Find Web Developers
Find Web Developers

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Top Ten Things to Do Before Hiring a Web Developer

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

Before approaching web developers for estimates on building your new business’s site, there are a few things you should think through first so you are fully prepared for the questions you will be asked. Here’s a list of ten things to be clear on before making that important next step:

  1. Be clear on your business plan. This may sound obvious, but it has happened where I’ve been asked to build a website when the potential client only had an idea of what they wanted and no business foundation planned out at all. Are you sure you have a viable business idea that will provide you with a reasonable ROI or is this more of a hobby that you just want to dabble in? It is important to be clear on your intensions of what you want to accomplish first.
  2. Be clear on your business name.  Make sure you have a registered business name before creating any of your marketing materials. It could be a costly mistake to have to go back and change everything if you find out your business name has been rejected.
  3. Be clear on the product you sell or service you provide. Ensure you are clear on the product or service you offer so your developer knows what site features and design will work best to enhance them. Ask yourself if they are digital products or systems or a service for hire? How many products and how are they sold?
  4. Be clear on your brand. This does not mean you have to have your logo already designed (some web development companies can also design your logo and other stationery/marketing materials for you as well), but it does mean you need to be clear on the message you want to give others about you and your business. This is actually not an easy or quick process but makes a significant difference if you are clear on this before moving on to anything else. Often the designer/marketer that you hire to create the visual brand for you can help with this process or I recommend checking out BrandU where they help you through your brand definition process step-by-step. Once done, you will be very clear on not only the essence of our brand, but also the “look” of your brand so you can simply hand over your results to your designer to create it for you.
  5. Be clear on what you want your website to accomplish.  A site that does not have a clear call to action is not going to be effective in fulfilling its purpose. When visitors come to your site, what do you want them to do once there? What is your primary call to action?
  6. Be clear on how you are going to get site visitors into your database. The odds are slim that someone is going to purchase from you on their first visit to your site, so you need to plan out a way to capture their name and email address so you can keep in touch with them on a regular basis and develop a relationship with them.
  7. Be clear on what features you want on your site. Will it be a static “brochureware” site with standard 4-5 pages or do you want something more dynamic with features such as a blog, calendar, search function, photo gallery, shopping cart system, newsletter system, membership signup etc.?
  8. Be clear on your budget. Your developer needs to know a price range that you’re looking at so they can recommend a site build that will fit within your means. Keep in mind that your website is your primary marketing piece due to it being accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You don’t want to skimp with such an important and prominent showcase of your business! Don’t be fooled by the cheaper template options or “do it yourself” applications out there where, unless you have studied the intricate nuances of how the Internet works, search engine optimization and effective layout design, you run the  risk of scaring off your perfect customers instead of attracting them!
  9. Be clear on website maintenance.  Once your site is built, who is going to maintain it? The reason why this is important to determine before your site is built is due to the different ways it can be built. If you want to be able to update the site yourself, then you need your site built in a CMS (Content Management System) platform. This will put your site design into a template where you log in to make updates. Now before you get excited about the thought of saving all that money on doing this yourself, consider these points:
    1. Do you know enough about content layout and copywriting to make an effective marketing piece that looks professional to your perfect client?
    2. Do you know how to optimize images so they don’t slow down your site’s performance?
    3. Do you have enough time to do updates to your site?
    4. Are you aware you can’t write off your time that you spend on doing things yourself where you can if you have a professional take care of the updates for you? As you can tell, I am biased on this point… the reason is from working with over a  hundred clients over the years, these points always come up and they soon find out that even though it seemed they could “easily” update their site themselves, it rarely turned out that way. I heard from many that were extremely frustrated because they were working in an environment and medium totally foreign to them. Meanwhile they were wasting valuable time trying to learn to be a web developer instead of spending it on getting clients! Mind you, some people are more computer literate and can pick up on the more technical aspects required and they manage fine; however, it is still important to learn good copywriting skills and understand what makes an effective website before going the DIY route.
  10. Be sure you do your research on who to approach. You want to find someone with experience and skill who will partner with you to help you build your business. You want to avoid programmers who only do exactly what you tell them as opposed to others who can offer ideas, suggestions and be a part of your  team to be there as a valuable resource when needed. Always ask to talk to their clients to see what their experience was working with the developer. Be aware of those that claim to be developers when in reality, all they learned was how to use a “do it yourself” software like Microsoft Front Page. The quality of your site – both in design and in how it is coded – is very important on many levels so ensure the person you hire understands how to design and build a quality product for you.

Choosing a Web Development Framework

Saturday, September 22nd, 2018

I recently had the opportunity to develop a small online booking system. This time round I was determined to make use of some development framework. Not for me the slow slog of writing all my code from scratch – surely we have moved beyond that now in web development?

The big question was – which framework to use? Since the advent of Ruby on Rails, development frameworks have become quite the flavour d’jour and there are now, well, maybe not thousands of them, but quite a few! The last time I heard there are about 80 development frameworks out there. I am not 100% user of this number, it could be a bit higher, it could be a bit more conservative (on the phpwact site you can find about 40 PHP frameworks listed). The point is, the web developer is now really spoilt for choice. Which is a problem in itself, since having too much choice can leave you dithering between different options.

This article is therefore about how I made my choice, which was CakePHP, and which factors I took into consideration.

Obviously, and certainly, I will get bombarded with “Why don’t you try X framework, it is really much simpler to use…” type responses. That is quite OK, to each his own! But this is the choice I made and I am sticking to it. Frankly, the idea of going through another learning curve gives me the heeby-jeeby’s….

