The 3 Biggest Complaints Small Businesses Share About Working with Website Design Companies

… and how to fix the problems or avoid them altogether.

Because having a website for a small business is so crucial for today’s digital landscape, it’s more important than ever to find the right partner to work on yours.

Unfortunately, many folks are unfamiliar with what makes a good and bad website for your specific business or organization. We hear far too many stories of paid website projects gone bad.

If you’re in a bad project process, not all is lost. Asking the right questions can get you back on track.

If you’re about to engage in a website development project, consider these three things most would have wished they’d known before they started.

The three biggest small business website development project complaints:

  1. Lack of Responsiveness
  2. Poor Project Management
  3. We Have to Do All the Work

Lack of Responsiveness

Often a project will feel really good at the beginning. The sales process felt productive and you’ve agreed that this is going to be an incredible asset and opportunity for your company. But then the work starts and you’re not quite sure what is going on, what you’re supposed to be doing, or what the next step may be.

Not knowing where the project is at or getting answers to questions from the developer is a frustrating situation to be in. Having the ability to communicate productively is key. Knowing where the project stands allows you to communicate progress to others and show that, in fact, progress is being made. Not having that information puts you at a disadvantage.

In a working relationship, small things go a long way, such as sharing information often, returning a phone call, answering an email, or simply doing what was promised.

Why This Happens

As a client, you’ve hired someone to do a project and you want to talk about the work and share it with others. As a developer, they’ve been hired to do a project and they want to do the work. If the developer is not part of a team where there are specific account management folks to help with outreach and ongoing communication, doing the work will often times take priority over talking about the work.

Remember, most coders and developers are not communicators and may not be comfortable with the outreach component of the job.

If your working relationship has you connecting with an account person rather than the developer directly, then not getting timely information or prompt replies to your needs may be signs of a bigger problem, most often a lack of focus, organization, or time management.

How To Fix It If It’s Happening To You

Since you may be communicating or working with a developer or an account manager on behalf of the project, there are two recommendations below.

If you’re working directly with a developer

You should know most developers are really good at doing and not sharing until there is concrete evidence of their work. Partial sharing or “rough reviews” don’t add much value to their work channel as they most often lead to more questions that will eventually be answered once the coding or development is further developed. This lengthens the time to develop and creates what some consider to be unnecessary intrusions or distractions from the project.

However, there’s a good chance that if you’re working directly with a developer and you’re not getting regular communications, there’s work going on with your project that you don’t know about.

The good part is, there’s a lot going on. The bad news is, you don’t know about it.

The solution is to reach out to them now–don’t let it fester. If they are not comfortable with direct communication, then they may benefit from hearing how you like to receive information and what they can do to help you feel as if you’re being paid attention to.

Many times it’s the undiscussed assumptions made by both the developer and the client that cause the most anxiety.

If you’re working with an account manager

You should know that the account manager’s primary job is to keep in touch with you and manage the process. They are in fact the middle person in the equation. They are often the translator between what the client is asking in English and what the programming team is discussing in code.

That being said, if you do have an account manager and you feel neglected, ignored, or just plain shut out from information about your project, you need to reach out promptly and set up a meeting. Not everyone works with the same level of intensity and not every client has the same information needs, so let them know what you need. Be specific with your expectations and ask for details on what is coming and when.

What has worked well for some projects we’ve done is setting up weekly check in meetings. A scheduled 15 minute phone call each week at a consistent day and time to go over the project, the current status, next steps, and delegated tasks.

It’s unfortunate when the client has to be the proactive one when working with an account manager – but it does happen.

How To Avoid It

Before you engage, ask about communication and whose job it is to connect and at what frequency. Be specific about how you like to communicate. Do you prefer talking on the phone or getting emails so you can handle it at your own pace? Do you need extra detail and literal explanations or are you good with quick check ins and brief summaries? Know who you’ll be talking to and discuss communication protocols, frequency, and methods.

