Hiring a Kick-Ass Webmaster in 2017

Hiring a Kick-Ass Webmaster in 2017
January 27, 2017 Kris McCaslin

For many small business owners, hiring a webmaster can be a stressful task. If you haven’t experienced what it’s like hiring the wrong webmaster, just ask around. It can be an absolute nightmare. With the wrong person working on your business website you can experience anything from unresponsiveness and missed deadlines to data loss and catastrophic website failures.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s agree on what a Webmaster is. Wikipedia.com states that a webmaster is simply a person that is responsible for maintaining several websites. I believe that this is a little too general for 2017 and if you do the proper searching and vetting of potential webmasters, you can easily find several to choose from that offer a myriad of services outside of just traditional website maintenance and design. Services such as search engine optimization, mobile optimization, custom programming, video editing and graphic design.

Now we’ll get into the 4 steps for identifying that perfect webmaster for your business:

Step #1 – Determine Your Needs

Before we can begin scouring the web for potential webmasters, we must first identify which skills we would like in our webmaster. Now that we’re in 2017, it is very common to find individuals that not only possess a high level of skill regarding website development and maintenance, but people that also can handle your graphic design needs (both print and web), internet marketing, social media marketing and technical support.

I’ve personally worked with many clients that originally contracted me just for website maintenance but then needed me to help them with securing their office network, troubleshooting email deliverability and even setting up computer systems for them. The more skilled and flexible your webmaster is, the more you’ll be able to get accomplished in less time and for less money than if you hired out separate people for each type of task.
Consider what type of software is being used by your website. Many times I’ve seen clients struggle with the previous webmaster because he or she wasn’t skilled in that exact technology used by the website and/or web server. As an example you wouldn’t want to hire a webmaster that specializes in Microsoft servers running .NET when your website is hosted on a Linux server running PHP, or vice versa.

You also will want to consider what a reasonable turnaround time is for your requests and if you prefer to be able to reach your webmaster via phone or if email will suffice in most cases. Typically you should be able to get a response from your request within 4 hours or less and unless it is a large project you need completed, most website updates should not take more than 1 business day to complete. If your current webmaster takes longer than 1 day to respond to your request or if it takes him or her more than 1 business day to complete a simple task, it might be time you hired someone new.

The last thing you will want to consider is if you would need someone local. Many times you can save money by hiring someone that is out of State, or even out of Country but be aware of the time zone differences and communication barriers. Is it worth the extra few bucks you would be saving if it takes 300% longer to get the job done right? You might also want someone that can meet with you at your place of business.

Step #2 – Start Your Search

Now that you have listed your criteria for selecting your new webmaster, it’s time to start searching for and identifying the best candidates. Beyond the obvious option of going to Google and searching for “your city” + webmaster, the following is a list of other great sources for finding a solid webmaster:

1. Facebook Groups
Facebook has become one of the best places to search for quality local webmasters. Many times the top professionals in this field are members of user groups on Facebook. Many times you can contact the moderator of the group and have them refer their best recommendations for your needs.

2. Indeed.com
To find your webmaster on Indeed.com, you simply post your webmaster position you need filled and receive multiple submissions from highly qualified candidates based on your job criteria. Just be aware that you may have trouble finding the best local provider, if that is what you need.

3. Upwork.com (formerly oDesk.com)
This website may be worth checking out if you definitely don’t need a local webmaster. I only recommend using this site if you have the time and patience on working with people overseas that may be challenging to communicate with in English. You can save some money on hiring one of these people but with the possible risks, it may cost you more in the long run.

4. Webmaster Forums
Another great way for finding quality webmaster talent is by searching webmaster forums. Just search in Google for Webmaster Forums (add our city or state if you need someone local) and browse through several of them. You will start to see that in forums, the people that are providing the best solutions to user questions are really the cream of the crop. If you find a few candidates on the forum, simply join the forum and send those users a message.
I recommend putting a list together of at least 10 potential candidates to interview. The more time you have to spend on hiring your website, the larger your candidate pool and the more selective you can be when it comes time to hire one of them.

Step #3 – Interview Each Candidate

Phone interview each webmaster candidate

Now that you have your list of 10+ potential webmasters for your business website, you will want to schedule a brief interview with each of them. I highly recommend that you do a phone or voice call via Skype as your interview. This forces the individual to answer your questions on the fly and it will give you a much clearer understanding of that candidates knowledge level and communication skills.

To help with his process, I’ve put together a list of 10 questions you should ask each webmaster candidate:

1. Can you please send me a list of past client references?
Possible candidates should be more than happy to provide a list of clients, either past, present or both. If they hesitate at all or make an excuse about keeping the privacy of their clients, then simply move on to the next candidate. It’s important to not only see what the candidate has worked on but also to hear from other website owners regarding their feedback for the webmaster candidate.

