Don’t Even Ask: 10 Questions To NEVER Ask A Web Developer

Developers are the people that build websites. They do myriad things, from writing front-end code (HTML, CSS and JavaScript) and back-end code (PHP, Ruby, Java, Python… the list goes on!), to project management, database maintenance, and deployment. Some freelance developers even act as web designers.

As a client, it can be hard to know how to ask the right questions of your developer, and also what to expect when you’re working together to create a website.

This is a list of 10 questions you should never ask a web developer, with some advice on how to handle each situation, and just a little snark on the side.

1. “Can you do this for free?”

Budget can be a difficult subject with any project, but nobody should ever be expected to work for free!

In most cases, being a developer is a person’s primary occupation. And even if it is a hobby, a developer is hired because she has a particular set of skills that the client does not have. Those skills and the time spent are worth money.

If you’re a client and budget is an issue, work with your developer to find a balance between what you need done and what you can afford. Free is not an option!

2. “Can I pay you after the work is done?”


The client and the developer are essentially strangers entering a business agreement; how does the developer know he can trust the client to pay in full?

As a developer, this is asking to be taken advantage of. There is no guarantee that you’ll be paid after you’ve completed a project. Even if you don’t launch the site and hand over the files at the end of a project, think about all the time you spent working for free, essentially.

And you know how we feel about working for free!

At the very least, you should require that a percentage of the full amount be paid up-front; anywhere from 10% to 50% depending on the job. This shows that you are professional and take your work seriously. And if the client backs out or disappears, the monetary damage to you is kept to a minimum.

3. “Why is it so expensive? My friend said they can do it for only $X.”

It’s true, every developer charges differently depending on the needs of the project and the time involved. But every developer also has a different set of skills, and you need to know what you’re getting for $X.

A developer that charges a lower rate may have less experience and may not really understand the work required to build and launch a website. In this case, it’s likely that the developer will go over time and over budget, and you could end up spending even more than what another more experienced developer would have charged.

If you’re looking to keep cost to a minimum, it’s important to ask your developer a lot of questions. Has she made a clear and concise development plan that includes all of your requested features? What types of technologies does she plan on using to build the site? How will you update your own content? How will she launch the site and continue to deploy changes?

4. “Can you just give me the code and I’ll do it myself?”

This goes back to what I said earlier about how a developer has a specific set of skills that the client does not have. The client hired the developer to do work that he is most likely not capable of doing. The client shouldn’t assume that he’ll be able to dive right into the code and understand it!

What you’re also hiring when you hire a developer is experience. Your developer has probably seen it all: nasty bugs, hosting problems, broken code, missing files… you name it. She has the experience to deal with these problems efficiently and the skills to keep the project from getting derailed by one simple issue.

5. “I don’t have any content yet. Can you just build the site without it?”

Content helps to define the layout and design of a website. A designer or developer needs to know how much text to account for, what types of headers or taglines you plan on having, and even the size, quantity and style of images.

Sure, lorem ipsum placeholder text and dummy images work fine, and one can argue that their use is industry standard. But they are no replacement for the real content that your users will see every day.

The longer development goes with dummy text and images, the more likely it is that adjustments will need to be made once the final content is added. More adjustments means more time and more risk that the project will go over-budget.

6. “Can’t I just buy a WordPress template?”

Sure, you can buy a WordPress template… if you want a cookie-cutter site design with no unique functionality!

WordPress templates are designed so that people with no design or development skills can get a blog up and running with minimal effort.

However, chances are that your site is not just a blog. Your site may be for selling your handmade jewelry, or offering online cooking classes, or managing your town’s community events. In all of these cases, a pre-made WordPress template just won’t do!

Things like allowing people to purchase goods, take online classes and register for events require custom functionality that goes beyond a pre-fab WordPress template. A developer can create a template from scratch that is customized to fit your needs.

Even better, she can work with a designer to create a unique design for your site. So instead of having a design that’s also being used by any number of other sites, your site design is just for you!

7. “Can you make this one small change really quickly?”

Oh, the dreaded small, quick change. Almost never small or quick!

How can the client really know how much time and effort a change will take? And why is the client assuming that the developer can drop everything to make the edit?

Developers tend to focus on one task at a time, and it’s difficult to hit the pause button and temporarily switch to another task, especially if their current task is something like building out a large feature or fixing a particularly nasty bug.

If you’re working with a freelance developer, it’s likely that he’s working on multiple projects simultaneously and has very specifically planned out his work schedule for the week. The day you make your small change request may be a day that he’s already planned to work on another project.

Respecting your developer’s time and schedule is important. Instead, state as clearly as possible what you’d like changed, and ask your developer about response time.

8. “Can you just make my site look like [insert other site here]?”

This one is for all our designer friends out there!

If you ask your designer to simply copy another site, it defeats the purpose of hiring her in the first place!

As a client, you’ve hired a designer to create a unique and beautiful style for your site that sets it apart from all the other sites out there. It’s a waste of your money, and frankly, your designer’s time to steal the style of another site.

Did you notice that word we used? Steal? As in plagiarize?? That’s something the Internet at large notices. If your site becomes more widely known, people will start to wonder why your site looks so familiar. You may even be violating another’s site’s copyright. That is not the kind of publicity you want!

The best thing to do as a client is to choose what parts of the other site you like. Maybe you’re drawn to the color scheme. Maybe you like the shape and size of the buttons. Maybe you like the nav layout. Whatever it is, those are the things your designer should try to incorporate into your site’s unique design.

9. “WAIT! It doesn’t do X?!?!”

Assumption is a dangerous thing!

You should never assume that your developer knows all the features you want to include in your website. Just because the majority of sites have a contact form doesn’t mean that your developer will create one for your site by default.

Make sure your developer has a detailed list of all the features you want to see on your site. Seriously, the more granular the better!

If you’re a developer, ask lots of questions while creating your development plan and document every feature your client wants. It’s much easier to know everything ahead of time than to go back and trickle in surprise features!

10. “I decided I want to change everything.”

Okay, so this one isn’t really a question, but it’s a statement that no developer ever wants to hear.

While it’s okay to want to change the style, layout or functionality of your site (or all three!), as a client you must understand that this most likely falls outside the scope of the initial project outline. This means lots of extra time, work and money, and your developer reserves the right to charge extra for these new changes.

As a developer, there is no way to fully prevent this from happening, but you can minimize the likelihood by having a successful planning stage for the project.

Of course, having a contract that clearly outlines how you will handle work that falls outside the scope of the project is important, and will help to minimize disagreements and awkward conversations in the future.

Emily Davis

Emily is the Director of Engineering at Skillcrush as well as the Product Development team's Scrum Master. Fun fact: she was Skillcrush's first full-time employee!

When Emily is not at Skillcrush (which is most of the time), she can be found practicing yoga, playing Zelda or wrangling her wild child of a daughter Ramona.