I am shocked at the percentage of work I get that comes directly from someone's miserable experience with the last web designer they hired. This is not how I hoped to build my portfolio or pay my bills -- on the backs of someone else's hard-won client, defecting to me. That's just not my style. However, after several of these projects came my way and were followed by extreme gratitude and, frankly, relief from my new cient, I came to realize that I was more than the pixels and lines of code I was pushing around their broken web sites:
I was restoring their faith in their online presence.
The internet is an amazing place, the closest thing to a level playing field that a small business has in a world of product superstores and enormous corporations. Managing their own little corner of it is my way of helping my clients -- mission-driven, often social enterprises -- achieve their vision for the world. When I hear that someone has been abused by their last web designer or developer, it makes me angry. Today I'm going to respond to some complaints I've heard from my own clients about their developers, as well as address some examples shared publicly in other blogs and forums on the web.
"Our web guy disappeared!"
Although frustrating, this pain point for my new client has often come after months or even years without contact from her "web guy." One thing I always tell clients, new and old, is that their web site is not a thing to make once and be done with it. It's like a big marquee outside the theatre of your business -- you don't want the same show playing there, week after week, month after month. No one will come. When a client hasn't had an interaction of any kind with their web developer for a long period of time, every so often they send that "hey, we need to change our business phone number on the web site" email and receive a message from their email server that the recipient address is wrong.
Here's where the panic starts. Now you've gone from a marquee with the same movie listed for eight months to a marquee with the wrong movie listed, and no way to change it.
Preventative measure: Reach out to your developer regularly. Follow his social media, subscribe to his newsletter, and, if he has neither of those things, just be sure you have all the information you need to log in and make changes to your site. At minimum, your developer should leave you with detailed logins and passwords for things like your hosting account, your FTP account, and, if you have one, the login for your content management system.
"My web guy never returns my calls."
This seems especially common in technology consulting. This market is so saturated that I'm always surprised when my colleagues haven't grasped the very basics of customer service. I had a new client once tell me that she was paying her web developer $150/month for hosting and 2 hours of maintenance, but she'd sent him two changes to her site three months ago and they weren't done yet. Emails she sent were going unanswered. Her credit card, however, was being charged like clockwork.
This isn't really a web design or development problem. It's a courtesy problem. Especially if you have a service contract, you have every right to receive prompt answers to your inquiries. Even if you don't have a contract, if your web consultant wants your money, he should answer your emails, respond to your phone calls, and generally be a professional.
Preventative measure: Establish expectations for response time when you first engage with your consultant. They may want to charge you a premium for "on call" service, and it's up to you whether you want to pay it. Either way, you should know ahead of time what you can expect.
Solution: If you have a contract and your consultant is not meeting the obligations to which he agreed, remind him of that in an email with a cc to your attorney. If you don't have a contract, you have very little leverage, but you can certainly explain that you'll need this work done by a specific date, after which you will engage someone else.
"I feel cheated!"
These stories are everywhere. Here's a guy whose design didn't live up to his expectations. Here is a whole page of terrible web designs. We could go on and on. Lots of people claim they can make you a web site, but the standards for compliant code, responsive design, integration of social media, and hundreds of other things change regularly. If your designer is not keeping up, or if his experience is limited, the end product will usually reflect that.
The question is whether you've been cheated, or whether you didn't really know what to ask for in the first place. Both are the fault of your designer -- there's no question there -- but you do have some control over both.
Preventative measures: Get a contract. Get a detailed, detailed contract, and be sure that you get to see the design early in the process. Even a wireframe is useful, but a composite of what your site will look like in the end is better. If your designer can't provide that, it's a red flag. The contract should also explain how the design process works if you don't approve of what the design looks like -- can you make changes? is there a cost involved?
Solution: None. You'll have to start over. Depending on how the contract is written, maybe you can get some money back, but that's a discussion for your attorney. Cheating is really only definable in terms of the contract. Anything else is just being disappointed.
"I can't get into any of my stuff!"
If that sounds vague, that's because it is. I hear it a lot from new clients who have hired me for what I've now started calling "web site triage projects." These fall into a few categories of triage (design, broken forms, or outdated content), but the common denominator is that, in order for me to fix these things, I need logins and passwords. Sometimes I need lots of logins and passwords. Here are some examples:
- Hosting company account
- FTP (file transfer protocol) to the web server
- Content management system administrator
- Theme or template club account
- Plugin or component developer accounts
- Stock photo account
- PayPal account
When you end any business relationship -- with your designer or with an employee -- you need to change your passwords. There's no reason that someone with whom you are not currently engaged needs to have access to any of the items above. If the relationship ends without you getting access to this information, it is going to take you and your new developer/designer a long time to dig it all up. Sometimes, I've found that my client doesn't even have their own logins to these accounts, though the web site on which they live belongs completely to them. Maybe the developer created all the accounts using his own email address. Maybe he used my client's address, but never shared the password. Either way, as the new developer, I find myself untangling a snarled mess of permissions, trying to figure out whether the plugin running the contact form came with the template or was purchased separately, and getting into the trouble ticket areas of all the different third party developer web sites is just a flat-out nightmare.
Preventative measure: When your developer and you part ways, be sure you get all that information. No matter how angry you are at him, you need to stay civil just long enough to get at your passwords.
Solution: It's going to cost you time and money, but you can get all of this stuff eventually. It just takes time.
I hate that other people treat my very nice, very wonderful clients like this, but I am glad to show them another way. If you're stuck with a terrible vendor, the first thing you should try is to do your best to work it out. Maybe there was a misunderstanding. If not, get what you need and move on. It's a common story, sadly.