It’s easy to consider only technical capabilities when you engage a web developer. After all, you need someone who is technically proficient to build your website, don’t you?
But aside from the fact that most people will probably be unable to adequately assess the technical capabilities of a web developer anyway (making some of the below skills even more important), there are some things a great developer will do as part of the course of their delivery that sets them apart from the rest.
If you are an aspiring developer or are just starting your freelance career, the following behaviours will hold you in good stead as you look to build relationships with your clients.
It is very important that a developer provides consultative and comprehensive requirements gathering as part of their service. But what does this mean?
- A developer should ALWAYS ask questions upfront about your project. These questions should be exploratory in nature and be used to set expectations for both of you during the project. If your developer takes your requirements without question, I recommend walking away before you start.
- (Preferred) I love it when a developer asks me for everything they will need at the start of the project! There is nothing worse than getting three quarters through a project, only to get a request for something that will take you a week to prepare. The project stalls and all the emphasis is on you to get things moving again. A developer clearly articulating what they need at the beginning of a project shows they have actually planned what they are going to do. This is not a must have scenario but it sure does make things easier.
A developer who breaks the projects into milestones shows me they have a plan. It also shows me that they are prepared to stand by the quality of their work as they know they will be assessed multiple times during the project.
Identifying clear deliverables articulated in transparent and agreed milestones is a great sign from a developer.
Do Not Build Live Sites
This is one of my pet hates – a developer should not build a website that is live to the public. This is not about people stumbling across my website earlier than I planned. This is about following a standard delivery process where rigour and adherence to an approval process are what matters most. Basically, I always seek to have the ability to approve a launch before a site is released to the World.
Always build on a test environment and migrate when you have approval to launch.
Before you hand your website across to a client, make sure you have thoroughly tested it. While many clients (me being one of them) will happily test the site, it can be frustrating when there are obvious errors that should have been picked up before I get to see them. What I am talking about here are things like layout and spacing, adherence to the design, links working, speed and performance including image load times and integration with any other sites/applications.
A great web developer will check these things to ensure that the client is truly only performing user acceptance testing and if done well, your conversations with the client should all centre around how they envisioned the site working as opposed to why it doesn’t work for them. There is a subtle but very important difference there.
A great developer communicates proactively, frequently and in a considered manner. I am not only talking about status updates though. Whilst regular status reports are a must, I am talking about the softer communication skills here.
- Be polite. When soliciting information or asking questions, use “please”, “thanks” and “you’re welcome”. If you are asked a question, reply with more than a simple “OK”. Remember, most of your clients will not be familiar with the sort of work you are doing so a little context and explanation will always help.
- Be proactive. As stated above, if you need something, ask for it in advance. But proactivity also applies to communicating problems. If you are having an issue and think it may impact the look/feel/operation of the website or delivery timelines, call it out early.
- Be thoughtful. Even though this may be your 100th WordPress blog you have built, this project is going to be very important to your client. Make sure that your communication reflects that you understand and appreciate how important it is to your client and to you as well.
A great communicator is really important for me. I am going to spend time with that person during the project and I always seek rapport that involves friendliness, transparency and respect. I want to feel valued and that my project is important to the developer who is working on the project.
Bring Your Expertise to the Engagement
Another thing I look from my developers is your expertise but I’m continually surprised to see many people operating on a “you tell me what to do” basis.
One of the best things you can do is to never assume your client understands their options and ensure that you can clearly articulate what is best for them. Bringing your expertise enables;
- Your client can take advantage of new plugins or services that could streamline their website functionality
- Your client may find faster, better, easier, smarter or cheaper ways to do things
- Your client may change their vision and let technology take care of things (many clients will create their website requirements with flawed assumptions on what is possible)
- Your client will love you!
Never be shy about offering your client visibility on how to do things differently based on your expertise.
What else do you think makes a great web developer? Add your comments below and share your thoughts!