What should the customer know about your pricing (e.g., discounts, fees)?
My projects usually start with a free face-to-face or telephone consultation. Then I typically write and email a Proposal Document that demonstrates my understanding of my prospect's needs and estimates tasks, costs and scheduling.
Depending on the required complexity of a project, I often present "Project Phases" in my Proposal Document. In these cases, I require a 50% deposit of the estimated cost to start each Project Phase. The next proposed Project Phase does not start until my client is satisfied and approves the current Phase.
In this way, the client's financial risk is minimized, yet I receive some funds to keep me going during the development period.
Of course some projects are too simple to require that amount of paperwork, so then a simple agreement by email is sufficient, and that saves the cost of preparing a full Proposal Document.
What education and/or training do you have that relates to your work?
Website development is very dependent on high-tek tools and infrastructure. And it evolves faster than most professional disciplines.
That means a web developer is constantly learning new methods, as well as searching for and mastering newer and better tools and resources. Fortunately the World Wide Web is not only the venue for websites, but also the source of new learnings and tools and of sharing with other pros.
How did you get started doing this type of work?
With one foot in the Digital Art world, a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) degree and one foot in online geekdom, it was really pretty natural to connect my creativity, visual skills, teaching, business experience and writing skills - by developing websites.
Because I've always made my hobbies and interests into my "work", I've seldom had to "hold down an uninteresting job". That is, "work for a living".
When you work for yourself, like me, "work" should be very much like "play". Otherwise what's the point? If it's no fun, than it's way easier to just be an employed working droid and leave your problems at the office than to actually run your own business. Running a business is not easy.
What types of customers have you worked with?
My typical projects involve either creating a new website from scratch or updating an existing website that has begun to look old-fashioned or is not being an effective business tool for the owner.
Describe a recent project you are fond of. How long did it take?
I won't build a website I can't be proud of. But one of my most recent projects was a special joy to build. It's a website for the owners of a community oriented Organic Farm. They invite their Members to request what will be grown each season and they supply local restaurants and homes with fresh Organic produce - including heirloom mushrooms and seed stocks.
It's a movement I can really get behind and the website owners couldn't be nicer folks. In fact 99.9% of my clients are a joy to work with.
What advice would you give a customer looking to hire a provider in your area of work?
1. Look carefully at the websites they have built.
Were they creative?
Did the website persuade you?
Did you understand immediately where you were, what you could do there and why you should do it?
2. Talk to their references.
3. Pay close attention to how well they really listen to you, understanding your needs and goals and providing helpful feedback and innovative suggestions. Are they talking about how to make your website successful or just selling you on a job?
4. Providers should be willing to give preliminary advice and help for free. That goes a long way toward showing that the really want to help - even if they get nothing in return.
If they won't do ANYTHING without charging you, then they are putting their interests way ahead of yours. The best providers want to help you, not just make a profit off you. They enjoy what building successful websites and love to talk about it, profitably or not.
What questions should customers think through before talking to professionals about their project?
I wish that more customers didn't think "If I build it they will come". Building a website is really the easy part, although doing it really well is more of a challenge.
Getting sufficient visitors and then converting those into long-term business relationships is the hard (but critical) part.
Without Online Marketing, building a website is like writing the Great American Novel, putting it in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean. Remember, there are literally billions of web pages competing with yours and all are fighting over the available prospects.
I've also seen a few clients ruin their websites with a self-destructive attitude that says, "It's my website damn it! I want it built exactly how I want it built! - Don't tell me I should build it the way my visitors will like it best!"
For a successful website, you must have a deep understanding and appreciation of your niche market prospects and what their exact needs are. "Find a group in need and supply an exact solution to their problem" is the holy grail of website success. "Stroke your ego and publish that instead" is the road to online failure.
Visitors simply don't care about you, who you think you are and how great you say your company is. They care only about what you can do FOR THEM, to solve THEIR problem.