By Andrew Neitlich

Another post about lousy service in the web design/dev field

By Andrew Neitlich

It sure would be great to go just one month without having to rant about the lousy service your colleagues (and perhaps YOU) provide, but frankly this seems unlikely.

I now have three web designers/developers working with me on this project, specifically to back up one that has become unreliable.

I found the other two after pouring through tons of responses from a Craig’s List ad, most of which were great portfolios for music, fantasy, local floral stores, and pretty much anything but a professional business site — not to mention the most annoying, slowly downloading Flash intro pages.


Now the two new folks are starting and this is their first impression:

Designer One: I’ll take a look at your specs this weekend.
Me (on Monday): Did you look at the specs?
Designer One (Sounding depressed and hung over): No. The weekend was really busy and I’m finishing up something now. Give me an hour and I’ll call you back.
Me (Three hours later): Still waiting.

Me to Designer Two: When can I look at something?
Designer Two: I’m not sure. I’m trying.
Me: Trying what?
Designer Two: I’m trying to work on it as fast as I can.
Me: Right. When can I look at something?
Designer Two: I’ll email you as soon as I have something….

Look: I want to know that I am a priority. I want to know when I can expect to see something. If you can’t tell me that because you are so creative, at least tell me that you are working on it, that my business is an important priority to you, and then ask me when I want to see something.

Otherwise, I could care less about who I hire, and will treat you all as commodities, a dime a dozen.

By the way, this does not apply to one designer I work with, who you might know as RaveDesigns on Sitepoint. He is prompt, professional, and responsive, and I refer him to my clients again and again, and keep working with him.

So it’s not 100%, but it sure is pervasive!

  • I’ve found that the type of people who advertise and find their webdesigners via craigslist are usually bottom feeders (people with very low budgets or people with very low experience / professionalism). You might want to try searching locally for someone who has a reputation with your colleagues. It might be a little more expensive, but it’s probably worth it. :)

  • cholmon

    I think this pervasive lack of professionalism is endemic to this industry (web design/dev) b/c there is virtually no barrier to entry. Anyone with an ISP, the most rudimentary development tools, and the slightest interest in the subject matter can advertise themselves as “web developers”. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely takes time and brains to be able to design a good looking site, or to build a databse-driven site, but it takes a lot more than a bunch of acronyms and pretty websites in your portfolio to be truly professional. The soft skills of a designer and/or developer are arguably more important to a project than the languages and software packages they have under their belt. Time management skills, communication skills, and general organizational skills are the things that seperate a professional from a waste of money. It’s easy for a designer to say, “Oh sure, I can do that for you in 2 days”, but if he cannot prioritize his tasks, a drunken weekend can easily postpone a project. If a designer does not know how to properly estimate his skills, a project will very quickly run over the deadline. Soft skills make up the glue that holds the the hard skills (programming languages, software packages, etc) together.

  • Thanks for the heads up. I get a lot of business from clients that have been fed up with their previous developer. Unfortunately some people figure that they are so talented and neglect the most important part of the business THE CUSTOMER. Courtesy, communication and common sense can go a long way.

  • In my experience, the easiest way to avoid these problems is to get vendor contacts all lined up before project needs arise. This kind of problem happens when people take the “go out and buy one” mentality with professional services (of any kind).. they need a designer/writer/dentist/whatever *now*, and so that’s the primary consideration – “Can it get done *now*?” Then they want cheap (or free), and then they want super flexibility to the point of insanity, and then they get angry because a month later they’re not millionaires.

    (Not saying that you did this, Andrew.. just saying that I see it a lot, particularly with prospects/clients who were allegedly “burned” by prior vendors, but who in fact just didn’t know what the heck they wanted.)

    When people impulse-buy services like that, they inevitably settle for lowest-bid-willing-to-promise-anything-for-a-gig vendors who will tell them what they want to hear. The good vendors won’t be able to take many rush projects, because they’re busy. They’re scheduling their work and they’re in demand. When a project comes up, you want to have that relationship already warmed up and ready to go.

