Almost every day I hear from frustrated business owners and managers who just can’t get a timely response from their web developers. Responding to these type of scenarios is one of the ways that my company, Cogeian Systems has built a reputation in the industry.
First, let me say that I know what an awful situation you’re in, and I’m sorry to hear of it.
Second, the answer to “what do I do?” is: it depends on the severity of the issues and the degree to which your web development team is unavailable.
Let’s unpack that.
Regarding availability, “web developer is unavailable” could mean anything from “they can fix it tomorrow” to “they stopped returning my calls 3 weeks ago”. Take a moment to make sure your expectations are reasonable. It’s 100% unreasonable to expect your developer to be able to respond to every tech support request as though it’s an emergency. For the purpose of answering your question, I’m going to assume you’re dealing with a legitimate emergency and that your expectations are 100% reasonable.
Regarding issues, saying that your website is “having issues” could also fall along a wide continuum ranging from “I hate the font color” to “our entire domain is 404ing”. Again, take a moment to make sure you’re assigning the proper degree of urgency to the issues.
Should your web developer take care of your issues? Absolutely. Does the severity of the issues inform how urgently your web developer respond? It sure does.
So, here’s what you can do. If you have urgent issues and your web developer is unavailable, you have to find a new developer – and fast! Do this:
- Contact the local competitors of your incommunicado developer and tell them an opportunity just arose, if they have the capacity to handle an urgent job.
- Reach out to friends and business colleagues who have had web work done and ask them to connect you with their developers.
- As a last resort, you can try finding someone on Upwork (or similar freelancing sites).
It’s a bit of a dice roll if you’ve never done this type of outsourcing before; there are some truly excellent providers on freelancer sites, but figuring out who they are and learning how to work with them that way takes some practice.
Once you have a new developer, there are three absolutely crucial pieces of information you must provide in order for your new developer to quickly understand what’s wrong:
First, what happened? Be specific.
“The site displayed an error message”; provide the error message.
“The About page won’t load”; provide the exact URL.
“The sidebar is popping up above the menu”.
Second, what were you trying to do when it happened? Again, be specific.
“I had just input my username & password, then clicked Submit”.
“I clicked on the About link in the main menu”.
“I filled out the Contact form, but hadn’t clicked Submit yet”.
Third, what should have happened instead?
“The site should have logged me in & showed me my control panel”.
“The About page should load and display our new team photo’.
“The Contact form should have saved the submitted info & sent me an e-mail”.
Congratulations, you just achieved “Favorite Client Ever” status for providing the classic three critical elements of a bug report.
In addition, you should have all the login info required to access every part of your website stack:
- Domain registration
- Web hosting
- WordPress/CMS logins
- FTP addresses & accounts
If you don’t have this info already on hand, your problems with your web developer go way deeper than their availability.
Once you have a new developer on the case, you need to trust them and give them room to operate. I know, I know, you’re not in a trusting frame of mind at that moment – you’re frustrated, you’re feeling like you’ve been burned because your old web developer is unavailable right when you needed them, you’re running short on time, and you might be running low on budget. You are freaking out.
This is exactly the kind of scenario in which it’s in the best interest of all involved to turn your trust up to 11. You have a developer on the case who was willing to take on an emergency job; this itself is a beautiful thing. Give them a minute, and let them have the space they need to help you.
I’ve been in these situations time and time again here at Cogeian Systems – I get called in like Winston Wolfe to lead my team SWAT-style into the flaming bowels of a web or software project that’s in-crisis, with money, time and patience all being in short supply on the part of the clients. Not once can I think of a scenario in which having the client hovering (figuratively AND literally!) and breathing down our necks helped us to help the client. I can, however, think of several emergencies that were made even worse by that sort of thing.
Once the fix has been made and the situation has passed, you have a decision to make – are you going to give your old developer another chance? Are you going to make the new developer your go-to? Are you going to give up on the headaches of all this web stuff and go back to publicizing your business solely in the Yellow Pages? In the wake of an emergency situation, you’re going to feel a lot of pressure to make decisions. But, here’s some advice:
Instead of deciding on the spot what to do going forward, consider this:
- Give yourself permission to catch your breath.
- Give yourself permission to wait until you’re not emotionally inflamed to start considering any decisions you need to make.
- Be open to the idea that you don’t necessarily have to make ANY decision.
You chose your existing developer for a reason – remember that. Even though that web developer is unavailable in this case, if you feel like the relationship is salvageable and is worth salvaging, have a talk with them. See where the two of you are in terms of your outlook on technical support, both emergency and non-emergency. But if this unavailability is more than a one-time thing, and is damaging your business, you have to cut that developer loose.
Also talk to your new developer. Again, see where the two of you are in terms of your outlook on technical support, both emergency and non-emergency. Bear in mind that you’ve already seen what they can do in a real emergency, and they saved your hide.
It might be in your best interest to negotiate a Service-Level Agreement with whichever web developer you decide to work with going forward. You’ll pay for it, of course, but in exchange you’ll know exactly what is and is not reasonable to expect in a support scenario. My web development company has this kind of an arrangement with a few clients, and it can work very well.
And in the end, maybe you just play it by ear. But please…wait until after all the flames have been out out and your website is no longer smoldering.
Many organizations deal with disappearing freelancers, and Cogeian Systems can help you save your at-risk or abandoned custom software projects the right way. Contact us today to save your project.