One Woman Shops can’t always do it all. But when it’s time to turn to an outside pro -- and be certain we’re choosing the right one -- we’re often at a loss as to what to ask to get the info we need. Welcome to Questions For A… a series where we interview the pros themselves on the questions you need to ask before hiring them.
In this month’s edition, we bring you Questions For A…Developer with contributions from developers Tiffany Breyne, Erin E Flynn, Lis Dingjan, and Meredith Underell. Here’s what they suggest you ask:
Q: What is your preferred method of communication?
Tiffany’s why: I know that introductory Skype and phone calls are a major part of some people’s work processes, but I’d rather change a baby’s dirty diaper than talk on the phone. Therefore, I prefer communication via email, or through Basecamp, my project management system. If you’re a big phone/email person, it’s important to make sure that the people you’re working with feel the same way.
Erin’s why: If you want weekly phone calls to check in on progress, and the designer/developer only communicates via email, it's better to know that right away.
Q: What should I have ready before we start working together? Do you require design assets and copy before starting the development piece?
Tiffany’s why: You should have all of your passwords ready, as well as any necessary notes, content, design files, etc. The majority of my projects don’t get started right away because passwords need to be found, and content and files need to be delivered. I’m all about hitting the ground running, and I’m sure most clients feel the same way.
Meredith’s why: Depending on how complex the project is, most developers will need all the pieces in place before starting. They may begin by coding the foundational layer but for any real website building, they will ideally like to have all of the assets complete before starting work.
Q: How does your process work?
Tiffany’s why: Everyone’s process is different. Some developers ask more in-depth questions, and others prefer to create exactly what the client requests, no questions asked. Because I like to think about user experience when developing something, I tend to ask more questions about goals and objectives. Some people may appreciate that, and others may not. So it’s important to understand what the developer has in mind prior to signing a contract.
Erin’s why: It's important to know how designers and developers work and how long things are expected to take.You'll also want to know how many rounds of revisions you get, when and what you need to provide the developer in order to let them do their job, and keep things moving. If a developer says they need final copy, don't expect to change your About page text the night before website launch. When everyone knows what to expect it makes the project run a lot smoother and reduces the chance for misunderstandings.
Q: How do you track a project's progress and deliverables?
Meredith’s why: I use Trello to track all my projects. Everyone who's involved on the project has access. We assign deliverables, due dates and keep the majority of our communication through there to cut down on the number of emails. It's best to be upfront with how the project communication will be handled so expectations are set from the beginning.
Q: What platforms do you work with?
Erin’s why: Find someone who specializes in the platform you want -- it will ensure you get a well-coded site that won't break every time you touch it. I've fixed plenty of sites made by developers who knew just enough about WordPress to make a site that looked good to visitors, but were a nightmare to update or maintain.
Q: I have my heart set on ____ feature, can you do that?
Erin’s why: Prioritize your features and make sure the developer knows how to do them. For example, if you have your heart set on a custom masonry-style gallery, ask developers if they know how to do that. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway into a project only to find out the developer can't deliver what you want. I've picked up a lot of half-finished projects where either the client didn't communicate features they wanted clearly, or the developer didn't know how to add in the feature. Show examples and look for similar features in your developer's portfolio.
Q: Will you code this responsively?
Lis’ why: Not to be confused with responsibly (which let’s hope is also the case!). We consume and read differently on mobile. If your designs don’t have this specified then you can ask your developer to code down the designs responsively. Responsive design increases time and budget on a project due to extra planning, additional coding, more testing and extra know-how but is well worth it as audiences increasingly use mobile devices to access your website (from buses, work and bathrooms!).
Erin’s why: It's 2015. Websites NEED to be responsive. Not only will you be penalized by Google if your website isn't, but visitors will have a hard time viewing your site on anything other than a computer screen.
Q: Do you design websites as well, or do you have a list of designers you prefer working with?
Erin’s why: Developers are not necessarily designers. And designers are not necessarily developers. Ask if your developer can design, and what kind of design they do. For example, I design websites, but I don't do brand or print design. If you need something outside your developer's realm of expertise, ask if they have recommendations -- when designers and developers have a relationship it makes the process smoother. While developers CAN work with mockups from a designer they don't know, it's easier for everyone involved if the designer and developer already have processes in place and rapport with each other.
Q: How much back end functionality will I have?
Lis’ why: Depending on your project size, budget, scope and the skills of your dev, you’ll likely have a different range of functionality and access on the back end. For custom projects and development anything is possible so ask what platform (CMS) they’re building on, why they’ve chosen that one for your project, what access you’ll have, if there is any ongoing payment for support or maintenance, how you’ll update areas on the site and if you’re provided with training, instructions, guides or anything else.
Q: Are you responsible for all integrations, third party systems, hosting, setting up emails etc?
Lis’ why: Again, this will vary per project and developer. For example, I prefer all my clients establish their own accounts to third party applications (I.e hosting, domain, mailing services, payment gateways, etc.) so they have full control and access over the account and they can securely control their payment details and the like. I’ll take it from there to work with everything and arrange what I need within the overall website and systems flow. Other developers may have partnerships with companies, reseller programs or their own products. This is also the time to note who is responsible for setting up things like mailing list integrations, online schedulers, memberships, etc.
Q: Do you maintain my site or provide support packages?
Lis’ why: All sites need to have occasional updates and maintenance. Can you easily add things and do it in-house? Sometimes clients don’t wish to (or don’t have time or the desire) to add/change any of their own content. Do you regularly need new layouts designed or are you constantly tweaking and testing things and need a developer who can help out? Will you require extra phases of new items or functionality in the future? Do you want to look after your own updates and security or would you like somebody else to take care of this? If your server goes down or if there is any issue with your hosting do you go back to your developer and they’ll fix it? If you mess around with some code and it temporarily ‘breaks’ the site (the evil white screen of death!), is your developer responsible for fixing the code and are they on hand immediately?
Q: What is your payment structure & schedule?
Meredith’s why: Every developer has a different payment schedule. It's good for the client to know how much the deposit will be and whether they will need to make a final payment before the site goes live.
Ready to grill (in the best way possible) your potential developer? Print these questions out + have them at the ready when you’re looking to hire! And if you want pros we stand by, check out the One Woman Shop directory.
PS: Want more information from developers on what to know before you hire them? Check out Prior to the Hire: Developers Edition.