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October 12, 2010

Is your web developer qualified?

Filed under: Website Development, Your Business — Mike Jaltuch @ 7:38 am

Most people hire web development companies for the same reason we hire an auto mechanic or go to a doctor, because we are in need of their expertise that we ourselves lack knowledge of. In most fields we use a common sense approach to determine if the expert is qualified to fulfill our needs. For example, we are not going to ask our eye doctor about a pain we have in our foot and we probably won’t go to the oil change shop for a new transmission. We do the same with scope size. For example most people would not want a nurse to do open heart surgery, or someone who has experience in building houses to build a 25 story office building.

However with web development there seems to be much less common sense screening happening when a web site / web application is needed. My assumption is because there is a much lower level of common knowledge about programming when compared to other fields. As a result I have seen a few common mistakes over the years in the criteria that people use when selecting a website development vender. Below are two of the most common examples:

#1 – Using what you understand as the main decision factor, even if what you understand is mostly irrelevant in the project.

A good example if this is design. I frequently see companies looking to have a complex web application developed and typically in this case a design is needed but it’s usually less than 5% of the time spent on the entire project. Of course this 5% is a very important part but it’s still a very small minority of the overall project. However, for someone who has no understanding of development they may tend to gravitate to the design since they do understand it and select a vendor solely on the merits of their design ability.

The result is a great design but the actual application may not work very well or be riddled with bugs. Or worse yet, end up being well above the skill level of the vendor resulting in a project that is doomed from day one.

#2 – Using the industry of your business as the single criteria for selecting a vender.

An example of this is a lawn servicing company that may want to set up an online system for their clients to manage all levels of service. When looking at prospective web development companies they are only searching for those who have multiple clients in the lawn service industry. This is similar to a law firm wanting a new building so they only look at builders who have built offices for law firms.

A better approach would be to try and determine the level of complexity needed for the project. Then only look at companies who have developed at least three web applications at the same or greater level of complexity as the desired project. It’s much easier to learn a few details of any specific industry that may be helpful in a project compared to gaining the development skills and experience necessary for architecting and developing the project.

The lesson is to step out of your comfort zone and try to apply some of the common sense logic we use elsewhere in our lives to our web development projects.

April 7, 2010

Don’t throw common sense out the window

Filed under: Website Development, Your Business — Mike Jaltuch @ 11:21 pm

A famous definition of the word ‘insanity’, simply stated it is, repeating the same thing but expecting different results.

In business, I see many people doing this exact thing with respect to their web projects. Unfortunately due to the low barriers to entry in this industry there are many sub-par developers out there more than willing to take your money when given the chance. However, if you work with a company or individual and they don’t perform well, shame on them. If you use the same criteria when selecting your second vendor and it produces the same results then shame on you.

I recently received a call from someone wanting a web application. During our conversation I discovered he had already gone through four developers in the past 18 months and still has nothing to show for his time and money. In discussing the high level aspects of his project I soon determined it was roughly a 150-200 hour project.

He agreed as the other developers told him it would take 1-2 months. The strange part is that he was looking to spend around $1,500 for the project.

This is the point I became lost. He said this was the amount he agreed to pay all his previous developers so therefore expected to find another one, hopefully better, and it should cost the same.

This is a perfect example of doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. I’m not sure how he thought an experienced developer was going to work on a semi advanced database project for less per hour than a high-school kid will make working at McDonalds.

Needless to say, it was a very short conversation.

Next time you have a failure, and it will happen for everyone at some point, make sure to take a step back and learn from your mistakes. Look at something from all sides by putting yourself in the other persons shoes. What could you have done better or differently? What could the other side have done better? Are you to share in any of the blame? If so, think about how to change for the better in your next attempt.

Just remember, in your next attempt, don’t do the exact same thing and expect it to magically work.

February 9, 2010

Experts are there for a reason… use them

Filed under: Website Development, Your Business — Mike Jaltuch @ 9:55 pm

If you need open heart surgery, would you rather have an expert perform the operation or a general doctor that sort-of knows what they are doing?

The answer is obvious, so why is it such a tough question in your business?

It’s my guess because most people are thinking short term costs instead of long term expenses. By this I am referring to the short term cost of hiring an expert vs the long term expense of what it will cost in the long run in problems by trying to save a few dollars.

I recently had a client who tried to manage his own mail server. Even though I only develop his website and have nothing to do with his email, I kept getting calls asking questions about his email server and configuration. I can only assume because he was lost and grabbing at the first person he could think of.

Over several months as he kept making changes in his business and internal network they continued to have problems. And I continued to get calls asking for help.

Eventually I recommended that he use the email company I use myself for my business. It’s a company that only does email as that is what they are experts in. I’ve been using them for almost 2 years with no problems and a dedicated team who understand email inside an out to help if I happen to have any problems.

