Missed Expectations of Web Development

The last blog post I wrote was written around the theme of Disney’s Frozen; specifically in regards to Elsa’s song “Let it Go”. The article brought to light the plight of many sales people and the need to be thick skinned in the world of sales; and of the numerous people who read it, many used the platform to spark conversations. It opened the door to a handful of chats about dealing with loss and the word “no” in sales; mostly they were related to website and technology sales, but I ended up with a discussions about Disney itself, as well as the merits of the movie (I tend to be connected to a lot of parents in my social circle). While I must admit bias with two young girls at home, a big part of the enjoyment of movies like that are due because of the smiles it puts on the girls’ faces.

As my wife and I sat down to watch another Disney movie with our girls again this past weekend, we were surprised by how dark the tone of the movie really was. As a kid (or even an adult), it’s something that may go unnoticed, but watching it with kids brings a lot more things to light about the tone and style of storytelling Disney movies offer. For example, almost every Disney animated movie deals with death or significant loss in some way; i.e. Mufasa, Bambi’s mother, Ariel’s father, etc… These are dark and foreboding storylines that bring an element of evil and darkness. Of course, the darker the evil, the brighter the light is that ultimately wins out, but the journey of the movie we watched this weekend seemed a lot for a young child to bear. Sometimes it’d be nice if movie watching were more like Phoebe’s experience from FRIENDS.

It can almost feel a little bit of a betrayal by a movie when something goes so horribly wrong, or changes direction without much notice. As viewers, we get attracted by the characters and wrapped up in crazy adventures, often times only to be side-swiped by a very unpleasant surprise. I’ve noticed this happens in other places than the cinema, though, it tends to happen a lot in real life as well.

Personal Experience with Website Development

After spending the last ten years in the web development industry, I have come to learn a lot of how this whole thing really works. In 2004, I was handed a copy of (then) Macromedia’s Dreamweaver software and told I had a few weeks to learn it as I would then be building the website for my employer, a small, private university. Despite the size of the school, the website was (after I and my teammate were completed) winnowed down to 1,500 pages. It was a truly massive project for two relative newcomers to the industry and dominated our time for well over 6 months. I had no clue what I was getting into!

And that is something I have heard from many clients over the years as they would process their experiences working on websites. While many times that statement came across as a compliment (as in, Wow – I had no idea how smooth this would be!), mostly it was uttered as shock as to how the experience differed from what their expectations were. As much as possible during the sales process, we would explain and remind of certain things we would need from them or of what would happen if they requested a change order, but something always came up in the construction process that would throw us (and sometimes the client) for a bit of a loop.

Managing Web Development Expectations

Team of business people working together on a laptopI am thankful that none of the web companies that I have worked for ever sought to lie or be unethical in their practices, so I really can’t imagine what it must feel like to have purchased a website from a company that either completely ruined the process or took a company for gobs of money and never turned in a finished product. I have heard, though, countless stories like that from people I have talked with over the years. I heard a story a few years ago about a construction company that purchased a website (it was built on a WordPress engine with 5 pages and a blog) with the original purchase cost of $75,000. Why they were willing to pay that I will never know, but the reason they came to me was because the project had stalled. The other web company had “run out of time” and needed a budget refill to continue. The client hadn’t seen any progress in over two months and was sick of not being able to get a hold of the developers. Yes, that web company was about to charge the client more than the original $75,000 to finish!

Thankfully the owner of the construction company gave me the opportunity to restart the project for him, and although that $75,000 was lost, his new site cost one tenth of the other one that he never received. It can be a challenge, though, as no two web companies are alike and all have their own policies and procedures for the development process, handling payments, etc… Working with a new company can be intimidating and nerve-racking due to the unknowns, especially when it is with an industry that is highly technical and specialized. The list below are common items that can help ensure clarity of expectations and understanding of the process, which will enhance the teamwork between companies and lead to improved experiences and results. Ultimately, these are questions you can bring to the table to ensure you stay protected.

Web Development Communication

How often do you hear from your web development team? Weekly? Monthly? Have you ever? Web companies are notorious for their lack of communication skills and antiquated replies. Make sure that your web company explains to you how they communicate, what their email and phone call return policy is (hopefully within 24 hours) and when you can expect to see certain materials of the development. Make sure they have a plan to keep you involved and the project moving. After all, this is your project.

Design and Development Team

Do you know who your design and development teammates are? Do you know how many employees are working for the web company you chose or whom they outsource to? Will you have direct access to anyone they outsource to on your behalf?

