Getting a good web developer can be tricky, especially if you’ve never had to do it before. Here is a recommended approach.

Don’t shop around until you have a good brief written

The brief needs to detail your business requirements, objectives for the site, design, technical and other requirements. Use the guide to writing a web development brief to help you.

Use a costs template

Create a simple template. Ask each developer to complete it, and to include any assumptions that may apply. The headings might include design, development (to include site technologies), hosting, testing and project management. Ask for daily rates, excluding VAT.

Get recommendations from your contacts

Ask other businesses what developers they use and whether they would recommend them. Use social media (LinkedIn groups and Twitter) to also look for recommendations. Ensure developers on your shortlist have relevant experience, by checking out their own websites. They should have links and case studies of similar projects.

Seek written proposals from web developers

Aim to get three proposals. Ask each developer to respond to your brief with a written proposal, costs and details of two or three similar projects, along with contact details of referees. If clarifications are sought, answer them by email but ensure that other developers get to see the clarifications too (but obviously don’t share details of who raised the queries).

Beware of exaggerated claims

Watch out for web development companies that exaggerate what they do. Many claims relate to search engine optimisation (SEO). “We guarantee that your site will get onto the first page of Google without paying for an ad” is a common claim. Others relate to being able to deliver qualified leads and providing “unique features” in their site technologies that are common across all platforms.

Compare like with like

Examine each proposal to ensure that you are making fair comparisons between one developer and the next. If you don’t understand what the proposal is saying because it’s full of technology jargon, ask someone you know to interpret it, or turn to Google for help.

Check references

Just as you’d do when you’re hiring a new staff member, make some reference calls. Ask specific questions about how well clients were served and, if relevant, how quickly the developer responded to an urgent requirement like a hosting security problem.

Don’t automatically select the cheapest quote

The cheapest may often not be the best. You need to consider experience, quality control and the level of customer service that you will get before making your final decision. Location might also be a consideration, if you need to meet the developer frequently.

Draw up a formal agreement

Once you’ve selected a preferred developer, produce a formal agreement. At a minimum, have an exchange of emails about what has been agreed, based on your brief and the winning proposal.

Ensure there are no surprises

Ask your preferred developer for a rough outline of the site at the start when costs are agreed. That outline, along with the brief and written proposal, should be referred to throughout the project to ensure there are no surprises about project scope and costs.

Understand your role in the project

A web developer will expect you or someone in your business to manage the project. Clients are usually the cause for the delay of new websites, not web developers. You need to assign time to manage the project, provide feedback on design, provide sign-off on different project stages, and supply site content.