Buying Professional Web Development Services

I was talking to ClickZ’s own Karen Jones last week about my most recent articles. She was comparing them to the series of articles I wrote on how to build an e-commerce site for $6,500 or less.

“You know, your series was so much better,” she said. “You should do another series.”

Sage advice. I’m better when I talk in series.

I put some thought to it and decided it made sense to start a new series.

Let’s assume that you followed the advice in my first series and built your e-commerce site with homegrown parts and prefabricated software. And it works. And the number representing your profits each month is bigger than the number representing your expenses. You’re making money. Everything is humming along.

But you’re working a little harder to keep it going than you should be. You don’t have a good way to upsell the customers because it is difficult for you to really know them. Nothing is tied together on the back end so data isn’t flowing easily between the parts of your system. You have about 80 percent of the functionality you really need.

That’s the problem with a homegrown solution build by a generalist it isn’t as pretty or efficient as it could be. But you’ve proven you can do business online and make money. And you’ve got a clearer idea of what you need for the future. It’s time to take those profits and that learning and hire a professional to build you a better system.

That is what this series is about how you should go about buying professional web development services.

What qualifies me to tell you about this subject?

Well, in a previous life I was on the other side of the table. I was the guy who took the customer’s needs and translated them into a proposal of what it would cost.

Sometimes it was very smooth. But most of the time it was clear the customer didn’t understand what he or she was buying. So I’m going to do all those agencies out there a favor and educate you on what you are buying.

But more importantly, I want you to understand what you are buying so you don’t get taken. The agency BS is thick out there, even today. If I could, I’d regale you with many a tale of how agencies are screwing customers because the customers just don’t know better.

So, let’s kick off a five-part series (maybe longer ClickZ likes it best when the wisdom comes in 750-word bites) on how you should go about buying professional web development services. Here’s what we’ll cover in the next several weeks:

  1. Writing a concise summary of what your online business is about – Do you know who your audience is, how you’re making your money, and what is and is not working now? You’ll learn how to think this issues out so you’ll know exactly how to expand the site.

  2. Understanding the technology that will be used to build your site PHP, JSP, ASP, CFM it’s acronym soup out there. Chances are one of these technologies will be the foundation of your new site. You’ll learn a little bit about how these technologies work, along with their pros and cons.

  3. Writing the detailed specifications You’ll learn how to save a lot of money and time by telling the agency exactly what you want and how much you have to pay for it.

  4. Picking the agency for you Agencies do different things, make lots of different claims, and charge lots of different prices for the same thing. You’ll learn to recognize which ones are right for you, how to spot the BS and how not to waste your valuable time.

  5. Sealing the deal When it’s all said and done, do you actually own the technology behind your site? (Surprisingly, you don’t in many cases.) When will the site get built and how fast? How do you pay for it? How do you keep them on track? You’ll learn how to negotiate with agencies so you both get what you need.

That’s it. See you next week.

PS: About last week’s PayPal article, I have a follow-up. An astute reader of this column sent me a URL to a July 18 article in MSNBC titled: “PayPal No Friend to Scam Victims“. It describes how a guy claiming to sell hard drives on Yahoo’s auction site milked people out of thousands of dollars using PayPal. The basic rub is that PayPal has no system to contest charges or stop payment the way a traditional credit card company does. You are responsible for knowing who you are paying. And you are responsible if it doesn’t work out.

Remember when I said it is more secure that the traditional way? This is the part where Richard inserts foot into mouth.

PayPal is working on improving its system so such things don’t happen again. And I still think it is tough for a fake business account on their system (the scam artist used a personal account) because of the fact you need real business bank account numbers and a real tax ID number before you can set one up. But the system can be beaten, and all the press doesn’t help ensure customer confidence. I still think it’s the right direction for merchant account services in the age of e-commerce. But just proceed with caution until all the bugs are worked out.

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