Your Website: To Be or Not to Be – That Is the Question!

Your Website: To Be or Not to Be - That Is the Question!

Sue Ellam shares some crucial guidelines for business owners that can save you money and frustration when working with a web designer for your website.

When we start our businesses, we’re full of great ideas and enthusiasm. But while ideas and enthusiasm are great, most successful businesses these days also require a website. Unfortunately, many of us know little about websites when we first start out, and we are prepared to spend whatever money it takes to create the website of our dreams.

For some, this happens without a hitch; for others, the dream turns into a nightmare of delays and broken promises. Sadly, I’m a member of the latter club. Rather than running my business for the past two years, I have been chasing web designers who, though they have the skills, don’t appear to have any sense of accountability. There will be weeks of silence, then a spurt of work that gives me the false hope that they will finally deliver. Then they simply disappear again. It’s like dealing with rebellious teenagers.

The upside is that, by dint of all my negative experiences, I’ve ended up learning a lot about websites and the web design industry as a whole. So today, I want to share some of my insights about working with web designers, in the hope that it might help you avoid the pitfalls I experienced, and navigate your way to a speedy and successful business launch.

Web Designers and Accountability

One thing I discovered on my misadventures is there is no professional regulatory body to mandate accountability between a web designer and their clients. Freelancers and web design companies are something of a law unto themselves, leaving the client pretty much on their own if something goes amiss. Anyone who knows how to build websites can set themselves up as a business. True, if they aren’t very good at it, it’s unlikely they will attract much business, but even they could leave a few disappointed customers in their wake. Andy Budd of Clearleft explains:

The thing is, web design is a problematic industry. There’s a pretty low barrier to entry, in that you can become a web designer with very little outlay. It’s open to anyone who can teach themselves the tools of the trade. But at the lower end of the spectrum, there are many, many companies fighting for the same small amount of work. It’s an easy market to enter, but at the same time it’s quite difficult to make a success of things. It’s a different industry now to ten years ago. Then, the industry itself was quite immature, so you could get a foothold really quickly. Now, the quality of design work is so high that you have to be really, really good to actually get work.

When It’s Time to Consider Your Options

Sometimes, your web designer fails to deliver the goods in a timely fashion. In my case these delays, I was told, were due to a plethora of reasons: family circumstances, long-term sickness, unannounced holidays, lost mobile phones (no new number was ever provided), errant employees and a recurring computer virus.

If things aren’t going smoothly with your website build and you are receiving frequent excuses from your designer, it might be time to consider your options. It states in the Advice Guide – Citizens Advice Bureau website:

‘It’s not normally reasonable to wait a long time because a trader has taken on more jobs than they can manage or because a trader has poor time-management skills. These are things that are within the trader’s control. If a trader has not carried out a service in a reasonable time, you can take steps to make time of the essence. This gives the trader a deadline to keep to. If they don’t keep to this deadline, you can stop the service and claim back any money already paid.’

All excuses aside, the fact remains that your contract (even if just a verbal one) with your designer is a business agreement. A good design company will have contingency plans built into their business, so clients aren’t impacted by any unforeseen circumstances.

When deadlines are missed, your calls aren’t taken and your emails are rarely answered, it’s time to take action. Threats of legal action can get work started again for a short period, but be prepared to go in circles if the work comes to a halt after the dust has settled. Being told your website is their top priority doesn’t mean it is; actions speak louder than words.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Though there is no ‘official’ way to tackle dead-beat web designers, there are a number of ways you can protect yourself. Here are a few suggestions, some of which I have gleaned from my own hard-earned experience:

  • Shop around. Don’t give your business to the first web designer you contact, just because it’s easier. Talk with a number of different designers and take the time you need to make your choice.
  • Ask trusted associates for recommendations. You are far more likely to find an ethical company or individual if someone you know has had a previous rewarding experience with them.
  • Check out their work. Ask for links to websites they have designed for past clients. And while you’re at it, have a good look at their own website. If you see mistakes or poor quality design, it’s probable they will make similar mistakes on your website, too.
  • Check out their online profiles. I find LinkedIn particularly useful to learn more about a company that might not be immediately apparent on their website.
  • Look for RECENT Testimonials. Sometimes testimonials are so old, they are no longer relevant to the current state of the company. Try to look for testimonials, reviews or comments made in the last six months.
  • Don’t be seduced by deals. If you never get the website, you won’t have saved anything.
  • Don’t pay in advance. Once paid, some companies can forget you’re still a client! If you pay in instalments, don’t pay the last instalment – no matter what apparent trust has been built – until the company has completed the work to your satisfaction and it is ready for launch.
  • Be sure YOU test every moving part of your site thoroughly before ‘signing it off’. Don’t leave it to your web designer to say it’s finished and working.
  • Don’t EVER allow your designer to host your website on their server. This is tantamount to your website being held hostage. Many will tell you this will enable them to provide you with ongoing maintenance. Don’t fall for it. Not only will you be paying for services you will never receive, but you will be severely limited in what you can do with your site in the long-term. Besides, as the Canadian web company Abivia state: ‘Website developers and designers can move, switch jobs, or change careers. Sometimes they just seem to disappear. If you depended on your developer to maintain your site, this can be a real cause for concern.’ If your designer suggests this, insist that your website be built on the host of your choice, and refuse to give them your business if they are unwilling to comply.
  • Buy your own domain and know where it’s hosted. Sadly, so many new business owners have no clue who owns their domain or where it is hosted. This is usually due to their not understanding what these terms mean. Often, they’ve given control of these things to their web designer, thinking it will make life easier, only to find they don’t actually own or have any control of their website later down the line.
  • If you’re dealing with a local company, try to arrange a face-to-face meeting. Personally, I like to know a physical address that I can visit if the need arises. If you’re hiring someone at a distance, be extra vigilant by taking all of the above precautions. Again, hiring someone on the referral of someone you trust is the best protection you can have.
  • Be prepared to move your website if you aren’t getting the services you agreed to. I know this sounds like a nightmare, but it’s far less painful than the prospect of being trapped in a dysfunctional relationship with a dead-beat designer.
  • Educate yourself. Perform due diligence. Don’t depend on others to make your decisions for you. Read articles (like this one) and learn about the whole process of web development so you have an idea of what to expect. Knowledge is your best form of protection.

