One of the major challenges for marketing departments and business owners when having a website designed and coded is understanding exactly what they’re getting. Our industry is notorious for a myriad of shady business practices—from holding websites hostage, to outsourcing work, to simply lying about their physical location. About half of our workload at Alopex Interaction Design is triaging existing websites to figure out exactly how they were built, and boy, have we seen some interesting websites. Here’s 3 questions to ask a new web contractor.
This is self evident, but don’t fall into the trap of believing that the person who you are talking to is going to be the person writing the code. Ask very specifically, “Are you the one writing the code for the site?” If they are, great! That should make working with them much more efficient.
If their answer is “no” then ask who is—and perhaps more importantly—where is the developer located. At Alopex, our developers work in-house with our designers and account staff. We can ask questions directly to each other and quickly problem solve. It is a constant source of frustration for our clients when they realize that the people who they believed were producing the work are merely paying someone else to do it. This can cause major problems if the middle-man loses contact with the actual coder. We work with many clients who have literally no access to their hosting, their domain name, or the code of their website.
If your contract does not explicitly assign you rights to the contractor’s work then your developer could simply withdraw your right to use their work—and they could do so entirely legally. We are often contracted to build websites rapidly when our clients realize that they don’t own the rights to their previously contracted website. Sites and developers that offer recurring monthly costs rather than upfront ones effectively run off of holding your website hostage. If, God forbid, you work with a company that has purchased your domain, hosting and email, you may not even have recourse to reclaim any of it if you choose to work with someone else.
What you must stipulate is that you want the perpetual, exclusive license to use their work OR that you want all rights assigned to you. DO NOT ENTER INTO A CONTRACT WITHOUT SPECIFYING OWNERSHIP!
Recently Alopex was contacted by a client in a small town of Alaska where their local developer passed away suddenly. It appears as though he was also providing his own hosting—which makes things very difficult. Accidents happen, and for whatever reason, if you need to be able to get access to your site and files, you need to know how to do that.
There are two levels to this:
Make sure that you have an updated list of your logins at all time. If possible, it is best for you to own you own domain and hosting. We have seen so many websites held hostage when there is a disagreement or one party is ready to move on. Maintain a spreadsheet with all logins and test them as often as you can.
Regarding the quality of work, this is the main issue that we deal with: Awful code. I’ll save this rant for another post, but developers are not all made equal and it is not unusual for us to look at the backend of a website and realize that the person Frankensteined the code—it is a mishmash of code that wasn’t even written by the ‘developer’. The only way around this is to vet your developer early on. If they have a degree in Computer Science, that’s preferable as they will most likely use conventions and best practices. What you absolutely do not want is someone who taught themselves WordPress or Joomla and works with templates. This is a recipe for having to rebuild your entire website when you need a major update.