There are all types of web developers out there:
- The smooth business guy – He wants to talk. To talk about all these dreams, but he can’t actually do any of it.
- 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)
- 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.
- 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:
- Fully communicate what they want (sometimes a client has a great idea, but hasn’t thought it through)
- Understand the best technologies to achieve their goals
- Understand the impact on their business (more support calls, increased sales calls, cheap clients, international calls)
- 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.