development skills. However, it seems that mobile application development will be the most happening and in-demand technology in 2012.