Our Own Human Vulnerabilities and Limitations

I read an article the other day about vulnerable people who become targets of unscrupulous individuals who strike up a friendship with them, often through dating sites, and then profess to have fallen in love. The target is often identified through their profile indicating they are bereaved, lonely or divorced. Because these victims are at such vulnerable stages in their lives, the perpetrators convince them they are loved and have another chance of happiness. Then the requests for money start coming, and eventually the true intentions of these con-artists come to light.

When we read stories like these, we might be bewildered that the victims could have been so na´ve. How could they have fallen for such a scam? But we must remember the perpetrators are skilled at human psychology and they are more than a match for someone in dire need of love and human connection.

You might wonder what this has to do with the subject of this article, but I think there is a very strong parallel. Substitute ‘love’ for ‘business’. When we get into a tangle with an unscrupulous web designer (or any other unethical service provider), haven’t we also been conned into paying money – but for our business instead of for love? Don’t we feel just as betrayed and foolish when what we had hoped would materialise does not?

The Mutual Responsibility to Communicate Clearly

I don’t believe the majority of unfinished website incidents are intentional. I think most problems arise due to a lack of clear and honest communication – either a client who doesn’t know exactly what they want and keeps changing their mind, or a designer who tries to build a website beyond their capabilities, or underestimates the time and cost involved.

Where it all breaks down completely is when either party disappears – the web designer loses a client and has worked for nothing, or the client loses the website when the designer terminates communication.

I’m sure none of us would go into a shop and buy a washing machine, or other device, and accept it if it arrived in an incomplete, non-functioning state. The same should apply to business services. When services have been paid for, we should be able to rely on the delivery of those services. Therefore, the onus is on the web designers to deliver the websites for which they have been paid, and on the client to pay for the services they have received. If the situation becomes untenable, either party has recourse to legal advice to resolve the matter. There is no excuse for either party to stop communication and not hold up their end of the bargain. This is a business arrangement, not an argument with family or friends.

Closing Thoughts

If your website is reasonably straightforward and doesn’t have to be ‘all singing, all dancing’, you might consider the option of building your own site, at least to start. There are a number of step-by-step tutorials online that demystify the process. I have personally done a few tutorials of Tyler Moore’s, which were excellent (I have no connection to him and won’t benefit from this recommendation).

If you need something more complicated, hiring a professional is probably the only option. If you do go that route, please take note of the tips I’ve shared above, so you don’t go into your business agreement blindly. Most of all, I believe if everyone relied on recommendations from trusted friends and associates, the unethical companies would gradually run out of steam.

My final recommendation is: communicate, communicate and communicate some more! The whole idea of hiring a web designer is for them to make your dream a reality. Be as clear as you can and explain exactly what you want. This will make both your and their lives easier.

If all else fails and you still cannot get the response you want from your web designer, consider contacting consumer programmes such as ‘Watchdog’ (in the UK), or ask the Citizen’s Advice Bureau or a legal firm to help you bring closure to the situation.

And to all you web designers – if you don’t have time to contact your clients personally, hire an admin person for a few hours a week to make those calls, so your clients don’t feel abandoned and disconnected from their businesses.

Hopefully, your experience working with a web designer will be a wonderful one. I’d love to know about your own experiences – good and bad. Please feel free to share them in the comments below.

And if you’re looking to connect with a community of independent business owners who are devoted to ethical practice, I hope you’ll join us in the 7 Graces community on Facebook.

Sue Ellam
24 October 2014

Sue is a graduate of our
7 Graces ‘Foundations of Ethical Marketing’ course.

Sue-EllamSUE ELLAM is fascinated by the power of mind over matter and was initially guided towards spiritual healing and medium-ship. She is a professionally trained graphologist of 21 years standing and has travelled extensively using this skill, as well as that of tarot reading, participating in many festivals worldwide. Currently she is developing Soulfully Connecting which is a global website dedicated to the healing of mind, body, soul and planet. Her vision is to connect like-minded individuals around the world through the sharing of knowledge, providing a platform so that the change-makers can be seen, appreciated and supported.

Twitter: @soulfullysue

Soulfully Connecting Facebook Page

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.

Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

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