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How to prepare for your first meeting with a web developer or designer

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SmallBusiness.com How-tos are step-by-step instructions for specific small business tasks. They are created and edited by readers like you. You can help edit this How-to or you can create your own. Find more How-tos at the SmallBusiness.com How-to Hub.

Introduction

If you don’t know the first thing about coding or how websites are built, meeting with a web designer or developer to build a custom website for your business can be an intimidating process. There will be lots of new jargon to learn such as phrases like “server-side logic” and “white hat SEO” but if you follow these steps you should be prepared for your first meeting.

Know the difference between a web developer and a web designer

Web developer

Web developers are the people who write the code that makes the web go round. They come in two varieties, for the most part; front end and back end. Front end developers write the HTML, CSS and JavaScript that is responsible for the looks of a site and any user-facing functionality — things like slideshows and contact forms. Back end developers, on the other hand, write code that lives on the server; this can include things like database management and application logic.

Web designer

Web designer come up with the actual design of the site, and figure out how it will look and feel across different browsers and devices. They usually code, but they don’t have to — it’s possible for a designer to come up with a layout that they hand off to a developer to do the actual coding

Keep in mind that while these are the standard roles for designers and developers, it's not uncommon for people to overlap between roles. Most front end developers, for example, have to know at least a little back end development to get their job done; likewise, even the most technical coder will develop some design chops after they’ve coded a couple hundred layouts.

Determine if you need a developer, designer, or both

What type of site you’re looking to build. Do you need a simple promotional website for your small business? A web designer should be what you need. On the other hand, do you need a complex e-commerce site with different payments options, user management, and email newsletter integration? You’ll bneed a developer. It’s a good idea to go to the meeting with a list of things you’d like to be able to accomplish with your site and ask the developer if that’s in his or her skill set.

Don’t get caught up in buzzwords or specific technologies

If you research anything about web development or design, you’re going to run into one or all of the following: HTML5, CSS3, jQuery, AngularJS, NodeJS or Ruby on Rails. While a basic understanding of the roles different languages play is good, and making sure your website is built with up to date best practices is important, shy away from urging that your site make use of specific technologies. Instead have in mind the goals you want to accomplish with your site, and let the developer recommend the best way to go about achieving them. Similarly, avoid thinking that you need to use a specific platform. It’s been my experience that many clients automatically think they need a WordPress site partly due to it’s ubiquity; while WordPress may be great for you, it should only be used if it is the best platform to fit your needs.

Do understand the basics of how the internet works

You don’t need to know a single line of code, but you should at least brush up on the basics of how the internet works and what it takes to put a website online. A good developer will be able to translate everything into layman's terms for you, but if you don’t know what a server or a domain name is you’re going to have a hard time following along.

Focus on a list of goals or outcomes you'd like the website to help you accomplish

Sometimes seemingly small software features actually take quite a bit of effort to execute well. Getting stuck on having particular features in your final site can add unnecessary cost and development time to the project. Instead of having features in mind, it’s best to have end goals — results you’d like to see from the site — and let the expert figure out the best way to get there. For example: you want to grow your company’s email newsletter. Instead of telling your developer “Let’s put a popup on the site that prompts visitors to sign up for the newsletter,” tell them, “I’d like to drive more signups for our newsletter. What’s the best way to make that happen?” You’re paying them to be an experts in the web--let them find the best path for you.

Don’t plan on cutting corners

Budgets for web development can be large. Keep in mind that websites take a significant amount of time and expertise to make, and whoever is building it should be compensated accordingly. Additionally, your website is an investment, a 24-hour storefront and marketing tool for your business. A good website should make you more money than you spend on it.

Do have a budget in mind

Prepare some general numbers to be open to prior to meeting with a web developer. Being up front with a budget helps the developer figure out just how much he can do for you. It also prevents you from being surprised by a big bill at the end of development.

Keep in mind that building and launching the site is only part of the cost of running a website. You’ll have additional server and maintenance costs. Most web development contracts contain an hourly fee for post-launch maintenance and changes, so be sure to check on that with your developer.

Keep an open mind

Remember, your site is for your customers, not for you. If you don’t like the design personally, but it fits with your brand and helps make sales, then it’s for the best.

See also