How to Lose a Web Developer

Even though designing and building a website by yourself — provided you have the skills, time, and other resources — can be a cost-effective and even satisfying way of ending up with a working site, it is more often the case that it would be better to outsource the project to a professional who does that sort of work on a regular basis. The final project cost would undoubtedly be higher than doing it yourself, but that is only if you ignore the additional costs of time and, for first-time amateurs, a tremendous amount of frustration during the construction process and into the future when modifications need to be made to the site.

Assuming that you have elected to let someone else deal with the technical headaches, and you are currently in the process of evaluating potential developers or you have already done so and the project is underway, there is always the possibility that a terrific candidate chooses not to bid on the project or he decides to walk away from a project already started. There are countless reasons as to why a developer might do that. If the project was underway when the schism occurs, then the contract to which both of you had agreed should stipulate such terms that you would not lose greatly by his ending the engagement. Even then, despite no explicit monetary cost, you have still lost time and will have to restart the process and select a replacement developer.

Clearly, the best scenario is for both you and your developer to remain pleased with all aspects of the project, so much so that you would happily choose him to continue maintaining the website going forward, and he would wish to do so. Thus it is best to be aware of some of the most common reasons why web designers and developers will bail on a problematic project or, more frequently, a problematic client. Don't be the latter!

Scope Creep

If the developer is paid on an hourly basis, and the client makes never-ending changes to planned or finished work, then almost all developers would be quite willing to put in the extra hours to complete the extra work (for extra pay) — although most such developers would become increasingly frustrated when being asked to modify or discard completed features and any custom code built to support those features.

Much worse, if the developer is paid on a project basis (either a lump-sum for the entire website or multiple payments for the various stages of progress), then she would be quite foolish to agree to build any website whose functionality and technical requirements have not been explicitly defined and agreed to beforehand. Otherwise, the scope of the project and the work demanded of her could easily exceed what she had in mind when first bidding on the project.

No Contract

On a related note, the lack of a written contract may pose no problem when the project is moving along smoothly, with no disagreements as to the requirements of the website and the terms of payment. But if, for any reason, disagreements should arise, then without an agreed-upon contract that can be referenced to resolve misunderstandings and conflicts, the situation could escalate from unpleasant email messages all the way up to a costly lawsuit — costly to both parties, all things considered, especially the courtroom loser.

Note that a contract does not have to be complex or lengthy or even lawyer-vetted, but at the very least it should delineate the functionality required of the developer's final product and the schedule for payments, as well as the methods of resolving any conflicts, such as late delivery of features or payments. Also bear in mind that, at least within the United States, emailed statements of work, project bids, etc., as well as agreements to any of these, are legally binding. All of my own development work has been done based upon clear project requirements spelled out in email messages.

Pie in the Sky with Diamonds

Sometimes an inexperienced business owner — or someone who sees himself as a promising entrepreneur just one start-up away from riches and fame — will have only a vague idea of what they want and need in a website. In turn, they could be laboring under the mistaken belief that they will"work it out on the fly", oftentimes with the counsel of a developer foolish enough to participate without a contract and an upfront deposit (in case the client's dreams turn out to be rather unrealistic, as they sometimes do). It is far better for such a client to create a serviceable and detailed business plan ahead of time, and then use that as a basis for discussion with the developer.

In general, avoid the mistake of asking your web developer to create the impossible or the unknown.

Ignorance of What Is Possible

At the other end of the spectrum, some clients may not be demanding enough. Specifically, they might have a worthy idea for a business — whether innovative or simply an improved version of existing and profitable businesses — but they don't know what is possible for a website. As a consequence, they could miss out on a variety of business opportunities by not knowing what online functionality is possible and yet not prohibitively expensive or technically difficult. All of us in the modern world have used websites, so even the least technical among us have a vague notion as to what websites are capable of. But the typical business owner does not have a complete and precise understanding of what is conceivable. This is to be expected, because it is certainly not something that is taught in schools or discussed in everyday conversation.

It pays to have an open-minded discussion with your chosen web developer to find out what she is capable of creating for you, and what the website could do for your business. Developers, at least the better ones, incorporate client education into their communication with their prospects and clients. But that is on an ad hoc basis, and is usually limited to only those features that the client is aware of. Don't hesitate to tell any developer that you may know your business area well, but not all of the available features that your new website could incorporate, including the ability to communicate with online services in ways you never thought possible. These greater capabilities could result in unexpected profits far in excess of the additional fees paid to your developer — who in turn would be happy to work for you far into the future.

Copyright © 2024 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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