Web developers. You gotta love ’em. Some of them are so darn clever, with their cutesy clientside coding (stuff that happens in your browser). Some others are just so darn arty, with their pretty designs and fanciful Flash animations. Then there are those who are simply so darn smart, with their complex back-end programming, databasing and integrating. There are so many kinds of web developers. You’re spoilt for choice. And there’s the problem.
Decorators are not builders. Neither of them are architects. Some people are good to ask to build a wall, but not to repaint your bedroom. Others are excellent for handbuilding a kitchen, but you’d rue letting them loose on anything structural.
If you don’t really know what you’re doing, or what the function you want for your website actually involves, do not appoint a web development company believing that they will be able to do it: they may well not.
Even more importantly, do not make the uncorrectable mistake of assuming that 4 young web developers in a room above an estate agent, or even 120 less young web developers in a warehouse space in Spittalfields, will know anything at all, or actually care about prioritising, your commercial objectives and business requirements.
Calm down, if you are a skilled and professional member of the e-commerce consulting profession. I’m not talking about you. Quite the opposite.
For many clients, wandering into the world of web development is a stroll in the darkness. They may well expect that whichever company they go to talk to must have a good understanding of commercial concerns and see itself as being in the business of helping clients achieve these. But they’re wrong. The entire staff of very many web development companies of all sizes do not have this experience or, despite what they may say, interest.
How do I know this? Well.. more often than you’d think (I’m talking about a couple of times a month), I find myself in an unenviable triangle: a client, a web agency and me.
The client has usually made the first mistake, by going to the web company and asking them to start building a site before anyone has seriously addressed what it’s for, who will use it, what they will do there and how it will thus benefit the business.
The web agency has then usually compounded it by being unaware of their own ignorance. Not knowing how little they understand about business process, consumer behaviour or the nature of the particular sector of internet trading in which this particular client operates, they have gone ahead and ‘designed a site’. Not specified a site. They’ve usually designed it. Visuals first.
Now I know why they do this. It’s obvious. Clients who are none too sophisticated like to look at a photoshop mockup and say, “Yes. I like that one.” But it’s fatal.
Someone, whether it’s the client themself, or a good marketing consultant, or an experienced copywriter (or a business process analyst at the web development company if you are lucky enough to find one which has one), needs to think out the purpose, structure, functionality, tone of voice and messaging of the site before anyone builds anything.
That way, there’s a chance that the finished project will achieve its objectives.
(Take care here. If you are a smaller client trying to build your site cheaply, the kind of developers you are likely to gravitate towards, no matter how nice their sites, will almost certainly not be able to do this for you.)
And if, as happens unbelievably frequently, you find your own penny dropping only half way through the project, but you are confronted with developers who either will not or cannot change course to help you, and instead bang on about how your new thinking will ruin their art… pick up your hat and head for the door.
Pay their bill though. It’s not their fault you hired the wrong people.