“Squid ink” Web Developers: How to Hire, Evaluate and Fire the Geeks In Your Life!

 When teaming with web developers, you must stay in the driver’s seat to protect your business and online brand. Here’s how.

I have been working in the web space for over 13 years. (My son calls it the Dinosaur Age. Thanks honey!) Recently, I was onsite with a client, helping them with a Findability Alignment. This involves aligning the company with online prospects’ behavior, then crafting the company’s web presence from the ground up. Strategies include customer profiling, keyword brainstorming, content generation, and conversions by page. The goal is to create a total prospect-centered web presence for the company.

Next, I prepared for our two-day training event. Prior to these events, I always call the web design/development agency the client teams with or is considering bringing on board. In this case, my clients had recently selected a developer to build their new website. They told me he came highly recommend and works with high-profile companies.

Now, I’ve been around the block – remember, since the Dinosaur Age. I’ve met hundreds of web designers/developers when I worked with Yahoo!, while attending search-marketing events, and when teaming with my clients.

Right off the bat, this developer struck me as egocentric as well as narrow-minded in our preview call. He spelled Trouble, with a capital T. I called my clients and recommended they do not invite him to our training, because it could limit our ability to have a productive day. After speaking with the developer – not once, but three times(!) – and consulting with a business coach, they assured me he would participate and collaborate.

The developer was on his best behavior and everything was going great – until lunch. We hit his “sweet spot” of keyword generation, and he went sideways.

Instead of collaborative, he got combative!

During our morning session, he had created a spreadsheet of favorite keywords, but he wasn’t willing to share it! Needless to say, the situation escalated from there, and the clients asked him to leave. We regrouped the next day and finished outlining the entire site. Oh, one more thing: My clients left with a plan to interview new developers.

What happened here? Why do I call this “squid ink”?

When chatting about this bizarre incident with my husband, he described it like a giant squid. Now I’m not an expert in giant squid, but apparently they come in fast and spew ink all over the place.

“Squid ink” developers purposefully cloud the client’s judgment with smoke-and-mirror strategies and big words.

Typically, clients are overwhelmed and feel insecure, because they are “inked” with impressive jargon and designs. Unfortunately, many also swallow the large price tag!

How do you prevent this from happening to your company and set up a relationship that keeps you in the driver’s seat at all times? Here are two guidelines to hire a web-development firm that will partner with you to achieve your online business goals.

Guideline #1: Beware of the word PROPRIETARY. Just run the other way 

A proprietary system or software tool means the developer built the system from scratch by his or her own hand. They are the only ones who can update it, and you will pay them forever to keep it up and running.

They hold the keys to the car. You are not in the driver’s seat. If your relationship with this developer goes sideways, what happens? You must find another web person who can literally hack the current system and make it work.

What’s the solution? Ask for open source tools when interviewing website designers/developers. Here’s a great definition of open source:

“When a software program is open source, it means the program’s source code is freely available to the public. Unlike commercial software, open source programs can be modified and distributed by anyone and are often developed as a community rather than by a single organization.” (source: http://www.techterms.com/definition/opensource)

For web design and development, open source options include WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla. All three are well respected and highly search-engine friendly. In addition, they offer a content management system (CMS), which enables you to easily make content changes. This is key to sustainable infrastructure. Choosing one of these open source tools is a smart choice for your new website and ensures you can move from developer to developer or hire an in-house developer.

Guideline #2: Don’t be caught empty handed! Create a file with all passwords.

Last week, a client told me they had argued with their web designer/developer and decided to part ways. They discovered they had NO passwords! Next, the designer just disappeared. Yikes!

Think of this as an Internet insurance policy for your online brand. Get a file together that has the following:

  • Hosting logins and expiration dates for the credit card on file
  • Expiration dates and logins for your domain registrar information
  • All social media logins and account names
  • SSL certificates’ expirations dates
  • Admin logins to the web site
  • Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools (this should be under your Gmail account not theirs)

Remember, you must stay in the driver’s seat to protect your business and online brand.

Always keep your company’s needs front-and-center when working with web development firms and consultants. Unfortunately, some firms aren’t looking out for your best interest – they are looking out for their bottom line.

  • If they intimidate you, don’t hire them.
  • If you don’t understand their jargon, ask them to define it.
  • If you are not clear about the deliverables, ask them to clarify the process and outcomes.
  • If you are simply writing a check to make all that technical stuff go away, then I strongly recommend you stop and take a breath.

There are plenty of great website designers/developers out there, ready to help you energize your company’s online presence and increase revenue. I encourage you to take time to find the right match for your business. When you select the right team member, you can ensure you “own” your online presence, and you will stay in the driver’s seat.


  1. This is great information and will save people a lot of time, trouble, brain damage and money. Great post, Heather! Thank you. I’ll be sharing this with my clients.

  2. Heather, this is really helpful information. I love the metaphor of squid ink. I’ve seen that happen so many times. Thanks Mark – it helps to have a description of what’s really happening!

  3. Heather, this blog post could not have been more timely! I’m sitting here with an inflated quote for a custom website and wondering what my options are. Squid ink! Your guidance has helped me see clearly what my next steps should be. So grateful.

  4. fabulous info Heather … I have forwarded this to my Admin and told her to get the “file” with all the logins, expiration dates etc. Squid ink it tis … and then there is getting hit by the bus!

Your email address will not be published. All Fields Are Required

Skip to content