Tips for clients when choosing a web development company

A while back I wrote a post about tips for freelancers …

http://www.jamesbarnsley.com/site/2016/11/27/tips-for-freelancers/

My goal at the time was to later write an article on tips for clients choosing a web development company. I thought at the time this would be a straightforward article to write but the more I thought about it the less straightforward it become.

Some typical indicators to decide whether a company is worth choosing could be as follows, How many employees does the company have? Are the companies premises any good? How long the company has been in business? Does the company have a decent looking website?

The majority of the above indicators are really indicators as to how well the business is doing. A lot of people will except that if the final product looks and feels right and it works then they are happy with the final product. With a large number of people accepting this as the basic premise most businesses can survive for a long time on this premise.

So what is it I am getting at here? In short, it is the underlying code powering the web development project. It is this area that as the client you will have no ability to judge without programming experience.

Neither did any of the previous clients of the long standing businesses, so the business may be big, the business may have been around for a long while but this does not mean that either you or the previous clients ever got a good product in terms of the code powering the web development project.

How the product looks and to some extent whether the product works or not is merely a coat of paint over the real engine powering the web development product.

A Ford car can look and work right, a Rolls Royce car can look and work right but both have huge differences in the price tag. How do you know whether you are getting a Ford or a Rolls Royce? The quality of the components? In a web development project whilst some of the components may stand out such as the design, some of the components do not stand out i.e. the code.

This article has been born from observing different web development projects with different qualities of code being sold at vastly different prices. The higher priced projects do not nessacarily equate to higher quality code although the project may be of a better quality in other areas.

As a client how can you ensure you are getting quality code? I have thought about this and I am not sure there really is an answer. You could get a programmer contact or external company to inspect the code but then how can you be sure that the external company is any good at programming code, especially since the same applies to the external company which applies to the primary company?

Conclusion
As a client without programming experience maybe it should be excepted that if the company can produce a product which “looks good” and “works right” then the company is acceptable. The quality of the code is hard to determine for the general client and getting the code verified by a third party simply means you have transfered the trust from the primary company to the external company.

Tips for freelancers

Here are my tips for new or existing freelancers. Looking around the web there are many articles that discuss this theme and they all seem rather identical to each other.

I personally get bored of reading these after a while but I can promise you that even though some of the ideas discussed in this article may be similar to other articles, they are all my personal tips. Each one of these tips is important even if they may seem generic …

Shared office space

Certain situations may happen whilst freelancing when you need the advice of other freelancers. Preferably this would be face to face advice. When working in a shared environment with other freelancers this gives you the opportunity to get the needed advice right at the time you need it.

You may think that having your own private office is better as it avoids interactions with others but this can be a lonely road and getting advice on internet forums or through Skype just does not have the same effect.

Also being around other freelancers can provide a motivational boost to your energy levels as well as providing opportunities you may have missed whilst working in a private office.

Sell yourself as an individual

If you are freelancer then sell yourself as a freelancer. At a certain point in time a client is going to know that you are individual and not a group of people anyway.

A client will wonder where the rest of the company is, at that point you will have to explain that the company consists of just yourself. Save yourself the hassle and just sell yourself as a freelancer.

Payment schedule

Agree to a payment schedule with your clients and stick to it. Preferably agree a payment schedule where you are always paid in advance so you are never having to do work that you have not already been paid for.

Hourly rates

Charge hourly rates for your work. Quoting for fixed price is always a headache.

Even if you think you have everything covered in your fixed price contract the requirements of the contract can be too subjective and no matter how detailed it appears some of the requirements will always be left open to interpretation i.e. client wants a new kitchen, you build him the kitchen, client actually wants a kitchen with gold work surfaces.

Yes you can argue that you have provided the kitchen thus fulfilling the requirement however the client will also argue that the gold work surfaces came under the “new kitchen” requirement.

Arguments can then happen, clients may threaten legal action, you are a 1 person freelancer against the larger client company. You can take this risk if you want to or you could just save yourself the hassle and charge hourly.

Sustainable hourly rates

You may find that you will not always have a full schedule of work as a freelancer. There are gaps in the work flow and other expenses that need to be accounted for.

Clients will always know someone who can do it cheaper but the bottom line is it does not matter what Bill or Joe next door charges for their freelancing services. Your hourly rates need to be sustainable.

If you do not have sustainable hourly rates then you will not have a business for very long. This business has got to support you if it does not then it will not last.

There is no point in charging cheaper rates to get work if those rates are not going to sustain your business.

Contracts

Adopting the “hourly rate” idea earlier your contract should be reasonably straightforward, an hour of work done, an hour of work paid.

Charging by the hour takes some of work out of the contracts as you not agreeing to a requirements specification on a feature by feature basis.

Always have a contract though nevertheless, contracts provide help when dealing with client disputes.

Client profiling

Do not just accept any client that wants you to do work for them.

Profile the client …

  1. What are the clients good and bad points?
  2. Does the client value your work or see you as a commodity?
  3. Is the client someone you really want to work with?
  4. Is the client criminally minded?

Come up with a profile of the clients you want to work with and only or at least mostly only work with those types of clients.

Process

Have a clearly defined process for dealing with clients from on-boarding, design, development, testing, delivery and on-going work.

Every freelancer will have a process of some sort but it is important to get the process defined and written down.

The process is good material to present to clients thus helping with marketing activities. The process is important to you as it improves reliability.

Consider these tips if you are a freelancer or are new to freelancing.