Be clear as to any dates you may have in terms of getting the project done and what expectations have been placed on you by others. Let the developer or account manager you’re talking to be in the know and empower them to come up with suggestions on how the project and the process could be handled so that you get what you need in a timely manner.

This will also give you insight as to the collaborative nature and work patterns the developer you’re considering has and if it’s the right fit for you.

The more you can share what type of communicator you are and what type of client support you need to move through the project, the better you’ll be able to work together.

Poor Project Management

If it seems like there is a lack of organization in how the project has been developed then having a sense of control and purpose in the project can be difficult.

It’s important to know exactly what the development steps are, when they will be completed and who is responsible for doing what can be a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of experience. This can lead to deadlines being missed, promises not being kept, and overall confusion as to what success looks like and when the site will be finished.

Another classic area of problems arising from proper project management is a lack of defined scope from the beginning. It’s very common for the developer’s idea of what a ‘completed site’ looks like to be very different from the client’s idea what that means. This can lead to feature creep, bills adding up beyond the initial budget, and overall frustration.

Here’s Why This Happens

Many web developers are either a one or two person shop or have grown from a one or two person shop. Because of this, the project management system, protocols, and processes may not be as fluid and robust as they may need.

Beyond that, many website projects are short term and the developer relies on volume to stay profitable. Because of that juggling, taking time to communicate can detract from productive coding.

Here’s How To Fix It If It’s Happening To You

Call for a meeting and have specific questions ready to get answers to. Show them that you are in fact paying attention (as this is not always the case either) and that you would like to have a plan. While it’s not the ideal situation, many developers are really good at answering questions and coming up with dates when pressed. Getting these answers also creates accountability that you can measure progress and follow through against. Having deadlines and deliverables to work with  will help define progress for your project.

How To Avoid It

When you’re seeking a website development partner, make sure one of the key questions you ask is the project management system, protocol, and milestone schedules. Ask questions such as:

The more time you take to ask these types of questions up front, the more prepared you’ll be and the more aware the developer is to the alertness and focus you have for the project.

We Have to Do All the Work

The website project has moved to the ‘empty mansion’ phase–it’s got structure and is beautiful but there’s nothing in it. It was designed to look the way you want and it now has a menu that you can click and pages that you can go to.

However, what it doesn’t have is content and you’re told that’s your job–the designer will add anything you send over.

Many businesses share this experience and frustration because it requires a significant amount of work, focus, and time that they thought was part of the website development process.

Of all the problems to have with a website development project, this is the hardest one to fix with the developer you’re working with.

If the engagement didn’t include content, there’s usually two reasons for that:

Here’s Why This Happens

Many website design quotes simply don’t include content creation. They are based on the assumption that all content will be provided. Also, many website programmers do not have business experience outside of coding so relating the challenges you and your business face on a daily basis is foreign to them.

Lastly, and unfortunately, some developers see content as the ‘stuff that goes into what I built.’

Here’s How To Fix It If It’s Happening To You

First, talk to the developer you’re working with and explain what you’re feeling. Hopefully you went over this when developing the work scope and you have something to fall back on and hold someone accountable for. Share that you need help with content and perhaps you even expected that assistance would be part of the engagement. Know that it may indeed cost you more money if this wasn’t part of the development quote.

If that doesn’t yield you a meaningful solution, you can make good progress on crafting content by following these simple guidelines to writing your content these five tips to getting meaningful traffic to your website.

How To Avoid It

Address the content component up front. Here’s why: an ugly website that has good content will serve you better than a gorgeous website with no value. Content truly is the most important piece.

When you’re interviewing prospective website design companies or developers, be sure to ask them about their content strategies, how they develop content, what content plans are included in the proposal they are providing, and whose job it is to create the content for the site.

The best case scenario would be for the developer to have content writing skills but rely on you and your business for specifics on how you want to say what you say. Remember the content process should be a partnership. You know better than any website partner what your customers want and what your prospective customers are asking for. Using that knowledge along with a content creation strategy from a website development partner will help you yield productive and meaningful results.

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