It’s not easy to hire a web developer. If you are a typical business owner or marketing manager, you don’t write code at all. That makes it hard for you to know whether the person whose portfolio you’re looking at writes good code, or even good-enough code. (By “good-enough” I mean it does what you wanted it to, it doesn’t break something else, it doesn’t suck up all your server resources, and it’s not full of mile-wide security holes.)
Fortunately, there are lots of helpful articles to guide you through the interview process. I especially like “How To Hire A Programmer (Even If You Don’t Know Code)” from Forbes, even though it dates back to 2013, but “How to Hire and Retain Web Developers” from Robert Half is pretty good, too.
Bookmark those to read before you start talking to agencies and freelancers, but before you do that, ask yourself the Who, What, Where, When, Why, How, and How Much of your business.
WHAT business are you in?
Your website needs to make it clear to visitors what you do, both in the most mundane descriptive fashion (“I own a restaurant”) and in more evocative terms (“Where to go when you want your date to propose—to the chef”). Can you describe the purpose of your organization in terms a third-grader would understand? Whether you are a for-profit or a non-profit, any business investment you make needs to support you in your mission. That definitely includes your company website.
WHO is your ideal customer?
If the answer is “everybody,” you are definitely not ready to hire a web developer. Even if you manufacture toilet paper, you can narrow your target market down to “The person who is responsible for household shopping” or even “People with large families who need to buy toilet paper in bulk.”
A non-profit may not have customers as such, but charities have both ideal donors and ideal beneficiaries, and membership organizations have ideal members.
WHERE do your best customers come from?
If you haven’t been tracking this, now would be a good time to start. Have your best clients or biggest deals come from personal referrals? Does advertising play a large role in your success? Do you depend on foot traffic and a great location? Your website is not a replacement for other sources of business, but a complement to them. If your prospects don’t spend time on (or have access to) the web, the bulk of your marketing efforts should go elsewhere.
WHY do you need a (new) website?
Most businesses need some kind of a website, but “Because everybody has one” is a terrible answer. “To get more business” isn’t a lot better. Remember your mission and dig a little deeper. “To sell my products to people who don’t live near a store location,” is much more the thing. So is “To increase donations to our charity by educating people about how serious this problem is and what we’re doing to fix it.”
While you’re formulating that answer, ask yourself whether there is another solution that would work as well or better. I firmly believe every business should have its own website and own its own content, but if your business is new, you might want to start with something simpler, like a good LinkedIn profile or a simple store on Shopify.
HOW will you know your website is effective?
It’s important to have specific, measurable goals. It’s not enough for your website to look nice. A business website needs to move the needle. Whether you want to increase donations,newsletter signups, product sales, or project inquiries, you need to know what you’re going to measure in order to determine the project’s success. (And your developer needs to know what kind of measurement and analytics tools to put in place.)
HOW MUCH is it costing you not to have a (working) website?
A colleague told me a story about a company that lost a $150,000 contract because their website looked so outdated and unprofessional. Yesterday a client told me that she didn’t think she was going to be chosen for an important gig, but her website clinched the deal. A developer can tell you what it will cost if you do build a website. It’s your job to figure out what it will cost if you don’t.
WHEN are you going to fit this project into your schedule?
If you can’t devote at least 2 hours a week to getting your website off the ground, it’s better to postpone the project until you can. Even though someone else is going to be writing the code, your website won’t succeed without your participation. You need to be available for discovery and content strategy, and to review wireframes, mockups and prototypes. Regular check-in calls and progress reports help you avoid late, expensive surprises. The best way you can help your developer meet your launch deadline is to stay actively involved.
Here’s why you need to know these things.
The best developer in the world can’t build you the website you need without knowing what you need it for. Rather than distracting yourself (and your developer) by pursuing cool special effects and hot design trends, focus on what your organization needs in order to be successful. A developer who understands your goals can help you in ways you didn’t even know you needed.