How to find the right strategic web development partner to help grow your business
A major website project requires a lot of planning. You need to evaluate the tactics and resources needed to meet your launch date, but you also should be planning on how to select the right development partner to ensure that your initial investment in a site launch continues to pay dividends as your business evolves.
In my last post, I detailed key steps in building a strategic plan for your website investment and evaluating your internal team’s bandwidth in terms of staff hours and skill set. If you conclude that you do need some additional help, your next decision will be if you want to source the project as a one-off initiative or build a relationship with a web development partner.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of various sourcing models for your project, what you should look for in a strategic web development partner, and how this critical decision will ultimately impact the return on investment (ROI) for your investment in a new site.
The three basic staffing models
The first question you have to answer is how you want to add needed resources to complete the project.
New internal team members
Hiring new staff to tackle the project is always an option, but that requires long-term planning. After launch, the site will need to be maintained, which needs much less capacity than building the site. A new staff member will have less to do after beta and go-live. Remember, a full-time employee is not a variable resource, and flexibility is vital in sourcing the lifecycle of your website.
In general, adding a new development FTE to support only a website project is a bad idea. Hires need to be justified with time earmarked for other development or operational initiatives.
Vendors or contractors
Vendors and contractors offer the flexibility of variable sourcing. They provide the service, and then after launch, they scale down or move on.
But your site isn’t going anywhere. It’s an ongoing project that will last five or more years, with bursts of activity as you add new features and revenue channels. Without a web development partner, those new features are a potential resource drain as you search for new contractors and onboard them.
Strategic web development partner
A strategic partner is a third-party provider that anticipates potential issues and has a vested stake in the success of your business. Such a partner can be considered part of your team without being permanently employed by your company. With some limited ongoing engagement – think regular status meetings or managed hosting services – they can be treated as a variable cost with a well-defined ROI. And partnerships can offset other expenses, like the time and effort required to scope vendors to handle new projects.
What to look for in a strategic web development partner
If you decide to work with a strategic development partner – which we at Mugo Web think is the right call for most organizations – you need to find a partner that will truly become an extension of your team. That requires a good bit of homework about how the partner conducts their own business and how their culture matches how you operate daily.
Beyond evaluating their technical expertise to execute your project, you should look for the following attributes in a strategic web development partner.
A partner should work to understand your business
Ideally, your partner should have expertise in your business. Even given that, your team should not be the only ones asking questions during an interview with a potential partner. In addition to the immediate technical goals for the project, the potential partner should ask about how your site fits into your marketing and product development plans and your internal team’s current skills and bandwidth.
Just as important, a partner should understand the business drivers behind the project and how you expect the website or feature to impact your bottom line. This is often called “alignment,” and it’s the essential baseline that a true partner will rely on to add value.
Don’t just ask for references – ask your potential partner how they helped refine or expand a project to add business value. Then interview the reference about those citations and why they have continued to work with the candidate. Note my assumption here that the references will be for existing client relationships. If the candidate refers you to a past relationship, you’re probably talking to a vendor, not a partner.
By all means, do check out the candidate’s portfolio for relevant projects, and if they can’t provide such examples quickly, that’s a red flag. Relevant experience is essential, but ultimately the candidate’s experience will make itself evident through the specific diligence they run on your project.
Growth curve for the strategic development partner
Ask about the potential partner’s current stability and growth plans. Their profitability is an important aspect, but it’s not the only thing to consider. Are they looking to add more expertise in the technologies that are important in your market? You want to work with a company that is currently profitable. You also want to be confident that a partner will grow to be in step with your plans. You need to be confident that your partner will be able to take on your next iterative project without delays that will hurt the effort.
This is a grossly undervalued criterion when selecting a web development partner. You don’t need to worry about the day-to-day execution of your partner’s work (that’s an employee). But you also don’t want the project to be a black box, where the developer comes to you every couple of months with major roadblocks that should have already been resolved.
Transparency is key. You and your partner should have regular status meetings, and you should have access to key project tracking systems. Progress against milestones and deadlines should be visible to everyone involved. Both you and your development partner need to be flexible when the unforeseen arises (and it will), but this flexibility needs to be based on a clear understanding of the project’s expectations and guidelines. You should feel vested in the process.
Willingness to challenge assumptions
You hire a development partner because they know what they are doing. As I said earlier, if they don’t suggest at least a couple of noticeable revisions to your initial plans, you’re likely looking at a vendor, not a partner.
When a partner gets fully immersed in the project, they will likely discover details – both technical and business-centric – that challenge some core assumptions. Perhaps your customer personas are incomplete, or your clickstream analytics have been faulty. Your partner needs to be willing to address such concerns immediately and not simply plow ahead with the current requirements that might ultimately not meet your business needs after launch.
Cultural and personal fit
It’s tempting to focus on only technical expertise when choosing a development partner, but ultimately business is conducted by people. It’s best for everyone if those people get along. I’m not talking about being fans of the same sports team. It’s a matter of respect and professionalism, which are a reflection of the partner’s corporate culture as much as the individual team member’s personality. Those attributes can vary dramatically in different organizations.
A big part of your partner’s value is challenging assumptions and providing candid feedback. How they communicate that information can be the difference in whether or not such feedback has the intended results.
Strategic web development partners help you make the most from your investment
Here at Mugo Web, we view ourselves as strategic partners in our customer’s business. We believe that’s the best model for working with a developer, particularly on a long-term investment like your website. The first step in building such partnerships is a lot of homework to ensure that your partner understands your business and shares your philosophy. From there, clear communication and a focus on a transparent development process will help ensure that ongoing investment in your website will help your business grow.