5 Things you should ask when shopping for your next website…

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Author: Joshua Eastman

This article is a no BS simple way to weed out bad developers. The web design industry has a lot of variables. I have been doing custom e-commerce websites and informational websites for 8 years for over 100 clients. This is 8 years of experience boiled down to 5 questions that will save you from a failed web project (Or at least help you find the best place to ensure it is not a likely outcome)

Shopping for websites is frustrating. You call a few places get quotes and then have to try to figure out what you are paying for. Estimates are hardly standardized and every web design / web development company writes estimates differently. In an effort to make sure people have a good understanding of what they are paying for I put together a list of 5 questions we always try to answer for people so they know they’re making the right choice.

1. What happens if the estimated time to complete the project is exceeded?

This is a crucial question for a multitude of reasons. First let’s dive into why this is important. The main importance here is the unknown.

We completed one project where this came into play. We had a customer come to us for a custom commerce website, we asked what they needed and created a scope of work and the customer chose to use our services yay!

Once the project was ready to launch the customer mentioned one last thing “We forgot to tell you that we have live inventory that updates from Quickbooks”. This may seem like a small oversight (This was our fault) butt essentially doubled the amount of time the project took us to get ready to launch.

So why is this important? Why am I telling you that the unknown is so scary?

Well, simply put we took care of this as it was our fault for not identifying a need up front. When you are looking for a developer the answer to this question will be simple.

They will explain that it will be billable.

There is not a bad answer here but knowing what that could mean is important. Getting an hour based estimate that only includes what is in the original scope of work means that you are trusting the developer to have created a perfect estimate from the get if you plan on the estimate to be your end budget. This can cause projects to never get finished, go over budget or even worse start your relationship with your developer off on the wrong foot.

They will tell you they do flat rate estimates.


It is a web developers job to figure out what you need and ask the right questions. Getting a quote that is a flat rate quote tells you that the developer is generally experienced enough to know that whatever obstacles may come up are not a big deal. In my earlier situation we took care of the customer and took the loss of hours and money because simply put, we missed the mark and we want the customer to get what they need!

2. What expenses will I be responsible for?

This question is another crucially important one. Websites all need software, software has yearly expenses and it can add up pretty quickly (For custom E-Commerce websites this is a super important question). This is a really different question depending on what you need for a website…

First website type – Custom E-Commerce Site to sell your products

A typical custom WooCommerce website we run that has some special coupon functionality, vendor portal for wholesale customers and a few other custom solutions can add up to $1600 a year in licensing. Then add in server expenses, security certificate expenses and you could be on line for $2000 a year if you manage the site yourself.

Second website type – Informational site that does not sell anything

Informational pages are generally pretty low cost in the way of ongoing expenses. An average WordPress theme (Which most developers will start with) is anywhere from $19 – $59 a year. But if you have to pay for hosting, security certificate and any other expenses this can still take $300 – $900 a year you were not expecting.

Red flag answers

If you are talking to a developer and they offer to take care of the domain (Ex: You own a bakery called Sue’s Cupcakes, the domain might be www.suescupcakes.com). Your domain is your intellectual property and in the event you end up at odds with a developer this is the one thing that can really damage your website down the road. If you can not get this domain back you may have to re-print signs, business cards, letter heads, pens… well you get the point, this is important. Always own your own domain

If someone says there are no ongoing expenses other than their services, ask for a list of software they are using and make sure they license it. Using illegal software can come back to bite your business where it hurts.

Ask if they are insured, insurance for a web company is… well it sucks to get. We went through 16 insurance companies before we got a plan we were satisfied would protect us and our customers. If someone has insurance there is a good chance they put the effort in to make sure everyone is safe in the event the unforeseeable happens.

3. What is the timeline?

This should be a fairly obvious question but understanding the answer is more important than the answer itself. If someone says they guarantee a website in two weeks just understand that the outcome will be variable.

If they have set a release date for a project they have not started this could be a bad thing. Websites are a complex thing so a time guarantee could end up in an agency pushing a website to you that is unfinished. Let’s face it, you are busy and waring a million hats, if it takes you a week to get photos and some copy written they may deliver a website that was built around bad content which is not a great start for your project.

If they give a time window it should generally be followed up with deliverables that they will check in with you on through the process so you know things are where they should be when they should be there. This is generally the best answer to hear as it means they understand you may not be superhuman in getting information and may need some help.

4. What should I expect through the process?

It seems fairly easy to understand that you may know nothing about building a website if you are talking to a developer so this question can help you identify a few things past the obvious question.

Our process is pretty simple and thusly explained…..

1. Our average website takes 4-6 weeks (This varies depending on the time of year, sometimes it is 2-3 weeks), this time starts on the day you make your first payment and get us any information we have asked for during the estimate process. Every day we are waiting for information add a day onto that time.

2. Once we get that information we put you in touch with our designer who will talk to you about your business with some really simple questions about how you see your business and why you started it.

3. After a week to 10 days we will deliver a photoshop mock up (A photo not an actual website) that will be a 99% accurate representation of the finished product. At this point you can give feedback and we can edit the design until you are happy with it. (Generally the response it OMG!!!, Holy cow, WOW, and we can move right along).

4. With whatever time remains on the timeline we get you a finished website that looks just like what you approved! Pretty simple right?

This is all important because… well you want to be part of the process but you really do not know anything about websites (Or maybe you do but don’t have the time). You want someone who will talk to YOU, not try to teach you how to build a site and confuse you with what you might get. Also you find out what the developer is actually doing for you!

5. Do you use a template to make websites?

So here we are, asking the single most exposing answer of them all. The dead beat developers worst nightmare. Well if they say yes… it isn’t a bad thing. We use a theme for our sites but, they are all custom designs we create.

The crucial part of this is asking them if they are using a pre-fabricated design or if they are creating one for your business. Every website we do is a one off, we do not reuse a design, we do not use pre-existing designs. Afterall you want people to see your business not a template 10,000 other people are using.

This question is good for two reasons. The first is… well if you got a really cheap quote followed by a few larger ones this may be why. That may not be a bad thing and you may be blown away with a templatized site. As long as you understand what your developer is doing for you there is little room to be disappointed or surprised by the outcome.

In Summary…

This is a long read but it is about 7 or 8 hundred estimates of experience. If there is a mistake to be made in the past 8 years we have probably made it, but our message to our customers is pretty simple. We create custom sites on a budget and we stay around to maintain them so you don’t have to have website anxiety. We always fix our mistakes and we are the ones who pay for them (Every developer makes mistakes it is human nature and unavoidable). First and foremost we make sure you understand what we do in a language you understand.

If this article helped you let us know with a question or comment below. Also if you are looking for help getting a custom website… click that contact us button above and reach out to us, the worst possible outcome is that we give you some free advice that will help you on your journey to represent your brand on the web!

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