For Developers, Listening is an Essential Skill

Simple Really Means Simple, and Trying to Look Professional Online is the Wrong Goal.

We will start our discussion with a question posted on a LinkedIn group:

I need to develop small pro looking web sites for my custs.  On avg. they will be 5-10 pages of gen info. No blogs, shop carts etc. Any recommendations. I heard good about Joomla and Drupal.

If you need a Web site, is this the type of question you might ask? Or, if you are a developer, do you have clients asking this type of question?

I took three lessons from this question and the responses it generated: Fit the solution to the problem, be aware of what the prospect does not understand, and discern the value the prospect places on your service.

Let’s look at each in more detail.

Lesson One: Fit the solution to the problem.

In that LinkedIn thread (which the original poster has since deleted) a number of people jumped in with their favorite Content Management System (CMS) recommendations. Joomla, Drupal, and Wordpress all had their supporters, along with a variety of others.

Those Content Management Systems are fine choices, but in this particular case, they would have been overkill—like using a sledgehammer for a finishing nail. Understand, I love each of these systems, but for different uses.

When a user is looking for the utmost in simplicity—not features—there are some platforms designed to do just that. Here are a few:

  • Textpattern is a powerful CMS designed in such a way that the end-user never needs to see the complexity.
  • OnePageCMS is nearly the simplest CMS ever.
  • GetSimple CMS, was created precisely for the situation described in the original question.
  • MojoMotor, from Ellis Labs (of Expression Engine fame) is a simple system that lacks a control panel and has drag-and-drop pages.

Those are systems designed to meet the need described in the original question, and are better tools for this job than the larger CMS options that were touted in the discussion.

Lesson Two: Be aware of what the client does not know.

This original questioner, call him the “prospect,” thinks he needs a platform. What he really needs is a developer.

The prospect had no real knowledge of Joomla or Drupal. If he had, he would have downloaded and tested each CMS, and then asked entirely different questions based on his experience. ("How do I do this...?” and “How do I do that?") This suggests pretty convincingly that he lacks the knowledge to do the work himself. A developer will need to do the development, and then train the prospect on how to manage the sites.

And because prospective clients don’t know what they don’t know, it’s the responsibility of the developer to steer them in the right direction.

Lesson Three: Recognize whether the client values your service.

The original question was not geared toward creating professional sites, but toward creating sites that look professional.

The best way to get a professional Web presence is to hire a professional; it’s not by taking shortcuts—visitors to the site will not be fooled. Professionalism is not a veneer. It’s a way of life, a work ethic combined with a drive for excellence, and it shows.

When a customer asks for amateur anything that can pass for professional, they don’t value the work of professionals. And why does that matter? Those kinds of clients always suspect that they are paying too much, and they make the developer struggle at every step to justify fees.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a developer, look for one who will listen, help you understand what you are asking, and is able to make your ideas a reality. And when you find that developer, value his or her skills.

If you are a developer, really listen to your prospects and customers. Hear what needs to be created, be aware of what the prospect does not know, and be certain that you and your clients recognize the value of the services you provide. After all, when we do our work well, we make our clients a lot of money.

Dec 16, 2011, Larchmont, NY.

About the Author

Phillip Honstein is the founder of Emagine Engine, a Web Consultancy dedicated to helping clients turn big ideas into influential ventures through Responsive Web Development. Emagine Engine combines the ingredients of Entrepreneurship, Web Development, Web Hosting, and Internet Marketing into products and services that are in touch with each phase of Venture Development. Emagine Engine is a privately held and funded business located in Larchmont, New York, United States.