After almost two decades in web development, I’ve heard more than a few horror stories about website projects.

I’ve talked to business owners who’ve come to me with website money pits that end up needing extensive fixes or, in some cases, a complete redo, all because it wasn’t done right the first time.

There are also many wonderful website designers and developers out there. With some due diligence, you can improve your chances of finding someone who fits your needs.

Here are some of the most commonly mentioned complaints and concerns that small business owners have reported when they’ve worked with a developer who didn’t meet their expectations.

1. Lack of responsiveness

Poor responsiveness when it comes to communication with your web developer is probably one of the biggest objections I’ve heard over and over.

A solid service provider, regardless of industry, will reply promptly to your inquiries, even if it’s just to confirm that they received your message and to let you know when you can expect to receive more information.

I’m sure we all know of someone who has talked about chasing their web person for updates on their business’s website. I remember speaking with one business owner in particular who talked about it taking months for her developer to make one very small change on her website (and he was not at all apologetic about it).

As a business owner, you have a right to know what’s going on with your project. A responsive developer will regularly update you on your project status so you’re in the loop about your website.

How to Hire Right:

The signs are usually there from the start. Take note of how quickly he or she replied when you first showed interest in potentially working together. Did the replies come across as respectful, professional, and complete?

2. Building a website you can’t update

No one wants to be dependent on a third party forever. Content management systems like WordPress make it possible for business owners to make changes to their websites directly.

If you want to be able to maintain your own website content, you’ll need to ensure that your developer is providing you with a site that you can update yourself, or that any other web developer could step in for you if you needed added support.

How to Hire Right:

Be upfront with your prospective developer if you require a site that’s easy for you to update and maintain. As mentioned, there are many content management options out there and our recommended platform is WordPress.

If a developer tells you it isn’t possible for them to build a site that you can manage directly, keep looking for a new developer.

3. Not providing your logins

I often talk about the importance of registering domains and hosting in your own name, keeping control of your website.

The day may come when you want to bring on a new website developer or move to a new hosting provider. Or, maybe you simply want to bring updates in-house and take over your site maintenance yourself.

Most of the time you’ll likely have a developer who is helpful and supportive in providing you the logins that you need, when you need them.

But unfortunately, that’s not always the case and I have had more than a couple situations where a client’s previous web designer held a domain hostage.

How to Hire Right:

Archive as much of your website information as possible during the development process. Keep track of all your logins (a tool like is great for this) and make sure that your domain name and hosting account are registered in your name, not a developer’s.

4. Being evasive or talking down to you like you have no clue

You shouldn’t need a dictionary, or a ‘For Dummies’ book when you’re talking to your web developer. The whole point is for them to help you with things you don’t know how to do.

A good web developer will go through each step with you so you feel comfortable from start to finish, answering your questions without making you feel dumb or like you’re being talked down to.

How to Hire Right:

Again, the signs are usually there at the get-go.

  • How clear (or vague) was the developer in your first phone call or meeting?
  • Did you leave that conversation feeling like you have a good understanding of what to expect and how things will work down the road?
  • Did he or she seem like they would be happy to answer your questions?
    Or do you leave slightly confused and hoping for the best?

Make sure you feel confident and comfortable with the working relationship straight out of the gate.

5. Not respecting deadlines

Just as you respect your own clients’ deadlines, your web developer should respect yours. A good developer will provide you an accurate delivery date, and inform you in advance if he or she aren’t going to be able to make it happen.

If circumstances change and your deadline is no longer feasible, your developer should tell you immediately and explain why.

How to Hire Right:

Look for reviews and feedback about a web developer before you hire him or her. We don’t just mean the ones on their websites, because these will obviously be the reviews that sing their highest praises.

Word of mouth and real-life referrals tend to be more accurate.

Ask for references so you can speak directly to previous clients. Now obviously, no company is going to give you a client reference that is anything less than glowing, but I’m not talking about asking them “did you have a good experience?”

Rather, take this opportunity to focus on questions about the type of project they worked on, what the process was like, what the turnaround time was like, and so on.

6. Charging surprise fees for a feature you didn’t realize was outside scope when you requested it

Don’t be ashamed to ask about extra features if you feel it’s necessary to the success of your website. Because web development isn’t your forte, it can be difficult to envision what you want until you actually start working on the project.

A good web developer will tell you upfront whether or not your request is within scope. If it isn’t in scope, he or she should tell you how much it will cost, along with pros and cons of adding it in so you can make an informed decision that’s not based on cost alone.

A great developer will suggest relevant alternative solutions, if they are available.

How to Hire Right:

While a developer should always let you know if an additional request is within scope or not, always confirm in writing what your project scope includes, what is outside of the scope, and how much extra cost you are looking at for additional features.

7. Disappearing completely

I’ve heard my share of horror stories.

When I say disappearing completely, I mean completely – to the point where a client has already hired a new developer, the project has been closed, the invoices have been paid, and they still haven’t heard back (and they know the developer is not ill or in danger because they are still active on social media).

Simply put, a good developer wouldn’t do this. If an emergency comes up, you should be informed as quickly as possible.

Worst case scenario, the project is delayed and you need to find a new developer on your own. Best case, the developer recommends a replacement who they believe will take good care of your project.

How to Hire Right:

Sadly, there’s not much you can do if this happens and no real way to see it coming.

A preventive measure I can recommend is to ask developers for client references when you interview them. We’ve had to pick up the pieces more than a couple of times for clients who have ‘missing in action’ developers and most seem really shy to ask us for client references.

Don’t be! In fact, we encourage it.

Your Responsibilities as a Client

Regardless of who you choose to develop your website, YOU as the client also have a significant role in ensuring that your website development is a smooth one.

Here are some ways you can contribute to a better website experience.

  • Be clear and upfront about your goals and expectations so your web team knows from the start what the scope of the project is so they can accurately provide budget quotes and timelines.
  • Provide samples of websites you like/don’t like (or what you like/don’t like about your current one, if applicable) so everyone is on the same page from the beginning.
  • Provide complete (and approved!) materials, including images, copy, etc. in the correct/required formats.
  • Get feedback from website stakeholders during each stage, not just towards the end. The further along your web development team is in the process, the more difficult it will be to make changes and add new features.

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If you’re looking for guidance on how to plan your business website, be sure to download a copy of the Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Next Website.

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