Finding The Right People to Build Your Website

The Internet has gotten a lot more complicated since I started building websites when I was 13 years old in my parents' house. There a lot more browsers, devices, frameworks and platforms. Front-end, back-end, React, Ruby, Python, UX/UI - it gets jargon-heavy real fast. So what and who do you need to get yourself a website?

There are a few factors to consider

  1. What is the purpose of your website? Is it a simple informational website? Will you be selling things on your platform?
  2. What are some of the features you will be wanting to incorporate on your website?
  3. What is your budget that you're looking to invest into your website?
  4. How frequently do you think you will be making updates to your website? What sort of updates do you think you'll be making?
  5. Will you be hiring a developer and/or a graphic designer later on to help you maintain the website?

UX/UI/web designer? Front-end developer? Back-end developer? Full-stack developer?

Building a website is a bit like building a building. You could be building a shed in your backyard, which in that case, you can probably do it yourself with some YouTube help. A bit more complex would be building your dream 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom home. And then you have the more complex buildings - commercial buildings where there's a lot of logistics that you'll need to consider.

In a way, the UX/UI/web designer is a bit like the Architect/Interior designer. They'll generally lay out the blueprints for how your site will flow, and also help visualize how the final product will look like. Once that's all set up, they pass those blueprints on to the developers to execute.

If we're going with the house analogy, back-end developers are the people who build the foundation and framework of your building. That being said, depending on your needs, there are a lot of platforms that exist already that help take care of the back-end building so you don't need to worry about hiring a back-end developer. However, if you need a completely custom solution, as you can imagine with a building, you definitely want to make sure you invest in a solid back-end developer because the last thing you want is to have a building that falls down on you. Modern day back-end developers usually specialize in languages like PHP, Ruby and/or JavaScript.

If back-end developers are the people who lay down the framework to your building and lay in the plumbing and electricity, front-end developers help you lay in your flooring, your shelves, paint your walls and hang your paintings. They help you install your fridge and your cabinets so you can decide by yourself what to put into them (content!). Front-end developers usually work more with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

As for full-stack developers, those are developers who are familiar with both front-end and back-end development. That being said, even full-stack developers have will generally have a preference or strength in one area or the other. Generally, you'll be able to find a full-stack developer easily (finding a good one is a different story!)

Once in a while, you might find that rare unicorn who can handle both design+front-end or design+full-stack. Those are a startup's dream and if you find a good one, they are worth their weight in gold.

So what and who should you look for to build your website?

If your budget is under $10k and you're not selling anything online

If you have a budget that's under $10k to devote to your website and you're not looking to sell anything online, I recommend going with a service like Squarespace. Squarespace makes it easy to create beautiful-looking websites right out the box without coding knowledge with their drag-and-drop interface and pre-made templates you can customize. If you want something a bit more custom-looking, you can easily hire a graphic designer or a web designer to make your site look visually different.

If you're planning to start a small e-commerce and your budget is less than $20k

If you are just starting an e-commerce and have less than $20k to invest in your website and you won't be able to afford hiring a web developer to maintain your website afterwards, I recommend starting with a pre-made template on Shopify or BigCommerce which generally runs about $0-200/template. These two platforms are subscription services that take care of the back-end so you'll only need to worry about the front-end, which a pre-made template can take care of to a certain extent. I would recommend also allocating some of that budget to hire a designer to help you with your branding, because in today's digital market, you'll need great branding to stand out.

With Shopify handling the backend, and a pre-made template handling front-end, this leaves you time and resources to focus on developing your business and dealing with product. While there are plenty of e-commerce platforms like WooCommerce for Wordpress or Magento that offer a lower cost up-front (they're free to download and set up on your own servers), the hidden costs associated with running a WooCommerce or Magento website ends up being significantly higher than if you'd gone with Shopify or BigCommerce in the first place.

If you have more than $30k to invest on your e-commerce, but you don't have a developer resources in-house

Stick with Shopify or (Big Commerce), but invest in hiring a web designer and developer to build you a fully-branded, custom theme for your store. An experienced team will be able to build a website that requires little maintenance from a developer, meaning that you should be able to make most content updates by yourself, in the first few months after launch. That being said, as you start paid social media advertisement, you'll still need to find a designer and developer to help you make changes to your website at some point.

If you're planning on building a software as a service in the shape of a website (mobile apps are a different story)

You probably already know who to hire! =) But in the case you don't, at the very least, you'll need to hire a web designer who can handle UX/UI design, a front-end developer and a back-end developer. If you're bootstrapped or if you get lucky, you'll be able to find a web designer and developer who can handle both design and front-end development and then only need to hire a back-end developer. Or you might hire a designer and a full-stack developer.

Qualities to look for when hiring someone

How do you find someone is a good fit in today's world? Here are some of my tips:

1. Find someone who isn't afraid of saying no

Building a website involves a lot of moving pieces as there are a lot of stakeholders involved. Stakeholders have to agree on the design, feature requests are added in last minute, and before you know it, a three month project will end up being a six month project.

Often times, I've heard clients who I've worked with mention that in the past their old developers always promised something within a timeframe and wasn't able to deliver. While it's hard to predict life's curveballs sometimes, a good team will be able to tell you upfront when the timelines are not reasonable and turning down a job when it's not within their capabilities to complete it on a desired date.

2. Find someone who puts in the effort to explain the process

A website can be a little tricky for people to understand what's going on underneath the hood. Find someone who avoids jargon and does their best to help you understand what to expect throughout the process. If your point-of-contact seems to be vague, and isn't putting in the effort to give you the information you need, I would steer clear of them.

3. Make sure they have examples of work

If you're hiring an agency, make sure they have examples or references of relevant work to base off of. If they don't, based on your budget and risk-tolerance, I would proceed with caution. If you're hiring in-house, make sure they have examples of work AND give them a case study to complete.

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