Top Five Questions to ask your potential Web Developer/Designer for your Association’s Website

Top Five Questions to ask your potential Web Developer/Designer for your Association’s Website

Whether you’re creating, redesigning or modernizing your association or non-profits’ website it’s important that you pose the right questions to potential web developers and designers.  This will help ensure you have a solid working relationship with your new webmaster and that both you and the developer/designer have a good idea of what to expect out of the project.

1)      Are you familiar with our industry or have you had other clients in our industry?

Associations and non-profits can have very specific niches.  If your organization is representative of an industry then it is important that anyone who visits your website feel like they are visiting a site within that industry.  Finding a web designer that has experience designing website for others in the industry can easily solve this problem.  They will often have a feel for what designs work for which field, whether it be financial services or behavioral health but more importantly they may have insight into which design elements don’t work.

If you are not looking for someone who has experience in your industry be sure to look through their portfolio of other clients and ask questions about those projects.  Keep in mind you will be seeing their best and often most expensive projects.  While perusing their portfolio you may want to ask questions like ‘How long did it take?’ ‘Can you do this for all your clients?’ ‘Are all of these elements standard?’ Keep an eye out for patterns in their design.  A good designer should be able to show you some very different and interesting design layouts.

If at all possible you will want to ask for a preview of their Content Management System (CMS) and their Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that they will use on your website.  Specifically I highly recommend a demonstration of the content editor (the standard is a ‘What You See Is What You Get’ WYSIWYG editor that looks much like mini MS word screen) and reporting functionality from the CRM. Keep in mind that in the association field CRM’s are often referred to as Association Management Software (AMS). Many associations choose these since they are built with association concerns in mind and often they integrate both a CRM and CMS system into one software solution. In this post when I talk about a CMS, this also relates to the AMS solution – as the latter is is simply a industry specific type of the former.

2)      What parts of the project will you outsource?

Don’t be afraid of a web developer who outsources some of the coding or development.  It is not necessarily a sign that they are a ‘cheap’ developer but it is good to know how much of the project will be outsourced.  For example if you know that a particular custom portion of your website will require writing of new code and that the writing of this code is outsourced, you can expect this part of the project may take a little bit longer or will have delayed responses to your queries or requests for modification.  Knowing you may need to patient about certain aspects of a project will lessen the stress if faced with those delays.

3)      How many hours do you estimate this project will take?

This is code for “how much will this project cost me?” Many associations and non-profits operate on a limited budget and if you can get your web developer to break the project down into phases you may be able to spread the cost over a longer period of time.  For example you may want to start with a re-design of the site where only layout and content are updated and integrated with a CMS.  Then phase 2 can be implementation of CRM and phase 3 can be a mobile version or something similar that is not necessary for your organization to function but will improve the experience overall.

4)      What parts of this project will be custom made and which parts do you intend to use existing code/off the shelf programs (i.e. CRM’s or CMS’s)?

Similar to the use of outsourced code writers, a developer who uses off the shelf CMS or CRM products does not necessarily indicate that you are getting a cheap product.  There exist many, very good, open source website products that will save your developer many hours of programming.  You will want to find out what they use and familiarize yourself, at least nominally, with the capabilities and limitations of the products.

5)      Do you offer a service plan and if so how much?

Even with the most user friendly CMS and CRM you are bound to run into problems or changes you will want to make with your website.  Depending on how much time you can devote to website maintenance it may be a great value to purchase a service plan for your website.  For example if you have a dedicated volunteer or staff member who will be spending multiple hours a week maintaining the website you may not need a full service plan and will most likely be able to get by with calling the website developer occasionally and paying their normal hourly rate for any changes or fixes.
It helps to have some experience in coding or web design to get a good feel for the value you are about to receive but many Board Members of associations and non-profits outsource this work because that is precisely where they lack experience.  In lieu of having experience in programming it is important to know that customization will cost time which means money. So the more customization you think your website will need the more money it will cost.

A good value for your website isn’t really in the cost of the design and development.  The value is in how easy it will be for you, your volunteers, your staff, your Board and your users to operate and maximize the function of your website as a tool to further your organizations mission.