CMS, CSS, MySQL—huh?

Have you ever sat down with a web developer to discuss your website, and had absolutely no clue what they were talking about? For all you could tell, they were speaking to you in some sort of advanced robot language, and the only thing missing were beeps.

You want to discuss your ideas with a web developer, but you’re not sure if they truly understand what you want. To make matters worse, when they tell you what they can do for your site, you’re not sure that you truly understand either.

I know how frustrating it can be to be completely lost, and that’s why I created this post.

In this post, I’ll give you some of my favorite tips for collaborating with a web developer. No phrasebook necessary. Let’s get into it!

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Find a WEb Developer Who Speaks Your Language

Sometimes, it’s hard to find a web developer who speaks in plain English. Finding someone who can translate complicated computer code into words that actually make sense is sort of like finding a magical unicorn. So, when you come across a web developer that you can actually understand, hold them close and never let go.

But seriously, it’s so important to work with a web developer who speaks your language. While you may not understand everything, you should have a basic idea of what’s going on.

So, how do you know if your web developer is that perfect unicorn?

Search their website for two things: testimonials and a blog (like this one).

Testimonials should point to the developer’s communication style. Communication is a frequent theme in client testimonials because it’s such an important part of working together. If testimonials don’t say things like, “good communicator” or “responded quickly,” that’s a red flag.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for references if testimonials aren’t readily available.

Read their blog. Does it provide content that you can understand, or is it a series of beeps and buzzwords? Blogs can give you a solid idea of how connected a developer is with his audience—that’s you. Trust a developer who tackles complicated subjects and makes the ideas accessible to you.

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Get Clear About What You Need

Why do you need a web developer? Do you need a faster website? Do you want to turn your sketches into a functioning website? Are you in desperate need of enhanced security for your site after getting hacked?

There are a gazillion different reasons folks come to web developers. So, make sure that you have a clear idea of what your needs and desires are.

Don’t worry about using the perfect terminology. As long as you can put into words what you want, the right web developer will get what you mean. He may even suggest useful ideas you hadn’t thought of before.

This may be painfully obvious, but web developers aren’t mind readers. They need you to spell out exactly what you want and need from the project. It’s also a good idea to share what success looks like to you. It doesn’t have to be grand and lofty. Success can simply be “a completed website by June 30th.”

By the way, spelling things out also helps you, too. By knowing what you want from your web developer, you’ll have a good idea of what questions to ask so that together you can make your project a success.

Set Expectations Early

It’s time to fire off a whole bunch of questions. Are you ready? (That question doesn’t count.)

How often will you communicate with each other?
What method of communication will you use?
Will you email each other as questions arise?
Will you have a set weekly phone call?
Will you keep an open chat line for frequent, sporadic updates?

Decide on when and how you’ll communicate early on.

I recommend making it a point to discuss on your very first call with your web developer. Find out how much time they will devote to your project and how quickly you can expect an answer back (the industry standard is around 48 hours).

If communication is important to you (and based on the fact that you’re reading this article, I’ll assume it is), be clear with what you expect and when. Otherwise, you’ll default to the web developer’s preferences, which may not jive with yours. For instance, he or she may only reach out to you on important milestones of your project, but you want to be updated every week.

Most web developers won’t have a problem with a weekly check-in. But, unless you make it clear that this is what you want from the get-go, they’ll only check in on their set schedule.

Discuss Where You Will Communicate

Piggybacking on that last idea, let’s discuss where to communicate.

Through email, right?

It depends. Surprisingly, email may not be the best way to contact your web developer. Some prefer a Skype call and others like the idea of a chat.

There are also different collaboration and communication tools you can use, such as Trello, Basecamp, or Slack.

Your developer may have a preferred communication medium or he may defer to you.

However, I suggest that whatever method you choose, don’t deviate from it. There’s nothing worse than searching through inboxes, chat histories, and voicemails to find that needle in a haystack. Instead, keep your communications to one location: everything in email or everything in your collaboration tool. It will save you a lot of pain in the future.

Keep a Record of Everything

Don’t delete your correspondence. Save all those emails and chats. You never know when you’ll need to refer back to something, even if it occurred months in the past.

Ideally, your web developer will also have a record of your communication, too. Might even ask him or her how they keep a record of everything if it's not apparent.

If you’re communicating via email, create a label or a folder to contain all of your conversations. This will make it easy to isolate your communication with the web developer. All of the major email providers offer the ability to organize your email, including Outlook and Gmail.

Set Deadlines

You probably already have a deadline in your mind, but remember us web developers are simple folk—we can’t read your minds. So, share your deadline expectations with us.

I think deadlines are important to get out of the way in the first meeting. Come with a solid idea of when you want your project to be completed by. If you have an ongoing engagement with your developer, then deadlines aren’t necessary, but check-ins may be.

Be upfront with your deadline expectations. Your web developer will tell you whether or not your deadline is doable. If it’s not, your web developer should be able to provide an alternate deadline along with an explanation of why they’ve rejected your initial end date.

While this part may sting a little bit, would you rather shoddy work that was rushed to meet a deadline or quality work that takes time to get right? I’m sure we both know the answer to that one.

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Ask Questions

Last, but not least, ask questions. Plenty of questions. Questions that make you feel like a total newbie. And you are, but that’s okay. The right developer will patiently answer your questions until you feel like he or she knows their stuff and, just as importantly, knows what you want.

Speaking of questions, if you have any questions for me about this topic or anything else, I’d love to help you. Tweet me (@rezzz) or leave a comment down below and I promise to get back to you.

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