    Yeah, there’s plenty of lousy service out there, but with the low barrier to entry, there always will be. Best way to fight it is to find the good ones before you need them, build relationships, and then hold onto them tightly and never let go.

  • Robert, I agree 100% – ((they need a designer/writer/dentist/whatever *now*, and so that’s the primary consideration – “Can it get done *now*?” Then they want cheap (or free)). I have had a few customers who need it “now” but don’t know what they want, then agree to a design/technology, then change their minds, then change their logo, then change the design, then add flash, etc. and then ask why it can be done in 4 hours!

    I need to learn to stick to the scope and train my clients to do so as well. The customer needs to know the timeframe for getting a task done, and the designers above should give that information and stick to it. Also, customers need to realize that designers/programmers don’t click a button and have a site built/designed. I’ve had a few clients who thought like that also.

  • I suppose the biggest problem that web designer/developers have today is that they think clients are buying websites. They’re not.

    Clients buy people, services, and results. I realize this, and have gotten nothing but the best from my clients. If I’m going to be late, I call and explain why – although that’s a rareity.

    To solve this, I suggest that you start working with local designers. People you can meet with. I’ve found that the reliability of those who actually meet with you is tenfold those who do business over the phone or by email (I don’t do busieness by email, no one should).

    So I suppose you’ve learned the bad way. The way many people do. (This may not apply to you) They’d rather spend a nickel hiring someone who sucks and doesn’t get it done than spend the dime and get someone worthwhile.

  • demb: scope creep can kill you. when working with clients, i make sure to put together a thorough project document and get sign off from all the top decision makers. the sign off document basically says “this is what you are getting, no more no less”. once they sign off, any changes are additional enhancements and will cost extra.

    i understand andrew’s frustration here. i’ve dealt with that same frustration with much larger vendors who are difficult to work with because they a) don’t answer their phones, b) don’t define scope very well, c) don’t do the work properly the first time… and so the list goes on.

    from the point of view of someone looking for a designer/developer to work with, i’d say the best thing to do is, as was suggested above by Robert Warren, develop a close working relationship with several vendors. have lunch with them every few weeks to touch base, know what their strong points and weak points are, get to know them personally. once you’ve developed that relationship, you have someone you can trust to handle the work when s/he says s/he will. yes, this is going to be more expensive, but you get what you pay for, right? very few times will you find someone willing to work for peanuts that will do a reasonably good job within your timeframe.

  • drakke

    Just out of curiosity, what is the norm in hiring a web designer – hiring over the web (virtually) or hiring someone locally?

    Are most of you clients someone you meet in person?

  • I aggree with Robert, having known a vendor list before you need one will be beneficial for both parties. I have one client that does that technique, he just said he need one then he did’nt require any demo code nor he tried to haggle just laid down his requirements and paid in advance. He was satisfied and I was satisfied also for his pay.Trust has been established before hand.

    When acquiring services it would be beneficial to do a background check especially if it’s on the web. Get his name and email search it on google.

  • Just a thought….

    Maybe it’s time for a Web Developer Certification Board – an organization tasked with certifying individuals for professional web development – similar to other professional fields.

    This wouldn’t prevent uncertified individuals from getting jobs as technicians, but it would ensure that every “professional web design” company is certified as such.

  • You shop in craiglist? I thought that was for penny-pinchers, but now I might take a look! :-)

    On a related note, I’m expanding my business and wondering what marketing channels (Craigslist included) freelancers and web development companies use to grab business (or look for to get help and assistance to their current work). Andrew, if you don’t mind, i’ll post the link:


    And it’s a shame about these lowlifes. HOWEVER, we get ALOT of customers that come to us FROM these guys, so in a way they drive us business!

  • aneitlich

    I very much like transio’s idea, and think Sitepoint’s editorial board should consider some sort of certification program. There’s an analogous organization in the mgmt consulting world that offers a certified consultant program that has been successful (and a good source of $ for them)

  • There are some professionals still out there…

    I just received a phone call from a prospect that said they were sorry they couldn’t return my voice mail message on Friday, but were calling to let me know they were preparing for an upcoming trade show and would get back to me next week when they had more time to focus on the new website.

