Warning Signs from Your Web Developer

by Michelle Salater on April 7, 2010

Web Developer Warnings

Finding a web developer to trust with your business can be a difficult process. Many times there are ambiguous red flags present that the company hiring the developer may be unaware of.

In the below article written by Heather Floyd of Whole Web Impact, Heather explains the warning signs to look for when hiring a web developer and discusses proactive steps to take if you’re experiencing any problems with your current developer:

Warning Signs from your Web Developer

There is a very sad situation that is all too common in the world of website development. Since I count myself as a member of this industry, it is with some resignation that I write about this issue. It’s just that I have heard from and worked with too many people who have been burned by the web professionals they have hired.

There are some red flags you can observe which could indicate that the person you are working with might result in a less-than-stellar experience – either now or down the line.

Red Flags

He never asks you for high-quality copies of your branding materials (logo, etc). If you have existing branding, a professional designer will take that into consideration when crafting your site design. The colors should be consistent, or at least compatible, and your logo should be on your site somewhere, so if your new designer doesn’t care, don’t count on having a design that reflects your business identity.

He doesn’t spend time discussing your business and marketing needs. You are likely to get a generic website from someone who doesn’t think your business is any different from any other business he has created a website for.

He wants to push you into something you aren’t comfortable with. Anytime you feel that your developer is being pushy and not answering your questions and concerns, beware. Offering professional advice is one thing, and most good developers have preferred ways of working and “best practices”, but if you disagree with the developer’s methods or requirements, you should find another more compatible developer.

He wants to control your domain name. This is a big warning. You should have your domain name registered in your name, and the registration account controlled by yourself. This is like allowing someone else to register your trademark. Yikes!

He wants to control your webhosting. Reputable web developers often offer website hosting.

This in and of itself is just fine. There are many good business reasons for a developer to manage the hosting of sites he builds. I do it because it allows me to better manage the technical aspects of the hosting on a standard platform I am intimately familiar with. Also, since most clients, if they have problems with the hosting or email, tend to contact their developer, it’s better if the developer actually can help them – not always possible if he isn’t also the host. That being said, make sure you are actually getting a full-featured hosting account. You should have access to all your files, databases, etc. You should have login information for the hosting control panel, as well as FTP (file transfer protocol) login information. If your developer doesn’t want to give you this, you are essentially being held hostage – you can’t access the files you rightly own, you won’t be able to update your site without his assistance, and forget moving to another web host or developer if things turn sour or he disappears. Make sure you will have at least FTP access to your files before agreeing to a hosting plan.

There might be other small things that indicate a developer will cause you headaches – not listening to you and answering your questions in a way you understand, failing to return your calls or emails for weeks on end without explanation, putting down your business or your ideas, etc. The most important thing is to trust your gut instincts and communicate any concerns early. Some issues can be resolved and don’t indicate a “bad” developer, but you will want to make your expectations clear early so that you are both on the same page.

Web Action Steps

  • If you are experiencing any of these warning signs, discuss them with a tech-savvy friend or another developer whom you trust. Let them help you decide on a reasonable course of action
  • If you don’t have access to your online files, request that your developer create a ZIP file or CD-ROM with all of the website files and send it to you
  • If you do have access to your online files, download a backup immediately, in case things turn very bad and he cuts off your account
  • If you don’t control your domain name, ask your developer how you can gain control of the registrar account
  • If you have any other concerns, try respectfully discussing them with your developer. It might just be a misunderstanding that can be resolved.
  • If your relationship with your web developer ever becomes seriously problematic, try to get whatever files you can, and cut your losses. You will find that the hassles and delays caused by an ongoing battle won’t end up being worth your while, and will keep your business from thriving.

It can be anxiety-producing to embark on getting a website, and when you start having problems with your web professionals it can become very stressful. Hopefully being aware of these warning signs will help you head off troubles early. If you are looking for a new web developer, I hope you will consider contacting me.

About Heather Floyd:

Heather Floyd helps solopreneurs / independent professionals who are overwhelmed with website options and costs to have a high-quality business website that generates leads and builds professional reputation. She has been providing technology and business consulting services since 1999. Get a FREE Special Report: “10 Web Mistakes That Are Costing You Business” from https://www.WholeWebImpact.com.

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  • Gregory Waxman
    I'd argue almost all of this advice is mislabeled. If you have a web developer doing the design related work you either have poor designs coming your way, really simple needs, or a designer who can develop only basic websites if even that reliably. A designer and a developer are largely two separate jobs for good reason.
  • John MacIntyre
    Good advice. I'd also suggest that you will know a professional by them pushing your changes to a test server for you to approve before deploying it to your live site. I would suggest that only an amateur will make changes directly to your live website.
  • Thanks, John, for those tips. Do you recommend people ask their developer ahead of time if he / she plans on making changes to the live site or using a test server? Often, these issues don't arise until it's too late.
  • John MacIntyre
    You might want to ask about their process for testing, getting client approval, and deployment. That's a pretty good hint on how to behave if it wasn't their plan already. Be concerned if they look at you with a "What are you talking about" expression.

    If they work on your live site, and make a mistake, your site will have a problem. And if they make a serious error that they don't know how to get out of, well that's even worse. You may need to restore ... if they did a backup. Because if they're working of your live site, they may not be smart enough to make a backup either. Know what I mean?

    There is a cost to doing things right however, but I'm guessing the target audience of this blog wouldn't have a very complex site, so the setup should be minimal.

    If your developer doesn't have a validation server where you can test and approve changes, you might suggest it would be an inexpensive investment, and a huge value add to their clients.
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