Choosing your webmaster
Making the right choice
Choosing the right people to look after your website should be a big decision. By following our tried and tested approach and applying best practice, you can have a good, working relationship which delivers exactly what you want, to the time and budget agreed.
Whether you're planning a new website design or just looking for general website development work (such as updating your website, looking for the most appropriate hosting and support, trying to find ways of reduce the amount of spam comments you get or want to start selling on your website, the criteria is the same. [toc]
If you're appointing someone to design and develop a new website for you, there are a number of things we think you need to look for at the very beginning. Your initial search is important if you are to get the right website design company for you.
- Starting point - You will need to have a very good idea of the specification.
- Choice - Make sure you choose well. You can identify potential webmasters by searching online and looking for a number of things which will give you a good idea of what they're like:
- Testimonials - What do people say about them?
- Case studies - Read any case studies of websites in your market (or one similar).
- Accreditations - Anything which shows they're good at what they do, e.g., members of relevant associations.
- Ambience - The general impression you get from their website will tell you the kind of business they are and whether you feel that you'll be able to work with them e.g., easy to use; clear; informative; knowledgeable; "salesy;" expert; design-led, etc.
- Quotation - From this search, create a short list and then share your specification with those companies. Ask them to provide a proposal which explains how they will design and develop the website, complete with costs, timings and processes.
- Comparisons - When comparing the proposals you receive back, make sure that they are 'like for like'. Look at the stages of amendments and the places in the process where your input and feedback is needed. Or if there are recommendations to do things differently, that these are clear and you understand them. Never assume you understand what they mean as this may lead to 'hidden costs' that you're not expecting. Make sure everything is crystal clear.
- Evidence - It's always a good idea to see what other sites your prospective webmaster has designed and developed, particularly in your market and of the type you want e.g., if you're having a new ecommerce site, take a look at other ecommerce sites that they've developed. You can normally see these on their website, but try and get some context; ask them some 'delving' questions, such as: "what were the main challenges you faced when creating the XYZ site?" This way you can get an inkling as to how they work, how they solve problems, how they overcome challenges, etc.
- Rapport - They will probably know more than you about geeky things, so ask them to explain how they intend to build the site, what the process will be. This way, before you appoint them, you'll know f you're going to be able to build a rapport with them. It's really important to have a good relationship in order to avoid conflict over timings, costs, etc.
- Meet them - If you're going ahead with them, then you're going to be working with them on a regular basis, so meet them. This doesn't mean that you have to find a day in your busy schedule and then arrange to travel miles. You can use online tools like Skype and TeamViewer. But it's crucial to know your webmaster before you start working together.
- References - Good webmasters will be happy to give you the contact details of clients for you to talk to them about their website design and development. This will help you to have confidence in the company you're looking to appoint.
Here's a list of things you need to have discussed and decided on (preferably in the form of a signed agreement before any work is commenced). You may feel that some of them are obvious, but you'd be surprised how many web designers are appointed without these things in place:
- agreed scope and deliverables of the website development project.
- agreed work schedule, timings and costing for the project.
- agreed hourly/daily rate for any additional work that may arise outside of the project scope.
- agreed procedure for settling disagreements eg use of arbitrary bodies.