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12 lessons for outsourcing website development

12 lessons for outsourcing website development

12 lessons for outsourcing website development

When I tried to take the easy road to get my website developed, I learnt many lessons the hard way. Surely outsourcing website development couldn’t be that hard, well so I thought!

Outsourcing the development of my vision for a real estate website was painful, expensive and almost broke me. I had to learn many lessons and I hope you never experience the wasted time and money, as well as frustration. Here is my story and the lessons I learnt as a result of the experience.

Birth of our online business

Let’s turn the clock back to 2015 when it all started. My partner and I had a dream for a new online business to advertise rental properties. Our motivation was financial freedom and a desire to contribute to a market which was looking like a duopoly with two big players who were over priced and consumers who wanted greater variety. So we came up with a name and started developing our idea.

The first problem, both of us knew nothing or very little about web development. Sure I had studied programming many years ago, consulted as a database designer, and run my own computer training company. All that experience, really only provided me with a naive background in the basics. This meant I had no confidence and experience in developing a full web site.

Attempt 1 Outsource website development overseas

My partner discovered an online website where you could link up with developers from around the world. Instantly I was relieved. Yes, outsourcing website development is the perfect solution. Let’s hire an overseas developer for a reasonable price and get the project done instantly. This is fabulous!

All the time, I was thinking this is fabulous, memories of a Shark Tank episode kept replaying in my head. There was this one show where one of the Sharks, Steve, ripped into a tech company because they had outsourced their web app development which was their core business! “Shut up, Steve” I said to myself and ignored the warning!

What’s the saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!” The mistake started with who we hired, how long we hired them for, and continuing to pay them when our product was inferior to what we had expected. In other words, the website didn’t work.

We had wasted thousands of dollars and had a useless website that didn’t do what we wanted it to do! Where did we go wrong?

Lesson 1 Plan thoroughly

If you are outsourcing website development overseas, plan thoroughly what you want developed including the main functions required and the systems and processes users will interact with including purchasing your service or product.

Lesson 2 There are no bargains

You know it – you get what you pay for! If you get a cheap deal up front, you will probably find yourself paying for each variation and adjustment after the initial product is developed.

I ended up paying more overall for each new function to be included, so it would have been cheaper to pay more in the first place. And I still didn’t get what I wanted! Remember lesson 1!

Lesson 3 Choose the right developer

When it comes to choosing your overseas developer, don’t choose the cheapest one. Communication is everything. If the developer doesn’t have the ability to understand you, then they won’t understand your project. You will ask for oranges and get apples. Also ask for samples of their work. No samples, let them go. Ask for references too and call them.

Watch out for the online feedback comments. Because sometimes previous clients are coerced to give a good review. Try using the additional services available on these sites to assist users to select an appropriate consultant to hire.

Lesson 4 Know when to call it quits

Set clear project milestones when working with an overseas developer. Then check thoroughly that the milestone has been achieved before paying for that milestone. If you don’t, you guessed it, you will end up paying for a web site that doesn’t meet your needs.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the developer. If they don’t answer your questions honestly and openly then its time to let them go.

Lesson 5 Use a project manager for big projects

If your project is a very large project, you may want to consider investing in an experienced project manager. They can assist you to break the project into smaller chunks and you could outsource the different chunks of programming to different developers.

While you still remain in control, you don’t make expensive mistakes with the expertise of the project manager beside you guiding you as the project develops.

Attempt 2 Hire a local developer

After suffering the consequences of outsourcing website development overseas, my partner and I decided to hire a local developer. Well not so local, they were from overseas, but had relocated to Australia and spoke fluent English.

It was a disaster! Like the blind leading the blind. It turned out this developer wasn’t really a developer.

They were desperate for money and I was so desperate to get the website developed that I didn’t read the signs until it was too late. They had never developed a web app before. And it was at this stage I learnt that what my business needed was a web app which is a lot more complicated than a static website.

I was taken for a ride, literally. The developer would show me some code, explain what it did. Then tell me what they were working on. If I asked too many questions they would get annoyed with me, like I was asking silly questions. I needed to trust them more!

The end result, is I got nothing for my money. The developer literally took off. Leaving me with absolutely nothing that made sense to any other developer. OMG! I couldn’t believe it that I had failed again! Why was it so hard to get a website, well web app developed?

Lesson 6 Set milestones

When working with a developer whether overseas or local, you need to set milestones and see tangible evidence of the work as it is being completed.

Lesson 7 Get advice from independent consultants

It’s worth the investment. Some consultants will do this for free. As your project reaches each milestone, get a project manager or other developer to review the work for you. Ask them to check if it is going to meet your needs.

We also went to free local Government digital workshops. There we were recommended to see a consultant about our website. The advice we received was invaluable and clearly highlighted that our website had issues.

Lesson 8 Read the signs

If the developer is avoiding questions, only showing you bits and pieces of the project, not providing detail and not asking you questions, then they are probably not doing what you want and don’t know what they are doing. Get rid of them and save your money!

