I just fired my Internet design team and I think you should avoid the mistakes I made. So, as a public service, I’ll convey my lessons in an attempt to help you in your search.
I have been in advertising for over 35 years, but when my wife and I conceived a new online business, I needed help in producing the site. Sure I could create the basic screen shots and writ e the copy, but the HTML, PHP, or SQL, required was just a myriad of alphabet soup. So, being the savvy guy I am, I went surfing for a reliable Internet team to make the site happen. With so many to choose from, I figured that I could use a local group that had a nearby presence. Therefore, I did a citywide search and narrowed down the firms. After reviewing their sites, paying particular attention to their years of experience and portfolios, I called one for an interview.
Getting an answering machine should have been my first indication (warning sign 1) that disaster was looming. But I left a message anyway and waited for a return call. When it finally came, we agreed on meeting at his office. When I arrived, I realized it wasn’t exactly his office. It was an executive suite with a conference room that they rented to save money (warning sign 2). When the young man (around 30) showed up in shorts, I was a bit uneasy (warning sign 3) but gave him our background anyway. He appeared confident about being able to produce the site in a timely manner and sent my wife and I a fairly professional proposal via email. The timeframes and costs seemed appropriate and we decided to give his company a try.
After emailing him my screen shot for the front page, he sent a note asking if they could redesign it. Mind you, I have been a professional designer and consultant for over three decades. But I consented and received something we hated and I told him as much. He emailed back that he was insulted by our response and knew far more (at age 30) than us about web design. He changed our colors, which we finally acceded to, but we remained firm on the artwork. Eventually, we got what we wanted and moved forward. It was nearing Christmas, and work came through like molasses. His “guy” that was doing the majority of design took three weeks off for Christmas and our project sat dormant the entire time. (warning sign 4)
“Hey, it’s the holidays,” he explained. “What do you expect?”
I expected our site to be finished, which is what I paid for. After the first of the year, we asked for a meeting to discuss the problems getting it finished. He said he would give us a solid timeline and promised quicker responses. Until now, many of our emails went unanswered for days (warning sign 5). So we trusted his word and continued to try to get the site up and running. A few months flew by and the old ways returned. The timeline was now out the window and we were upset. The site didn’t work on my I-Mac using “Safari.” The owner told me that Mac’s are only 3.19% of the entire Internet, so why be concerned with that segment? (warning sign 6) I explained that the site should work on all platforms, as we first proposed, but he was adamant that we were wasting his time. His time? It was our site. I told him that there were over 8 million Mac users on the net and I wanted everyone of those potential customers. He told me I was foolish and I called him ignorant of Mac users, being he had never used one in his life. He was incensed by my accusation and told me so. The battle came to a head when my wife phoned him and he yelled and insulted her (final warning). Seconds after he hung up on her, I began my search for a new Internet group.
It wasn’t until later that we discovered he had been using a Russian working somewhere in the US to code the pages and all the support documentation was written in Russian. In researching on the net, I discovered and was told by others, that outsourcing to Russians to save money was a very common practice. I was never told that this was the case for our site and would not have used them if I had known in advance.
We have since chosen a firm that (a) has a physical office, (b) has the programmers on the premises, (c) has good communication skills, (d) will meet their obligations and fill your needs. My recommendation to you is to know who and where your site will be developed and have a contract that includes penalties for missed deadlines. Check references, interview at least three firms, and make sure they understand your needs. Finally, if they show up in shorts to your first meeting, don’t walk, but run, for the nearest exit.