How to avoid getting ripped off on website development

Every so often, I’ll come across someone who had bright eyed dreams about launching a website as part of their business plan, only to have those dreams go down in flames because someone they trusted with their hard earned money failed to deliver the desired website on time, if at all. The average losses they suffered in terms of websites that were half done or poorly done has been about $400-900. How could this happen?

The problem comes into play due in part to greed on behalf of the website developer, and lack of knowledge on the part of the customer. Usually, the potential customer asks friends for referrals to web developers or they post on the various social media sites looking for someone. Without doing much research, they pick a developer who sounds convincing and seems “technical.” The developer charges anywhere from $250 to over $1,000+ to do the whole website without providing a lot of details about what’s all involved. They usually pressure customers to pay the entire amount up front. A few customers try to negotiate a lower fee or pay half as a deposit, promising to pay the other half when the site is complete.

Regardless of what price is negotiated, the outcome is often the same: The developer starts on the site, putting up a web page or two, adding some photos and text, and few social media links here and there, and then poof! They vanish. The customer tries calling, but no answer or the number is disconnected. Hundreds of their hard earned dollars gone and they’re ready to sue.

But wait. Is there anything you could have done differently to avoid losing so much money?

Yes! The first step is to make sure you have a reasonable business plan to go along with your website. Surprisingly, most website customers downplay this step, thinking all they have to do is upload a few photos and a contact page with an about page explaining what they offer, and that’s it. No! Your website is a reflection of the business processes you want your customers to be able to do using your website.

For instance, if you are a hair stylist, you may want customers to book appointments, look up and select various hair styles, order hair, manage the way they pay you, allow customer reviews, etc. By not outlining these features up front, you increase the likelihood of misunderstandings between yourself and your website developer. This, then, leads to you feeling like the website is not complete, and the developer might get frustrated and walk off. This is not to say that there are no bad website developers (there are), but in this specific scenario, failure to describe the features of your website along business processes will increase the likelihood of misunderstanding.

Second, research potential website developers. Remember you get what you pay for, so if someone is offering to do your site for a ridiculously low amount (like under $100 total for a full website), chances are it might be a bait and switch scam. Three to five years’ experience should be minimum for the best quality service, although that’s not to say anyone with less experience would be that bad. But it takes some years to get into a rhythm in website development. My company, Samsona Software, has been around since 1993, so I know something about longevity and consistent customer service.

Finally, know that there is a difference between a website designer and a developer. Designers are usually focused on creating web pages and making them look good from a visual appeal standpoint. Website developers go deeper than that:

  1. Hooking up your pages to databases
  2. Integrating with cloud computing platforms such as AWS and Azure
  3. Integrating with eCommerce platforms like Shopify, Magento and BigCommerce
  4. Implementing microservices to harness the power of various business features unique to your industry. This latter one is part of my offering to my larger business customers.

If you get a chance, try an initial consultation first before seeking help building your website. I can help with that, or anyone with serious experience in this space can do an initial consultation to help you get to where you want your business dreams to take you.

About the Author

John Conley is a technology and digital transformation consultant for Samsona Software Co, Inc., based in Dallas, TX. His service offering is focused on enterprise and solution architecture, as well as small business solutions. Feel free to contact him for your business technology needs.

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