I found that the selection criteria were not independent. In other words, once I have ruled out some frameworks due to some specific criteria, other factors came into play. It was therefore more a process of elimination than judging all the frameworks off a predefined set of criteria.

The first major selection point was: Ruby on Rails or not.

Obviously there is the attraction of using a brand new, hip, buzz-word hyped framework. You can’t go wrong with something that is getting so much attention… or can you?

Let’s look at some of the selection criteria that filtered out Ruby on Rails

1. Ease of installation and ability to run on shared hosting The problem is that most of my clients make use of a shared hosting environment. Can Ruby on Rails run on common-or garden variety type shared hosting? The answer was, I soon discovered – no. One needs to either have access your own private servers or run on a shared hosting environment that has Ruby on Rails preinstalled. Admittedly, there are a couple of them now starting up.

2. Minimize the learning curve Even though I knew that any new framework will involve a steep learning curve, I really did not have the guts to go through TWO learning curves – one for the language itself and one for the framework. I might still have been prepared to go through the learning curve though if it wasn’t for the fact that RoR requires special hosting.

So basically the decision was: Not RoR. And based on criterion 2, I decided to stick to a PHP framework, and not go for something else based on Perl or something else since I’ve been developing in PHP for the past two, almost three years. Having said this, it is all very well to say that CakePHP allows you to use your PHP skills – because it is an object oriented framework/MVC based framework it has its own rich language infrastructure. You still need to learn the CakePHP terminology and the learning curve is pretty steep!

3. Ability to run on PHP 4 Although PHP 5 offers more object oriented features, once again, not all shared hosts offer PHP 5 out of the box. I decided that I wanted to stick to a framework that will offer backwards compatibility and enable me to run on most of the servers that I, as well as my clients, host on.

My further criteria came down to:
4. Must have good documentation Under good documentation I count the following:

– User manual

– Examples and code snippets

– Screen casts and videos – although I do not see these as essential

5. Good support by the user community This, in combination with formal documentation is absolutely essential. All of these frameworks are pretty young and the documentation is also constantly evolving. Some documentation might be patchy in details. This is where the user support in terms of the community comes in. How active are the forums? Is there a bug tracker? Any other informal tutorials, write-ups, comments, blogs and other support?

6. Regular upgrades and bug fixes..but not so close to each other that the software becomes unstable and unusable. Backward compatibility is also important.

Version number of the software can be used to indicate maturity.

The following frameworks are quite popular (2007):

  • CakePHP
  • Seagull Framework
  • WACT – since ‘disqualified’ since the latest version now requires PHP 5
  • Zoop
  • CodeIgniter

The next step was a bit less scientific – but still fitted in with point 5 – how well is this Framework regarded? How much support does it generate in the ‘community’.

I scouted through forums and followed links and surfed the net and tried to get a general feel – and overall, CakePHP did seem to come out tops. A similar check that one can do is the following – do a Google search for each of the frameworks and see how many results are returned. This will give you a good idea of the general support, number of tutorials, number of forum posts and general ‘talked about’ factor for the specific framework. The results for this exercise can be seen here: http://www.tm4y.co.za/cakephp/ruby-on-rails-popularity-for-web-development.html

In summary therefore, the support for Ruby on Rails and the amount of information available for it is astounding and you will probably not go wrong if you decide to go this route. But if you want to stick with a PHP framework – CakePHP seems to be the route to go!

Use Joomla CMS for Web Development and Manage Your Content With Ease

Friday, September 21st, 2018

It’s important for businesses to have a feature-rich and user-friendly website to score well on the internet. Since a lot of opportunities and prospects generate online these days, every business will thus need a website to realize their potential in true sense. The website in question should be powerful and functional to help your business get an edge in the market. So, you will need to first choose a proven content management system (CMS) or platform and then hire an expert to get the website developed. The platform should be rich in features and functionality to ensure success to your business.

At present, there are a variety of software packages available for building, organizing, managing and publishing content for web-based applications. Most of these software claim to bring great results for websites, blogs, mobile apps and intranets in more or less the same manner. However, you should be careful in selecting the one as you will need a platform that suits your needs perfectly. Among the list of available options, Joomla is one such CMS, which brings an award-winning platform for web development. It has scalable MVC architecture and therefore considered quite helpful for building web applications. It is also packed with features for quality web development.

More so, Joomla is an open source multilingual CMS platform that brings support to 66 languages and helps in creation of websites in multiple languages. With this kind of language support, any business can enhance their reach and get to cater a much larger and wider audience across the world. Furthermore, this platform enables simple and easy updates, and in fact, brings to the domain the much-envied feature of “One Click Version Update”. More so, it has an integrated help system so that users at every level find it easy to manage and operate this platform.

In addition, it brings the Media Manager tool to let files and folders be uploaded, managed and organized in a simple manner. Its banner manager option creates the prospect of adding advertising and monetizing the website as it’s now easy to create campaigns and add banners to get clicks and impressions. Similarly, it has features that help in adding of several contacts and categories to make websites a rich source of information. Not to forget, it also brings the feature of built-in smart search feature so that visitors to your website never face any issue in searching any information.

The best thing about Joomla is its wide range of features of content management which makes the task of managing your content a cakewalk. Creating and editing content has gone extremely easy and breezy, and it’s now simple to publish the content with just few click alone. What’s more, frontend editing is now a reality and there is absolutely no need to log into the admin section for doing any changes to the content. In a sense, managing content is not tough anymore and Joomla has added more simplicity to the entire content. So, you should select the right platform for your web development projects to realize your business goals.