This client finally took my advice and within a week I received another call saying how great everything is working from his outlook to web-based email and even his blackberry integration. As a result of using an expert for something which is not his core competency, he can now focus his efforts on what he is most competent at – running his business.

A website is another great example of using an expert. I have had several clients who tried to develop their own sites, some who even hired a single person for all aspects of their web presence. The problem is that they are getting back to using a generalist. Not too many individuals are experts at design, programming, databases, marketing, copy writing, and project management just to name a few of the specialists we utilize as an agency. If you are lucky enough to find someone willing to take on all these tasks, most likely they are not an expert in any of them.

February 2, 2010

Time is the key ingredient to good service

Filed under: Your Business — Mike Jaltuch @ 10:19 pm

I had a very interesting experience this week with my Chiropractor that I think applies to all business with respect to service. In my opinion the medical industry is notoriously bad at customer service and my recent experiences validate how important customer service is and why I will keep spending as much time as necessary with my customers.

About 5 years ago I changed to a different chiropractor due to location. This new practice was run much more like a traditional Dr’s office. Signed in with a receptionist then waited in the main lobby for a while. Finally my name was called and I was taken by an assistant to one of the small back rooms where more waiting was done. Then another assistant came in and asked about my problems, started a treatment then left. I waited alone in the room until it was done then continued to wait another 10 minutes until the Dr finally came in the room. I repeated the same story to him which I told his assistant and he briefly made some adjusted and I was on my way. The total time with the Dr was about 5 minutes.

After several visits of this I finally became annoyed and went back to my old chiropractor. The experience was much different. I walked in the office signed in and the Dr immediately came out and personally took me in the treatment room. He had me sit in a chair where we talked for 20 minutes. He spent the time to get to know me and about my problems in detail, what my activity level is like, what sports I play etc. Next he started the treatment and stayed in the room the entire time as we continued to talk. Last came the adjustments followed by some follow up instructions and then I was on my way. The total time with the Dr was exactly 1 hour.

After this visit, I could not think of anything but the extreme level of difference in customer service between the two practices. Of course, as a business owner, I do realize that the Dr who only spent 5 minutes with me probably sees many more patients per day and therefore may have a more profitable business. However, as a customer I will definitely make sure to drive out of my way in the future to see my original Dr who spent a full hour with me. In my mind there was no comparison between the two.

I have always tried to keep the same philosophy in my business. One way I do this is to never rush a conversation with the a client and also make sure the client does not feel pressured to hurry up and finish. To accomplish this we only charge for development time. Therefore, generally speaking when talking with a customer about their business or their needs this is not ‘time on the clock’. The money is made on the actual web development. The exception to this is the larger clients who need consulting where a significant amount of time (sometimes a week or more) is needed working directly with the customer.

The lesson I learned from this personal experience is to take extra care when talking to clients and make sure they feel I am genuinely interested in their web issues. If I can have my clients leaving a meeting with me and having the same thoughts I did when I left the chiropractor then I have definitely succeeded in the customer service area. Accomplish this and the profits will follow.

January 26, 2010

If it sounds too good to be true it probably is

Filed under: Website Development, Your Business — Mike Jaltuch @ 9:07 am

It always amazes me how much of a rush some people are to launch a website, at times sending rationale out the window. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying deadlines don’t matter and you should be carefree about your website’s completion date. However, when planning a project listen to common sense and if you have set an arbitrary deadline, listen to the experts and be flexible. Doing so will only save you headaches in the long run.

Recently I was working with a prospect on scoping out the requirements for his new online business. During this process, as I usually do, I asked if he had a date when he wanted the project to be completed. He responded with a date approximately 45 days away. After our meeting I wrote up the requirements as we discussed and informed this prospect it would take a minimum of 75 days to complete the project.

I had asked him if there was a reason he picked this specific launch date. Sometimes the launch of a business may be timed around an event such as a trade show or a specific time of year if the business is seasonal. However he admitted it was just a random date he selected that had no significance. He did stress that he ALWAYS meets his deadline dates in business and therefore it was essential to complete the project by his specified date. I explained that it’s just too much work for such a short timeframe and to do a quality job something like this should not be rushed.

In the end, this prospect only cared about his arbitrary deadline and therefore went with a firm that gave him the response he was looking for. He later admitted this was the sole merit for his decision. I don’t expect to get every project I bid on, however when losing a bid for sticking to your guns and being honest is a bit frustrating. We could have said what the prospect wanted to hear, gotten the project and then worried about the consequences later. I opt not to take this approach and provide an honest estimate I can stand behind.

Last week was the deadline for his project and when visiting the domain name I was not too shocked to see a message saying the site is under construction and will be lunching next month. This seems to me like a company willing to say what you want to hear just to get the business then worry about the unavoidable upcoming problems later. Of course I can’t say for sure if that’s what happened in this case, but as someone who has been in the industry for over a dozen years, I do know it exists.