This is the second post in our “Things to ask” tech series. Click on the link to read the previous article about “Three things to ask… Your software developer“.

Whether you’re a freelancer, a consultant, a business owner, or even someone in the arts, a website is one of the most important parts of selling yourself. In our always-connected world, a lot of the time your website is the first impression you’ll make on your potential clients or audience, and we all know that first impressions matter.

Your website will be your calling card, the front page to you and what you stand for. But for many of us who don’t have the skills to develop a website ourselves, we need to hire someone else to do it. There are many people who claim to be competent web developers, but far less who can actually back up that claim. How do we know that we’re not going to be taken for a ride?

Here Kasia Gospos, the founder of Leaders in Heels, shares four things you should ask your website developer.

Can I see your previous work/contact your previous clients?

…ask them specifically what part of the website they builtWhen looking at a developer’s portfolio, be sure to ask them specifically what part of the website they built. Websites are often built by multiple developers, sometimes over a long period of time. Don’t simply assume that the websites in a developer’s portfolio were completely built by them–they may have come in much later and only worked on a small area.

This links in to contacting the developer’s previous clients. A developer can easily make their look more glamourous than it actually was, so chat to others who have worked with them and ask how effective and reliable the developer was. Someone who’s not willing to give any references should be a bright red warning flag!

How many changes can I make?

Don’t forget to ask about ongoing costsNo matter how glitter-eyed you are over a particular theme or design, there will be changes. Most of the time, there will be a lot of changes. Confirm upfront how many rounds of changes are included in the price, and whether the changes allowed are large ones or small ones. Changing the size/colour/style of text or adding a button is a small change. Adding more features to a page such as transition animations or a shopping cart functionality is a big change.

Don’t forget to ask about ongoing costs. If you discover a change you missed during the initial build, how much will it cost to fix the problem?

How can I make the build more cost-effective?

It’s easy to get carried away with great ideas for features and page designs, but custom builds will take more time and, of course, cost more money. There are many standard website themes and plug-ins that will give you the functionality you need, if you’re willing to compromise. Ask your developer whether there are existing templates or code that can be used instead of building from scratch, and how much that will save on the final bill.

What are your payment terms?

The best approach is to agree on payments scheduled by agreed milestonesIt’s important to be clear on this from the very beginning. Does the developer require payment upfront? Half now, half when complete? The best approach is to agree on payments scheduled by agreed milestones such as implementing a new style, additional pages, a shopping cart, or SEO tools.

Also ensure that the contract enables you to pull out easily in case you realise the developer has a different vision to yours that they’re not willing to budge on, or if their work isn’t up to the quality you expected. There’s nothing worse than getting halfway through a build, realising it won’t work, but having no way out until the end when the entire site has been built and invoices paid.

Do you have any other questions you think are important to ask your software developer? Share them in the comments below!

In this day and age, businesses are relying more and more upon technology. There are programs to manage your business’s workflow, websites to promote your brand, social media hubs to interact with your customers, apps to ensure your customers have ready access to your products. Most lot of the time, it’s far more efficient to hire someone to build and set-up these things for you.

But what should you look out for, and what kind of questions should you be asking to ensure you get the product you want?

This month, Leaders in Heels is running a “Things to ask” series about the technical side of running your business. We’re kicking off with the technology at the core of your business – software that you use to manage your workflow. Perhaps you’re thinking about customising an existing product, or having something built from scratch. Whether you work in retail or advisory, in the creative space or the corporate world, here are three things you should be asking your software developer.

Can you provide me with functional specifications?

If you’re not sure what those words even mean, a functional specification is essentially a document that covers the design of your software. It goes over the different parts of the software and tells you exactly what it will do. Yes, this is the boring part before you get to play around with the software. But it’s also incredibly important to point out any errors at this stage and ensure your software developer has covered the full scope of what you want. If you wait until the software is built before you check that it does everything you need, you may find that what you think is a small but important change is actually a lot of extra work – and the developer may charge you for it.

It will also save you from going through tedious back-and-forth if the developer has misunderstood any of your requirements, or worse yet, not included some critical functionality. The latter may also include a case of bill shock if you don’t spot it early enough!

How easy will it be to make changes to the system?

Just because you have a shiny new system doesn’t mean you’ll never need to tweak it in the future. Operating systems change, your business needs change, and software developers can move on. Always check which elements you’ll be able to change on your own – for example, how easy is it to change pricing structures for a retail business? – and which elements will require you to call in a developer.

For the elements that require a developer, ask about update costs upfront. If your system produces reports, for example, how much will you be charged if you need to make changes to those reports in the future?

Also, check what code the software is based on. A quick search online should tell you if that programming language (or the skills to adapt a particular piece of software) is still widespread, or relatively obscure. You don’t want to tie yourself to software that few people can work with – that’s all but a guarantee you’ll be facing large bills in the future.

What projects have you previously delivered, and can I see them?

This is probably quite obvious, but it’s surprising how many people are carried away by the sales pitch and forget to ask this. With software development especially, it’s important to see what the developer has delivered in the past, and how similar it is to what you want. Code is a strange beast, wilful and capricious. Although a developer may have a lot of experience with coding in general, working with different technology, or even a newer version of a program, can bring a lot of new and unexpected pitfalls. Although you may get the software in the end, it may be a few months (or more!) later than what you originally agreed on.

Check what projects your software developer has previously completed, and ask them about issues and lessons learned. Looking at their previous works will also give you an idea of their design aesthetic, and you can see if it aligns with yours.

featured image: iiro90

Do you have any other questions we should be asking our software developers? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!