Tips on choosing a web development company - how to choose a web designer
When I was asked to contribute to this directory, I knew immediately where I would start, what I wanted to say. Having worked with many companies since 1999 I speak daily to people who just have no idea where to begin. "How do I chose a web designer?" "Do I need flash?" "What about search engine promotion?" And the questions go on. Truthfully, and disappointingly, the answer is often more complex than they hoped and starts with "well, it depends upon a number of factors."
Allow me to elaborate and take you through the labyrinth that is promoting your company on the Internet. You can skip to the following sections in this article if you wish;
Back in 1999 when I established my first web design company, it was my belief that there were some companies, or perhaps groups of companies, that truly didn't need a website, and just maybe the World Café in Crouch End London doesn't need one now? (Great breakfast by the way - just fabulous!)
It is almost trite to say that the Internet has expanded at such a pace that I truly believe now, however, that if your business is to expand, you have to embrace the potential of the World Wide Web, and I guess if you are reading this article that you have taken that first step. But what is that potential? And how can your company take advantage of it?
Following the (now infamous) dot-com crash of the mid 90's, there was an understandable reluctance for investors to get involved (in Web projects) but I can't help feeling that many of the ideas that "launched and crashed" were just too early, and the only thing their principles could be accused of was investing heavily in something the World wasn't ready for; or at least not yet!
I can remember discussing this with my technical director at that time, when we observed that many websites were far too complex and as a consequence far too slow to download (open on your PC), as a result of which they would never be successful. Enter stage left. Broadband, which has transformed the face of Internet access and ushered in an age of much, much faster and cheaper access, making more complex (web) sites, flash video, multiple windows and bigger better quality images a practical option. On the back of this, the vast majority of people with Internet access (in the UK certainly) enjoy the benefit of Broadband access speeds, and the popularity of websites has been growing at a pace that not even Tim Burners-Lee could have imagined when he took us down this path back in 1989/90.
This new phenomena of social interaction, or social networking (on the World Wide Web) has become known as Web 2.0 - the World's 2nd attempt at making it work!
Now, if the question of whether you need a site or not is the most basic, the question of choosing a good developer just has to be the most complex and important. After all, if you are working with a good and ethical developer, even mistakes are less of a problem because they will knuckle down and help you resolve them.
So where do you start? I believe there are certain basic things to consider, and the first is their stability as a company - how long have they been in business? Are they in profit? (You need them to be profitable, as you need them to be stable and still there next year also). How local are they or how easy is it to get to see them? Will they come and see me?
The world of business is awash with failed web projects, and company principles that are frustrated at being let down by web developers with whom they had originally struck a rapport, and been beguiled by their apparent knowledge only to find theirs was the developer's first project.
I would advise that, as the client, you need to be comfortable that your developer has been in business long enough to be familiar with the business world of management, project management and customer services, as well as being a general all round "good egg". If I'm pressed, 2 years in business would be kind of a minimum.
This is such a critical question, as is the question of whether they need your deposit because it's good practice or because they have cash flow problems?
Importantly, you need to be comfortable that the web developer you choose has the financial stability to stay in business for the duration of your website development project, and still be there in 6 months when you want to expand or ask a question. Perhaps even more so if there is a search engine promotion project included.
Establishing their profitability isn't as hard as you may think, and the first steps are easy. Ask them for a bank reference and a copy of their last year's accounts. If they hesitate to give you the information or fail to do so - walk away, there is a problem and many more web developers.
If they are a bigger company you can check with Companies House in Cardiff by just paying a small online fee click here.
It would be wrong to ignore the tendering process whereby one may ask a number of developers and designers to tender for your work. This is a process where you would create a specification of what you required, what you wanted the website to do - e-commerce, brochure etc for which you will have to go into reasonable detail or the developers you ask will not have enough detail to give you a quotation in the first place.
It would not surprise me to find that a large percentage of big companies do indeed go through a tender process to select their web development company, but I'm sure you wouldn't expect me to keep my views to myself or there is little point in an advice feature!
I once read an article that said the three most important things in choosing a partner are chemistry, chemistry and chemistry and I have to say I think it's important in this case. You just have to be able discuss options, changes and alterations without fear of your designer throwing their rattle out of the web design pram (as it were) and in the same vein your chosen designer needs to see you as a good client for them to work with. To that end I would ask you to recognise that for a designer to create designs for the tender process and spend time and money to persuade you they are the ones you should choose, is in itself a costly process, thus I pose the question "are you getting the best to respond to your tender OR, just the ones who can afford to respond?"
Once you have made a decision about the web development company you are going to work with, the web designer should really take the initiative, but at the same time, not only will they need sound structured guidance from you to take the project forward, it makes sense that you are well prepared to either take the initiative or at the least ensure all your requirements are accounted for. To that end our article on instructing your chosen web developer will prove invaluable.
Need help choosing?
With so many web design companies out there how on earth do you choose the right one? Our article will point you in the right direction.
Got a question?
Sometimes it's such a challenge to know where to start. Why not ask our resident web guru for advice or check out our Tips & Advice section.
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