    I was so impressed with this level of professionalism. To take time out of their busy schedule to call us and let us know their current situation demonstrates there are still professionals in our midst.

  • Lars

    Andrew, you

  • In simplistic terms “You Get What You Pay For” and Legitimacy comes with a price. If a business owner is in position to Invest in an online business intereface they should invest the time to research potential web development “vendors”. The business owner should question what are the discrepancies between a high price vendor and a low price vendor. They should settle on what level of business to business interaction they will be comfortable with. If it is a non contracted but verbal agreement with the neighbors high school kid, The business owner should be prepared to handle any issues that arise from the situation. If the highschool kid puts unauthorized copyright material in the website. The business owner will be the one to face legal action. If the business owner wants a stable vendor, contract, schedule and a guarentee of craftmanship then the business owner will need to spend the money on the overhead of legitimacy.

    As far as the certification issue: This is not as much about the web development knowledge as it is about business knowledge. Their are already web development certifications available. A Legitimate web development company should be incorporate or limited liability. At the very least a common local business liscence.


  • Here in the UK, we have the UKWDA (UK Web Designers Association) where we have to behave to a set of guidelines in order to ensure that WE web designers do not give the industry a bad name.
    I too am having problems with clients paying up the deposits, confirming design styles etc, and it is always us chasing them !!!!.
    Anyway as I have a lengthy background in Customer Services I think my ‘soft skills’ win me contracts when I meet prospects as I have experience in face to face negotiations / customer service.

  • If your have a professional that you use and recommend – why aren’t you using him?

  • Dorsey

    I would like to add that in my area (New York metro), many small business were burned by jumping into web sites several (four or more) years ago, and paying too much for too little. They had their lawyers or accountants recommend a “web developer”, often a junior family member, with zero professional system design experience. Now, they’ve got outdated, expensive technology to maintain and are extremely wary of being stung again. I’ve had people tell me that they’re not going to waste more money on another d*** web site when they haven’t gotten anything from their current site. This being the NYC area, there’s often more that is not fit to print.

    Interestingly, those same people who would have had a building contractor jump though hoops before awarding a contract just to build a birdbath, have signed away thousands of dollars without doing any homework at all. Unfortunately, this has closed the market, or at least their minds, to those of us equally as professional as those lawyers and accountants.

    I want fair pay for a fair piece of work, and it’s difficult to explain to a small business what goes on behind their web pages (consultations, design, configuration, documentation) that justify the higher prices. As someone once said: “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it”.

  • Jake

    You say it’s difficult to explain what goes on in the back-end, so how do you explain that? I mean, I know several people who don’t have a clue what it takes to put a simple site together!

    I don’t know about the rest of you, but it takes me a whole day to put together the layout for a site! And then I end up changing it many, many, many times before the site is through. Which we all know means changing graphics, doing cross-browser checks on every little css change, etc. It’s not as simple as just putting together something for print. But most people don’t understand all that! They seem to think… “Oh, well all they’ve gotta do is through together a design and put some text on there!”… riiiiight :-)

    Anyway, how do you explain to people why it takes so long (more than a day or two) and costs so much?

  • Jake,

    One idea: consider doing a PDF brochure that explains in detail exactly what is involved in producing a solid, quality website for your clients. Something very, very clear and presented in terms of business benefits to the client (browser compatibility testing = more reliable site for a wider audience, longer shelf life, fewer maintenance problems, etc.) Offer it for download off your own site as an information piece. When the question comes up, boom, you have a prepared answer, which reassures your client that theirs is a totally reasonable concern. If they say that they don’t want all those features, make it clear that you’re only willing to scale down so far, because professionally speaking you’re not willing to deliver substandard goods. Done right, it presents you as a client advocate.

    Yeah, some won’t read the PDF, and some won’t care – you’ll always have a class of prospect who simply refuses to recognize the value of a professional service. There’s really nothing you can do about that except decide whether you want them as clients. Doing a service sheet will help you recognize them better and more quickly.

    Just a thought. :)

  • Yi

    I agree with cholmon. I have seen too many self-claimed designers who are actually experienced “Dreamweaver” users.

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