Lesson 9 Keep control of your IP

Because I didn’t understand how to develop a web app, I lost control of my project. It was very easy for the developer to string me along and pretend they were achieving milestones when they actually weren’t. My ignorance cost me a lot of money. At least one director/owner has to know something about IT or you are asking for trouble.

Attempt 3 Do it yourself!

I know this isn’t a solution for everyone. But seriously, you can’t operate an online business and not understand web development. It took two failed attempts to outsource website development, feeling like an absolute fool, and two weeks of depression, to finally make me take action.

I went back to school! It was the only way to move forward and make my dream of owning an online business a reality. I couldn’t cry victim anymore. It was time to learn to develop a web app.

So that’s exactly what I did. I learnt PHP, MySQL, hosting servers, email servers, SEO, content marketing, word press, word press theme and plugin development, and whatever else I could to make my online business come true. Every time I didn’t know something I found a course and started learning.

Lesson 10 Be a life long learner

Learning is an ongoing journey and essential professional development for anyone who runs an online business. Every day, week, fortnight or month schedule time to learn. There is so much to be gained from understanding the technology your business is built on and where it is going in the future.

Of course, once your seed business takes off, you can hire specialists to take over the management of the IT. Regardless, you still need to keep control of your intellectual property, so understanding the technical stuff is critical. That doesn’t mean you have to do it, you just need to know enough to stop people from ripping you off and keep control of your IP.

Lesson 11 Ask questions

When you understand the technical jargon, then you ask the right questions and can focus on the important elements of your online business and its development. At first, I was focused on design elements, when I should have been focusing on the server requirements, security, online systems and user interfaces, and etc.

The range of questions to ask is endless. Before the project starts the focus should be on the most suitable software to develop the web site or app.

Lesson 12 Don’t give away your ideas

This lesson was a hard one to learn. I was seeking expert advice and looking to hire an IT company to develop my web app. I organised meetings with three different companies.

One of these companies sat down to discuss my ideas and I was asking them questions and answering their questions. They were probing into my ideas. And I was excited to share all my unique ideas about how my web app would work!

The next day, I received an email from the development company. They said they had a conflict of interest and they couldn’t do my project! I couldn’t believe it! No, I had shared all my ideas and they even took notes. Fool me!

So when you are speaking to developers just remember to give a brief definition of what you want in your web site/app, don’t give away your unique business strategies! Before speaking to anyone, get them to sign a confidentiality agreement. It will give you a little peace of mind.

Where to get help

At first it was scary and I was fearful to ask questions because I thought people would think I was stupid or they would steal our business idea. But I got so desperate to get my website developed I had to start trusting people. As well as seek out expert opinions to guide me and help prevent further mistakes and delays.

Local council business support

The Brisbane City Council provide a range of small business networking, digital business and small business events. I have attended several Business in Brisbane events and found them great sources of information and support. Check your state’s government site to see what support they offer.

Some of the consultants I use today were recommended to me by the trainers at these events. Often you get free services and I have taken advantage of these each time. The time spent with an expert is invaluable and helps you to move forward when stuck.

IT companies/consultants

Many IT companies and consultants will meet with you for free for a consultation meeting. I did this many times, knowing I was not going to hire the company now, but maybe in the future I could return the favour.

So when I had these meetings I went with a list of questions and sort advice about what are the options for achieving a goal, moving forward, or finding a solution.

To ensure I didn’t get confused, I took notes during these free consultative meetings and I asked lots of questions. At the end of the meeting I acknowledge that I couldn’t afford their services now, and I think I’m not ready for them yet, but I wouldn’t forget their assistance.

Of course, liking them on Facebook and following their feeds was another way I showed my appreciation.

Online training

I mainly use two online learning sites, Udemy and Coursera. The courses on these sites are reasonably priced and cover everything digital. Of course, when selecting courses make sure you watch the previews and read the reviews.

With Coursera, you study with universities all over the world for a monthly fee, which is a fraction of the price if you went to university. Also, you can audit courses, which means you get access to the learning but not the assessments and its free. Udemy courses are usually on sale and I think the most I have paid for a course is $29.

Business in Australia

The site provides support for businesses in Australia. There is an encyclopedia of information available on this site to help small business owners.

Business coaching

Hiring a business coach can help guide and support you during the enduring process of starting an online business. ConnectEzy provides intuitive business coaching services for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Coaching provides that one-on-one support at pivotal moments in the journey of starting and growing your business.

A final thought

My experience with outsourcing website development was very stressful and in the end I decided to develop my own web sites. Today, I outsource small projects, but I manage them and choose to do so to save time and money. However, there are some projects I do not outsource because they are too important to outsource, meaning their directly related to my core business.

Written by Lynda Galway for

© Open4rent Pty Ltd, 5 December 2019, All rights reserved.

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