It is unreasonable to expect that one individual can be an expert at both design and programming (think right brain vs. left brain). Creativity and mathematical formulas do not often go together in one person’s mind. It’s not only design and programming, either – what about copy writing? Development? While single person startups and small outsourcing companies can be helpful and get the job done, knowing who you are working with is vital to your long-term success and experience through the project. An outsourcing firm has more sources to get specialized work from, but what accountability do they have? And what about the solo free-lancer? When something better comes along, you need to be prepared.

While usually more expensive, a full-service design studio with actual employees who are experts in their field offers a level of quality and assurance of success that you cannot get elsewhere. If your website has to work for you (such as gaining leads or selling directly online) you really need to consider what team and style is the best for you and your investment return.

Web Project Completion Steps

Financial consultant presents bank investments to a young coupleEach website project is broken down into specific development steps. No matter who is building it, each step should culminate with you being presented a piece of material to you for approval or revising. Because each step in website development builds on the previous step, it is vital to both your ultimate satisfaction as well as the website’s success that you provide written (email) approval before they move on to the next step. While most web teams are happy to make any necessary revisions, they need them before moving on to the next step, as that could cause major production delays and incur extra costs (see below).

  • Completion of Site Development Plan
  • Wireframes
  • Site Mockups
  • Development Link Review/Site Launch

This is also important for any ongoing marketing, as your company should also require the approval step for any content that is written before posting. This could include, but is not limited to:

  • Email Newsletters
  • Blog Articles
  • Significant Page Updates

Do take note that long-term SEO relies on a consistent posting schedule and your web marketing company wants to be faithful to fulfill that need.

Content & Timelines

It is so much easier on you and your development team if they are able to help you by writing needed content on your behalf. You should be expected to review and revise/approve any content created by them (see above) to ensure it meets your standards. This allows the content to be written for the website (sales language) and search engines (SEO) and often frees up a lot of time to get the website or marketing piece launched sooner.

You can expect certain benchmarks and milestones to be reached at determined intervals based on a schedule you should receive at the beginning of your project. Note that Developer cannot guarantee rankings or listing places that are determined by search engines. Neither can they guarantee timing and responsiveness of any 3rd party provider, nor of anything they are dependent on from you. That means that they can only complete these milestones on the assumption that we receive the information we need in a timely fashion.

Mid-project Change Orders

It is almost inevitable during a project or an ongoing service contract that you will need something that stretches outside the original agreement. Most web service providers are happy to help with any unforeseen issues or needs, however there may be situations where there is a need for a change order. A change order is a service request that was not part of the initial contract will require additional funds. Any time a change order is needed, you should be quoted on the work first and only move forward with your written (email) approval. Here are some common times/situations when a change order may be appropriate:

  • Changing a piece of website development after that section has been approved
  • Needing services that take time past the ongoing monthly retainer
  • Unexpected growth to production/service needs

3rd Party Providers

There may be times or situations when your web company will need to bring in a 3rd party provider to accomplish a goal or a task. Whether it could be a photographer, videographer, external piece of software, or a variety of other possibilities, they may need to bring in said provider as a subcontractor or a partner (depending on the situation). Most web companies are happy to manage those relationships and service tasks, but it is possible that may include extra time or costs (depending on need). If any 3rd party services requires additional setup time, please understand there may be more time involved.

Any request for materials (software, imagery, services, marketing, etc.) that require an additional fee, should first be submitted by your web team to you for approval, and said additional fee must be approved by you prior to them incurring the fee. These costs could be billed either directly through 3rd party providers or billed by your development team once approved.

Intellectual Property and Domain Rights

There is more than one way to build a website. Many web companies offer different packages that are based on different price points and client options. One such option is the ability to keep or transfer the IP rights of a project to the client. I sincerely hope that the default plan for any web company you hire is that they automatically transfer the Intellectual Property (IP) rights to the design and construction. You commissioned it, let’s hope it is actually yours. However, a lease option may be a better way to go if costs are a factor. Most web companies can easily drop the price of a project and even elongate the payback time if you are willing to let go of the IP rights. What this means is that if you choose to leave this company after the website is complete, you will not be able to take the website with you. It is a risk vs. reward scenario, but if you trust your provider and the costs need to stay low, then this may be an option for you.

Never make it an option to give your Domain rights to a company. They can manage your domain(s) and even purchase/set them up for you, but make sure the agreement states that your Domain (or URL or www.YOURDOMAIN.com) stays with you even after a break-up. If you do this and pay attention to the other things listed, you should find yourself in a much cleaner and more predictable environment which will help you drastically during your experience of website development.

Kristen Bachmeier
Kristen Bachmeier
Kristen Bachmeier is Atilus' Director of Operations and helps to oversee all client accounts and day-to-day operations. Additionally, Kristen has worked in digital marketing for 5+ years and has helped create digital marketing plans for hundreds of clients.

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