How to Speak “Web Developer” and not get Ripped Off

How do you, a non-technical manager, communicate with developers who barely speak English? This article will attempt to help you get the website you want, without any of the heartache, frustration or financial loss usually associated with web projects.

The saying ‘how long is a piece of string’ should be replaced with ‘how much for a website’, or even better, ‘know any good web developers’? The fact of the matter is that web development can be confusing territory to negotiate; a situation that isn’t helped by the fact that you can’t read any of the maps or speak the language.

You’ve seen it before: the eager-eyed entrepreneur with the great idea briefs in a website with money they’ve scrounged from friends, fools and family, only to be stuck, nearly a year later, with the website no closer to completion and the money (and friends) long gone. There is no shame in having a web-disaster to your name, believe me it’s happened to the best.

Here are just a few horror stories I’ve heard:

  • “The web developer built in a secret back door and was stealing all the data for their own purposes…”
  • “My web developer made the login and password to my website ‘Admin’, I got hacked and lost clients and all my search rankings.”
  • “I took hundreds of thousands out of my bond to pay a web development company, I never got the website or my money back.”
  • “After spending nearly a million rand, waiting a year and losing all my hard-earned google traffic, I finally got my website up and running…and then realised I had to rebuild it from scratch.”
  • “I paid my developer up front and when it came time for the work to be produced, he said I’d used up all the money on meetings and I had to pay more money.”

How is it possible that so many intelligent, capable entrepreneurs are battling to get their websites built on time, to spec and on budget? Surely it can’t be that difficult to brief in a website and get what you’re looking for? Before you say ‘that will never happen to me’ make sure you read the tips and tools below:


1 – Simplicity is Genius

Just remember: it’s easy to produce a complicated product, but simplicity takes effort, so keep your website simple to start with. If you can break it down to its simplest format, do so. Most of the time your customers don’t need all the bells and whistles and will be happy with a simple, easy-to-use version. Plus this will keep your costs down and shorten the timeline.

2 – Online Brochure or Coffee Maker?

Are you looking for a simple text-based website or something so advanced that it will be able to make you coffee? Your price is going to be based on how complex this site is.

Just remember that anything with custom functionality is going to require expertise that comes at a price.

3 – Create Wireframes

Please don’t skip this step. Completing this document will help you realise how complicated your idea really is! Draw rough sketches on paper or using PowerPoint of what each page should look like, screen shot pages from websites that you like and paste them into your doc.

This will serve as a visual brief to your web developer, and will help you flesh out exactly what you’re asking for. I would also strongly suggest testing these sketches with users not involved on the project, for feedback on how easy or hard they are to figure out. This is a pretty invaluable step in this process.

4 – Write a Brief

Using the sketches from the step above, add any comments or functionality that isn’t apparent in the wireframes. Also detail things like timelines, deliverables, outcomes and non-negotiables.

5 – Break it Down

If possible, break your website down into phases.

Phase 1 will be the first five pages of the website.

Phase 2 will be the login and shopping cart.

Phase 3 will be setting up alerts,

Phase 4 will be adding more pages to the website plus creating a wishlist, etc. This will help you create clear milestones the team can work towards, plus you can pay accordingly.

Web Developer for your BusinessStep 2: CHOOSING A WEB DEVELOPER

1 – Get a Recommendation

If possible, speak to someone who has a site similar to yours, and find out who built it, or go onto their website, the web developer’s name is usually in the bottom footers.

Don’t use someone who was recommended by a friend, your doctor or your accountant. Also it’s critical that the website designed has similar functionality to yours.

If the web developer has mostly designed online brochure-type websites, don’t trust them with your massively interactive website, no matter how capable they appear.

2 – Get Quotes

Send your brief out to your preselected list of web developers, and see what comes back. You’re looking for a detailed breakdown of costs, and not one big thumb suck.

You want to know what each element will cost you, or at least what each Phase costs.

3 – Grill Them

Prepare a list of questions to ask the developers you’ve chosen. You can google these or check out our blog for a few tips, especially when it comes to choosing a developer who understands google search engine optimisation (SEO).

Find out how they feel about open source software, you don’t want them reinventing the wheel and charging you for it. Websites like have hundreds of free or cheap pre-built plug ins that will save a lot of time and energy.

4 – Write a Contract

This is the document that will be pulled out if anything goes sour, so make sure you’ve detailed your non-negotiables and penalties for late delivery, for losing your google search traffic, etc.

Step 3: KICK OFF

1 – Don’t be a Creep

Once the project has started you have to avoid the tendency to keep adding to the brief (scope creep), or changing things along the way.

Some things you will inevitably have to change as the project moves on, something will crop up that nobody foresaw, but adding criteria only slows things down, and makes everything more expensive. Add your new requests to a Wishlist document, and be ruthless in killing your darling ideas, most of them are just a waste of money I’m sorry to say.

2 – Don’t Pay Them!

Do not pay your web developers unless you have 150% happy with the work they’ve done. That’s why it’s important to break things into phases and pay after each milestone has been achieved.

Do not pay anything before hand, unless it’s a fraction of the project worth, say 10%. Ignore this at your peril.

3 – Don’t forget SEO

If you are redesigning an existing site, it’s critical that you tick a few boxes to ensure you don’t jeapordise your existing SEO rankings.

If it’s a new website, there are certain things that need to be in place, or you won’t rank. Unfortunately all web developers say they know a lot about SEO when asked, check out our blog on this for a few tips on sorting the wheat from the chaff.

4 – Over Promising

Many web developers are too nice, and tend to overpromise. Remember that your website will take three times as long, cost twice as much and do half of what you hoped, make sure you’ve factored that in.

Let me say it again: Web development takes a long time to do, and there is no such thing as ‘plug and play’. Budget for that emotionally before you start the customer journey.

Remember, there’s never time to do things properly the first time, but there’s always time to re-do them. So make sure you take the time to do it properly before starting the project and you might save yourself a few tears further down the line. Good luck!

Contact Shift ONE for assistance in setting up a good, affordable and viable website.

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  1. Julie on February 20, 2016 at 6:17 am

    We have paid a web developer £10,000, in three stage payments. We are not tech savvy, but we got a very savvy friend to select him, talk to him and ok him.

    Assured by this we assumed that when he said he had completed a milestone, that he was being truthful.

    He has asked for several deadline extensions that we have granted. The project is now a few months behind (it’s a start-up).

    Our main concern is that he has now become difficult to get hold of (he is in the USA, we are in the UK).

    However, we have a Skype call with him tonight. As the project has stalled we are concerned: has he done the coding work at all?

    We realise that our great error is in failing to obtain the files for wach milestone/payment.

    We will be asking for these files today. Presumably, if he has actually done the work he says he hasn he will be willing to send us the files. If he is reluctant, we guess we have been scammed and will be gutted.

    Any tips you have to help us to resolve this issue will be greatly appreciated.

    • Dylan on October 3, 2016 at 2:26 pm

      Hey there, how did things work out? Please email me direct to chat about how we can help you moving forward? Thanks, Dylan

  2. Factor Loads on September 25, 2018 at 12:56 am

    I also think that that web development takes a lot of workhard to be able to succeed. I also think that we must invest emotionally before we start it. Thanks for sharing this article. This is very helpful and useful.

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