In case you missed it, AWOL is military language for Absent WithOut Leave. And if you've never had a web developer or designer just disappear on you, consider yourself lucky.
In fact, go ahead and write your current developer and/or designer a thank you note right now – if they've been available and communicative. Show them a bit of appreciation.
But if you've been in this situation, or if you find yourself there now, here are five tips to help you navigate your next steps.
First, Don't Panic
I know that's easy to say, and much harder to do. But here's the thing – when you panic, you make poor decisions. You know, like leaving 42 messages on their phone or in their inbox.
You'll regret it when you discover they're on a plane, stuck in another country, or had previously told you (which you forgot) that they were on vacation at a resort without wifi.
Stay calm, give people the benefit of the doubt and start communicating in a healthy way, bringing us to step two.
Second, Communicate Objectives
Designers and developers are people too. So your communication with them should be clear and helpful. Remember, you're staying calm, so don't resort to threats or other silliness. Remember that they may still have access to your domain records, email accounts, and hosting servers.
So threats can really backfire.
Later in the series, I'll share with you some tips on how to protect yourself from these situations.
But assuming you're in the middle of it, and haven't prepped for it, your job now is to be really clear about what you need in terms of the next steps.
- Do you need files?
- Do you need artwork?
- Do you need funds refunded?
When you're clear, while being polite and professional, you have a chance of helping your developer or designer get unstuck and start interacting with you again.
Third, Do Some Reflection
The last thing you want to do is recreate this situation with your next developer or designer. And the only thing common between all those situations may be you.
So take a few minutes, before you look for a replacement, to see what you can do better.
- Were you clear in your communication about your expectations?
- Did they know how often you expected to get updates?
- Are you taxing the relationship by calling everyday and now they're hiding from you?
- Do you keep changing your mind, creating new requests, without adjusting your budget or timelines?
- Do you like phone calls? Maybe they don't.
- Do you work best with emails? Maybe they don't.
- Do you need to meet with people in person? You get the point.
Let me be clear. I'm not blaming you for this situation, but I'm saying that if a person is really hiding, if they've really gone AWOL, it may be them or it may be a natural response to you.
Some reflection will help you make some quick and easy adjustments to ensure that your web developer or designer won't go AWOL.
Fourth, Get Some Personal Recommendations
You know you need some help. There are a lot of ways you can get some help, but your best bet is to mine your own network. Find out who is happy with their developer or their designer and has experienced longevity with them. Then ask them for a referral.
It's the best way to know that the person you're going to work with is proven and has a track record of communicating the way you need them to.
If you skip the personal approach and run to oDesk or a site like it, expect that you'll soon become the project manager. If you have that kind of time, and the expertise to manage that resource, great. Most people don't. So they don't go that route.
I have a lot of friends who know WordPress, for example. If you want to hit them up, check out my list.
Lastly, Pay Well
I know a lot of people don't have a clue what a website should cost. Just yesterday I was talking with a person and highlighted that what they needed (and the sites they often liked) could cost anywhere from $25,000 – $75,000. Now, to be clear, not all sites are like that.
But you'd be amazed what it costs for a business to run a business. They don't do it for $100. They don't even do it for $1,000. So why would an online business suddenly cost $2,000? It likely won't.
I'm not saying waste money. I'm not saying just throw away money. But I am saying that it's worth having a few conversations and doing some research before you get anchored on a price. That way, when you interview your next developer, you have a clear sense of what you should expect to pay.
A lot of times I discover the reason a developer or web designer goes AWOL is because they think to themselves, “This project isn't worth it.”
Now, that's not a good way to run a business. But they're not the first or last person to ever determine their level of effort based on how well they're incentivized by money.
When your web designer goes AWOL, know this…
You can actually pull this project back from the pit of despair.
Sometimes a calm conversation can get the project back on track. Sometimes you need to re-look at scope to see if you've potentially bit off more than can be chewed in the timeframe allotted.
Maybe it's a simple case of miscommunication. I worked on a project where I was working under the assumption I was a “resource” to help someone else, and they thought I was doing all the work. A simple phone call cleared things up.
But that's why I started by recommending step one to you. Stay calm. Be respectful.
I was once on a plane when someone left me 6 messages. They had indeed forgotten I was travelling.
And I've been on the side of someone disappearing on me.
Tomorrow I'll share with you some tips I've learned for handling the initial scope and contract.