web developer

Web Developers: How to work with small business

Monday, February 9th, 2009 | Business | 1 Comment

There are all types of web developers out there:


  1. The Linux guy – no offense, these are frequently the most brilliant of all developers, having devoted much of their time to stuff that would blow the mind off of any other web developer (we know, javascript isn’t THAT hard compared to kernel development).  The problem with the linux guy (I know I’m stereotyping) is that they don’t have the business knowledge to help a client realize their actual goals.  These developers will take what they are asked, and execute it perfectly — just without analytical thought as to why the client asked for it.
  2. The smooth business guy – He wants to talk.  To talk about all these dreams, but he can’t actually do any of it.
  3. The reseller – He wants to sell the benefits of someone elses software package, telling you that it will solve all of your problems (without taking into account exactly what you need)
  4. The ghost – you will see him once, but never again.  Occassionally you get an email from him asking for a check.  Otherwise sometimes things happen to your website as he chooses.  He seems weird, staring awkwardly at your employees.  
  5. The “I took a web development course”/”I have a certificate” guy – having just gotten out of the local college’s web development course, he knows how to create tables, use javascript to access the DOM and change the style of a TD, and use PERL to handle a contact form, that would have been great 10 years earlier.  Not all “course” guys are like this, but there is a lot to web development.  I’ve sat in on some courses myself, and none have prepared anyone enough to handle real (modern)  web development.
  6. The “designer” developer – a web designer that thinks they are web developers as well.  Coming with a fluency in HTML, you usually end up with large webpages with JPGs holding content.  Very SEO friendly.


It’s unfortunate that there’s really only one title for them.  They are all web developers.

As such many business are led down the wrong path when they sign up with a web developer, either in-house or otherwise.  

Working with smaller businesses has it’s own special challenges that most web developers don’t pay attention to.  Smaller business (I don’t want to say small, because these business are sometimes the largest in their communities) probably don’t have in house technical knowledge, experience on the web, or a full understanding of what the web can do for them.

How is knowing this important?  You shouldn’t take directions from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.  At the same time, that person knows exactly what they want, you just need to help them understand the best way to realize this.

One of the first questions I ask a client is, “How will this benefit you?”.  Client’s always want the coolest toys, as they think it’s what they need.  What they don’t always realize is: a blog needs content, poorly written content won’t sell itself, if they get more orders — they can’t support an increase in sales.

When a web developer talks to a smaller business, we should always help the client do the following:

  1. Fully communicate what they want (sometimes a client has a great idea, but hasn’t thought it through)
  2. Understand the best technologies to achieve their goals
  3. Understand the impact on their business (more support calls, increased sales calls, cheap clients, international calls)
  4. Know what other paths are open to them technically

Web developers need to be business consultants as well.  We need to help develop a mini business plan, set realistic goals, manage expectations, and extend our technical knowledge into the rest of the business.

I’ve had incidents where a customer wanted to “put up a blog”.  Of course, in the past few years, having blogs are the hottest marketing tools.  The client didn’t know that they need to write content to keep the blog up to date.  No one wanted to provide any content.  Secondarily, asked what the people were busy doing that would stop them from publishing content to a blog.  They were busy printing out mailings and posters for local community events.  Now we can talk about doing some print on demand.  That will help free up resources to make the blog.

The last point I want to make, is how do we know we did good work for a client?  Metrics are a great tool.  Either determine the number of sales calls per week before the project, or take a few weeks of web traffic reports to determine if you’ve had a positive spike in visitors.  How will your client tell their friends about how you helped them, if they don’t have real metrics?  

Help them understand, and extend your full capacities as a technical expert to your small business clients.

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