THE GOOD, THE CHEAP, AND THE UGLY by Rich

All website developers are not the same.

“Sure”, you say. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

How about this: You probably don’t know just how different they are – and why this matters to you.

This article could also be called “How to waste money and not get what you wanted in a website.”

Read on.

TYPES OF DEVELOPERS

Let’s start by categorizing developers:

  1. One-man band developers.
  2. Overseas developers.
  3. Outsourcers.
  4. Industry-specific developers.
  5. Small digital agencies.
  6. Larger ad agencies.
  7. Media conglomerates, which probably used to be a phone book.

If you are talking to a website developer and you don’t know which one of these types you are dealing with, it is very likely that you will either pay too much,  will be disappointed in the result, or both.

Usually there is one, possibly two categories that could work for you. So this is useful.

“ONE-MAN BAND” DEVELOPERS

The largest number of website developers – maybe 90% or more – is one guy or gal, who does everything themselves. They are inexpensive because they have no overhead. They work out of their homes, often have other jobs, and are only supplementing their income doing websites.

You are also talking to the person who is doing the work, so it is very direct and at least in theory can be speedy.

But, there is so much to know to do a good professional job of it. To find a person who knows it all is rare – and they probably aren’t doing websites out of their spare bedroom for $750. So it is highly likely the person you hire doesn’t really know enough about one or more aspects of website building. In short, you are not going to get a professional website. Warning: There is a lot more to it than just that it looks good.

The one-man band can easily get overwhelmed (if he has TWO projects going instead of only one) and can go out of communication.

OVERSEAS DEVELOPERS

There are thousands of low-priced developers overseas. Some of them pretend to be U.S. based and may even have one U.S. based salesman. This is usually easy to figure out. The pluses are they are inexpensive (paying low wages in places like India or Romania), and they may have good technical skills.  The minuses are mostly just as obvious: language problems, time zone differences can be a killer, lack of familiarity with the culture or industries you are dealing with. Quality also varies wildly and, being out-of-country, there is little you can do if you run into problems.

OUT-SOURCERS

The opposite of a one-man band, they don’t do any of the work themselves. They sell jobs then farm out the actual work to a one-man-band or overseas developer. Often, they pretend to be a real company. They do have one advantage, potentially, over the first two categories – they are normally U.S. based, may do a much better job of maintaining communication, and are at least theoretically responsible for managing the project and getting you what you paid for. In turn, they are usually somewhat more expensive than the first two categories. But quality issues are often still a big problem.

INDUSTRY SPECIFIC DEVELOPERS

Now we have a very different fish. This is a real company – and they can be very large. I know one that specializes in lawyers and has over 400 staff. They specialize in one (or sometimes a few) industries, such as dentists and chiropractors. Their value proposition is two-fold a) they really know your industry; and b) they have a lot of prefabricated material that makes it possible to deliver a website with a lot of pages and functionality, relatively inexpensively.

They have the liabilities of any large business – getting lost in the crowd and getting poor service. But also their familiarity with their industry and how to market for it may be quite superficial. Don’t assume because they have hundreds of testimonials from happy dentists, that they actually understand dental marketing.

Typically the way they work, you pay a medium-sized amount monthly for your site. You don’t actually own your website. They own the content and host the site, and if you ever want to go away, you have to start over. And that monthly amount adds up – after a couple of years, you could have had a very nice custom-designed site that you own yourselves and can host anywhere and modify to your heart’s content.

SMALL DIGITAL AGENCIES

Certainly, I’m prejudiced in favor of this category, since that’s what we are. I will restrain myself from launching into pages on the glories thereof. The pluses are, if they are good, you get a lot of personal attention, understanding of your business and needs, and excellent communication handling. They can produce great sites very well suited to your business.

So what’s not to like? They are going to be relatively expensive, and probably take longer to get the job done. They may have to learn your industry on the fly if they aren’t already familiar with it. And some of them work in oddball systems nobody else knows and can be a problem to move away from them.

But if you get the right company, you are going to be very happy with the result.

LARGE AD AGENCIES

You would think this category would be great if you’re a bit of a larger company and want high-quality work with great service. Surprise: Most large ad agencies don’t actually do their own websites, they sub-contract them. So see whatever category their vendor falls in, and all the liabilities of that, and factor in the extra 50% or more you are going to pay for having “Blah, Blah and Blah” do your website.

MEDIA CONGLOMERATES, PROBABLY USED TO BE A PHONE BOOK COMPANY

These companies are pretty much the worst possible choice. They trade on their name, slick advertising, and high-powered salesmen to get the job. They actually don’t know anything about the web or internet marketing, and the work is usually done by minimum wage workers who know almost nothing about websites.

Harsh, I know. Don’t believe me. Check out their actual work and results.

LET THE BUYER BEWARE

I seem to be saying that a lot lately, but only because it is so true. First, decide what category or categories are likely to be right for you.  Then, a few questions and a little homework will establish what category a given vendor is in.

After talking to a few, you may realize you’ve been shooting too high (or low) and can. or need to, revise. Maybe you think a one-man band will be fine for you – sometimes it is – then you realize the job they do just isn’t going to cut it. Or maybe you think you can make an overseas developer work until you’ve spoken to a few. On the other hand, maybe after talking to a few small digital agencies, you realize they just aren’t in your budget.

It makes it a bit of a long haul to select a developer, compared to what you might have hoped for. I know you’re busy. But this is one of your more important marketing choices and one you’ll probably have to live with for some years – or start over in six months. So it is well worth the time and effort.

Good luck.

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