Not too long ago creating a new website required several unique skills. You needed a graphic designer to create all the imagery, a web designer to create the user interface and interactive elements, and a web developer to code everything together. Today, the landscape is a bit different. There are tons of code-free drag & drop builders, pre-made designs available for license, and graphics templates that are easy to edit. If you’re looking to hire somebody to help you create a new website or manage an existing one, it can be really difficult to determine what skills are needed and how your service agreement should be structured. But if you’re starting a new web project in 2020 and beyond, there are five specific things you need to look for or work out before signing any service agreements.

#1 – Hiring a Web Developer: Relevant Experience

With online technology, years of experience do not count as much as you might think they do. Technology changes fast. Instead of looking for somebody who’s been in the industry for a long time, you want to look for somebody who has experience relevant to your project. Whether you’re launching a new Shopify store, a blog, or a simple business website, asking for examples of similar projects they’ve completed will help you establish their qualifications. Even if they have 20 years’ experience, somebody who has never worked on an e-commerce store before likely won’t perform as well as somebody with less experience that is more relevant to your project. On the flip side, a developer who specializes in small business websites might not be the best choice for a brand new web-app.

#2 – Hiring a Web Developer: Custom work vs Off the Shelf

Before you choose a designer, think about your project and ask yourself “Is this something that’s been done before, or is this totally unique?” If you’re building a simple business website, online store, or blog, there are tons of off the shelf software available like WordPress, Shopify, as well as a huge library of plugins and designs. On the flip side, if you’ve got a really unique idea for an online service or an app, you’ll probably need some custom design and programming. Custom work is much more expensive, but you get exactly what you want. Website developers who use ready-made templates and plugins are a little more limited in terms of customization but can complete projects much more quickly and for a lower cost. First, you determine what you need, next you need to ask your developer what method he will use to create your site. This will help you avoid spending money on custom work that you don’t need or bring charged custom code rates for ready-made designs and software.

#3 – Hiring a Web Developer: Ownership and Licensing

While not the first question you’d want to ask, this is absolutely something to work out before signing any service agreements. When you are hiring to have custom work done, many clients just assume that they own this code once the project is complete. But that’s not always the case. Some developers want to retain ownership and will simply provide you with a license to use their code. Licenses make sense when you have a large number of people sharing a specialized piece of software. As long as you understand what fees are associated, licensing parts of your website could make sense. But if you are paying to have something custom made, make sure that your service agreement states that you own all rights to this code once it’s complete. This will give you more freedom in the future, and prevent any ‘surprise’ expenses should you choose to hire a different developer in the future.

#4 – Hiring a Web Developer: Maintenance and Updates

The internet is always changing, so you’re likely going to need some maintenance work or updates done in the future. Make sure you ask your developer for a general overview of what these maintenance costs will be. And if you have plans to expand your content or make any other changes, verify what rates you’ll be charged for that. Ideally, you’ll want a developer who is willing to help you manage your project for a fair rate without locking you into any restrictive service agreements or unexpected costs.

#5 – Hiring a Web Developer: Deliverable Timeline & Cost Breakdown

This might seem simple, but it’s commonly overlooked and can cause problems down the road. One of the last things you want to work out before hiring a developer is the exact tasks they are to complete as well as a timeline and cost for each task. It’s not uncommon for the scope of a web project to change midway through. If you know the cost breakdown for each deliverable, you can use this to negotiate comparable rates for additional work in the future. Plus, by establishing a completion timeline, you can ensure that your project goals are realistic and hold your developer accountable to your agreement.

The Most Important Thing of All

The five points above are all things that we’ve found are often overlooked, misrepresented, or misunderstood. Asking the right questions will help weed out unscrupulous web developers who intend to mislead people who aren’t familiar with the industry, and will help legitimate developers better understand the type of service that best suits your needs. But this certainly isn’t the only criteria you should consider. Ultimately, the two questions to ask yourself are “does this developer understand my goals?” and “Are they actively working to make sure I understand my options and make informed decisions?” If you can answer yes to both of those questions, then you’ve found a developer who’s a team player. If the answer is no, then either you need to find a way to more effectively communicate your expectations or find a developer who better understands them.

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