Lessons From Interviewing Web Development Firms

I recently had the opportunity to sit at the other end of the table and interview six different web design and development firms.  As the owner of a little web development shop, I'm usually the one being interviewed for a web development job, trying to convince the potential client that I'm the right person for their needs.  To be the client for once was a flip in mindset, and was a very educational process.  What I learned probably sounds like common sense, but of the six firms that we interviewed, only one nailed every point.  Here are my take aways, a list that I'll adhere to as Enlightened Pixel continues to grow:

Show up early and be ready, the client should not have to wait on you.

A team that where every single person is ready to go at the time the meeting starts has made a great first impression.  Even if one person out of four is late, it breaks up the flow of the meeting and introductions have to be made again.  Being right on time isn't good enough because it means there will be a few minutes of dead time while you set up your laptop, get settled, etc.  It's not a deal breaker to be right on time, or to have one of your team be a few minutes late, but it hurts your overall impression, and you're already behind a better prepared team from the start.

The first impression is very, very important.

If we had made our decision based solely on the first two minutes of each meeting, our ranking of the six different firms wouldn't have changed, almost as if the rest of the meeting was just confirming what we already knew to be true.

First and foremost, be friendly, acknowledge everyone in the room with a smile and eye contact.  If you're focused on getting your laptop setup for the presentation and ignore the client in those early moments (see my first point), you may have already lost the job.  The client should like you and want to work with you from the start.  Ideally, the client walks into the meeting, you are set up and ready to go, and a very natural and friendly introduction can be made.

Don't wing it.

Show that you want the job and that it's important enough to have spent some time on prior to the meeting.  Know the client and imagine their individual needs, anticipate their questions.  If we've brought you in for a potential job, we are already past the point of a casual conversation.  Anything but a polished presentation on what you can do for us is a deal breaker.

Don't criticize the current site.

We know it could be better, that's why we brought you in. Criticizing, or making fun of the current site is both unnecessary, and even offensive. Obviously, point out how you'll improve the site, but do it tactfully.

Don't talk just to talk.

It was way too common for someone to try and answer a question with endless babel.   They always ended up looking bad.  Show you know what you're talking about with answers that are clear and as concise as possible.  If you're prepared, answers will be clear and concise.  If you're thinking on the fly, answers ramble on, and the client simply tunes you out.

Act like a team.

It's very frustrating to listen to members of a team talk over and correct one another.  Each member should have a purpose and be able to answer questions in their realm of knowledge.  I don't think this is something that you can practice, I think it's just happens naturally with a strong team.  It's equally frustrating when the owner or leader of the firm tries to answer every question, almost as if he/she doesn't trust what his/her team will say.  If I'm going to be working with you, I want to know that your team knows how to work well together.

A longer proposal isn't a better proposal.

If I have several proposals to look through, I don't want to wade through 40 pages and rehash the entire history of your company, the state of the web, etc, blah, etc. I'm looking for the proposed cost of the project, and the timeline. Make sure both pieces of information are clear and up front. Make sure the design of the proposal is up to the same standard as your web design skills.

You can bid too low.

A bid that is too low feels cheap, like you either didn't give enough thought to the task ahead, or that you are of a lesser quality. It's a red flag.

Ideally you want to be towards the top of the range. If you've presented yourself as the best and most professional company for the job, it is expected that your price will reflect that. If you bid too high, perhaps out of the budget of the client, and the client really wanted to work with you, they'll give you a chance to make adjustments.

This is an area that I've gone wrong in the past, both in hourly rates and in fixed bid pricing. I have bid too low because I really wanted the job. In reality it made me look cheap, like an amateur. It's better to have confidence in your service and skills, and price accordingly.

Written by Alex Brinkman who lives and works in Denver, but plays in the mountains.