What to do if your web developer disappears on you
The disappearing web developer magic trick happens more often that you might think. All too often, a developer is contracted to build or enhance a site, but ends up disappearing somewhere during the project. Unfortunately, this can happen on just about any project, big or small; high dollar or not. The disappearing web developer trick isn’t limited to individual “freelance” developers either. Project abandonment happens with large development firms as well. Let’s take a look at how it happens, give you a few tips on how to prevent it, or recover from it, if it should happen to you.
It usually starts with good intentions
A developer is contracted to build or enhance a website for a client. A few meetings transpire, in which the client tells the developer what they want, and the developer comes back with the things that they’ll do in order to complete the project. The project begins with the usual 50% paid up front. Things seem to be going well, but then the dreaded web developer disappearing act begins.
The days are going by painfully, and the client not only is in a state of unrest over the project, but slowly realizes that they really have no idea whether the developer is actually working on their site or not. A couple emails go back and forth, and the developer reassures the client everything is going well, but doesn’t produce proof that work is really happening. Feeling helpless, the client is forced to let a couple more days go by.
Days turn to weeks. Still no progress…
The client now begins to get a little anxious about what’s going on. Those knots in the stomach begin to form as little is heard from the developer. Another email or two are sent over, asking about project status, and a request to see some signs of progress.
What they receive back is somewhat reassuring… Screenshots of the new homepage (supposedly from the site), along with a note that “the site is on an internal development server, but the project is going well.”
A couple more weeks go by. Did the web developer disappear?
By now, as you can imagine, the poor client is really nervous. it’s been about a month, and the project should be well under way, but there’s still nothing to show for it. The project may even be nearing the projected completion date and there’s hardly a word from the developer.
Oh no! The developer is MIA!
A couple more emails later, and the web developer says it will be done on time, but now the client isn’t so sure. They’ve paid out a big initial deposit but are still empty handed…
Sound familiar to you?
These horror stories can take many forms. Whether it’s the developer taking the initial deposit and disappearing, possibly doing a little work and then losing interest, or leading the client on to believing that work is being done, but disappearing before anything is really produced, the story all has the same ending… An absent web developer that won’t return calls, answer emails or produce the agreed upon work.
Perhaps this has happened to you, or someone you know. Getting abandoned leaves an awful feeling. Anger and frustration often ensue, but not all is lost. Even though the original developer has abandoned the project, here are a few useful tips to help you out of the mess:
Can the “web developer disappearance act” be prevented? If so, how?
To some extent, you can put measures in place that will lessen the likelihood of the vanishing web developer act. For instance, letting the developer take the reins and drive the project is the first thing that you should avoid. While they may be good at what they do, you are still the one with the vision and the plan, so you should provide the direction. Besides, they’re working for you, right? We’ll go into detail on more preventative measures in an upcoming blog post.
Tip: Start your project off on the right foot, and keep “new project momentum” by clearly stating your expectations, set measurable objectives, and establish your preferred communication method. Also set the expectation that they report their work and provide results at specific times as a requirement.
Question: What requirements have you set for your web developers (or staff in general) that have worked to make projects flow well? We welcome your input in the comments below.
Collect all the emails between yourself and the developer concerning the project along with documents and receipts for payments made.
Having all the documentation is really important. You’ll want to have everything for both legal purposes as well as when you look for a reputable firm to come in and pick up where the original developer left off.
Tip: Print all emails and digital documents and keep them in your own directory or folder. Also, it’s a good idea to take a screenshot of emails with dates and timestamps in the header and save to disk. If you had phone conversations with the original developer, write down dates and times and what was discussed during the conversation.
Question: Do you have a documentation strategy that works? Let us know about it in the comments.
If you have access to the hosting provider and website, make a backup and save it. You will want to have a backup of the site as it sits when the original developer left. Even if something happens to the site or server, you’ll have the backup for the next company to restore your site from.
Tip: Always require backups during the development process for both new and existing sites. It is best to ask if your developer uses a web hosting company that creates nightly backups so work will not get lost. You also will want to ask them to provide backups are specific periods during the process.
Question: Have you ever had a moment when you needed a backup of your site? Tell us what happened and what you did to solve the problem in the comments below.
Put your best foot forward
Seek an amicable solution with the original developer before seeking legal action.There cannot be enough said about giving someone the benefit of the doubt. Although you will not continue work with the original developer, if you are able to mutually agree that the project is dead (for whatever reason) and that the developer will turn over all work to you without court involvement, that is always the best way.
You may or may not be able to recoup your monetary loss, but at least you won’t have spend thousands of dollars in legal fees either.
Tip: Many developers will be helpful in closing a connection in exchange for a good review on Yelp or similar review site. This is excellent leverage for a peaceful and amicable termination of contract.
Question: Have you ever terminated a contract with one of your vendors that went well? How did you do it, so there were no hard feelings?
If your web developer disappears, all is not lost.
In my next ‘corePHP’ blog post, I’ll take a more in-depth look at the early warning signs that indicate whether a web developer may disappear on your project. I’ll go over some of the situations that are common when one does vanish, and what you can do to avoid being burned by the all-too-common “disappearing web developer.”
I’ll also go over what you can do to salvage a partially done website after a developer goes missing in action so all your efforts and what money you did spend aren’t lost.
Your comments welcome! Please comment below if you would like to add anything that you think is worthy of inclusion and relevant to this article.
Photo credit: OneShotOnePic | Photo illustration: John Coonen