Communicating with Your Web Developer

Communication is important in every professional relationship — including your relationship with your web developer. Don't let the stereotype of the socially inept nerd who plays on the computer all day prevent you from expecting a professional level of communication.

Choosing a web developer

When choosing a web developer, you should go through the same steps as you would when hiring someone for any other job: look at the candidate’s portfolio and check references, but also take the time to chat informally about the project and see if your personalities are complementary. Even a web developer who won't be coming into your office needs to mesh with you and your team!

A face-to-face interaction can help you do a quick gut check: Is the candidate overconfidently promising the moon, or does he or she really understand what you need? Most important, are you confident that they can deliver?

Working with your web developer

When working with anyone in a specialized field, you should not be afraid to ask questions. A professional web developer, just like a doctor or a lawyer, should do his or her best to answer your questions clearly and completely, without making you feel like an idiot. Using the same language is key here. It may be helpful to sit down and discuss the meanings of common terms (such as navigation, link, and button). Your site's content management system or other development framework might use common words in a particular way (in Drupal, two of these are block and module).

The web loves acronyms, and even the most easy-going developer can lapse into using them (my biggest slips are WYSIWYG and RTE). If you’re not sure what your developer is talking about, ask for clarification! You don’t want to be like the mom who thought WTF meant “Well, that’s fantastic” when she was talking to her teenage son.

When you need to talk through a problem with your developer, it helps to be as specific as possible, especially when you’re discussing bugs or errors on the site. Since a picture can be worth a thousand words, I highly recommend learning how to take screenshots on your computer, so you can show your web developer exactly what you're seeing.

It’s also a great idea to arrange for a face-to-face meeting when you need to do some troubleshooting. For most of my clients, it’s much easier to effectively communicate what they’re confused about while pointing at the screen than trying to explain it over the phone or in an email.

Communication breakdown

What if you've gone through all the steps—clarified vocabulary, used screen shots to illustrate a problem, set up a face-to-face meeting—and things just haven't clicked? Maybe your developer takes forever to return your calls, and then talks above your head and seems to relish it. I’ve heard about one web developer who wouldn’t take feedback if it came from a woman and ignored it until it came from a man instead!

You wouldn't accept that sort of behavior from your accountant, and you shouldn't take it from a web developer either. Sometimes you need to find a new developer to get the project back on track.

A long-term relationship

Ideally you and your web developer will cultivate a long-term relationship. If you communicate effectively—and even enjoy each other’s company—you can work happily together for years as your business grows and your website evolves. That’s a worthy goal to have in mind before you add a new developer to your team!

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