2. Which web technologies are you experienced using?
This is also a very important question. As I stated before, you want to be sure that your webmaster is proficiently skilled in the technologies used in your website or would be able to state clear benefits for migrating to another technology. Also, it’s quite common to find a webmaster that is a jack-of-all-trades. Someone that can not only handle your website updates, but also graphic design, SEO/SEM, PPC management, social media marketing and much more.

3. What would be your recommendations for updating my website?
Trust me when I say this. You’ll get 10 times more value out of a webmaster that not only can help you when you request it, but also someone that can quickly assess your website, understand your industry and provide recommendations that would improve website performance, search engine ranking and customer conversion rates. Make sure they tell you how they would optimize your content pages for the highest SEO value as part of their answer to this question.

4. What is your plan for handling security and downtime issues with my website?
Now that we’re in 2017, now more than ever website security is absolutely critical for your business. You need to ensure that your customer data is kept secure and that your website safe and protected from malicious attacks. Depending on your business and traffic, being down a day can cost you thousands and even tens-of-thousands of dollars in lost revenue. Your webmaster should have a clear plan for maintaining backup archives of your website, an uptime monitoring system and a rapid response method for bringing your website back up in case of failure.

5. What sources would you use for acquiring images, media and content for my website?
You want to make sure that your Webmaster has access to paid license image libraries such as Stock.Adobe.com or iStockPhoto.com or Fotolia.com (among others). Your new webmaster must have a clear understanding and respect for copyright laws. Being on the same page as your new webmaster right from the beginning regarding the use of copyright material will save you a lot of time and money in the long run.

6. Will you provide a signed, written contract agreement?
I’m still constantly baffled at the number of small business owners that have had nightmare experiences with bad webmasters and hired them without a written and signed contract agreement (here is a great article that provides contract templates). If the candidate is an experienced and professional webmaster, they should have absolutely no problem providing this for you before the work ever begins.

7. Are there any places where I am currently wasting money?
A great webmaster should be able to easily identify areas of your website and internet marketing campaigns where you are overpaying, whether it is on monthly web hosting, SEO software packages or internet marketing campaigns. Many of my clients I’ve been able to save thousands of dollars per year in fees they had no need in paying and provided no value to their business.

8. What is your hourly rate, billing increments and payment methods accepted?
Many webmasters require a minimum of 1 hour of work, sometimes more. Find out that your candidate charges and if they will do half hour or quarter hour increments for your tasks beyond the first hour. Beware of webmasters requiring an up-front payment for small to medium sized tasks requiring less than 20 hours of billable time. Also make sure the webmaster will be sending you an invoice when work is completed, how often the invoice and which methods of payment do they accept for their invoices. Many times the invoices will provide an additional level of tracking the history of updates to your website and marketing campaigns and it’s just good business to do.

9. Do you charge more for working after-hours or during holidays?
This can become important if you have a high-traffic website or need something urgent completed before a deadline that may be running into a major holiday. Knowing up front any additional costs for this type of work will help you determine the priority of your tasks and if something can wait until the next business day. Also be sure to ask if there are any percentage penalties for past-due invoices.

10. What methods are available for contacting you?
I personally accept messages via Skype, LinkedIn, Facebook, phone calls and emails. If it is more than just a quick question such as a formal request for a website update, I also ask the client to send me an email including their request, for both of our record keeping. A good webmaster should be available via phone but most times it’s better to schedule a call with them, than trying to reach them via phone at any time. Many times I can’t take a call but I will call the client back as soon as possible to discuss their needs.

Step #4 – Pick The Best Candidates and Negotiate Terms

Create a text document for each interview and take notes on all of their answers to your questions. Then once you’re done with all of your interviews, it’s time to go back and start reviewing your notes. Sometimes there will be a clear cut leader and you’re happy with their rates. But most times you’ll have 2 or 3 candidates that all are in the running. This is where doing some negotiating can help you select the right webmaster for your website.

One strategy is to ask if they are flexible with their pricing and make an offer just under their current rate. Don’t go too low as this will most likely insult them and they will simply pass on the offer and be on their way. Also let them know if you’re offer that you would like to start with the slightly discounted rate for a short amount of time (1-3 months) while you see how well you both work together and the quality of their work. Many times you’ll find that Webmasters will be willing to give you a small discount in the beginning of the contract in order to secure long-term, consistent work.

Once you have selected and hired your webmaster, make sure that you get a signed written contract agreement from them with a term period of the agreement, the prices and responsibilities. Also keep in touch with your other top candidates. If something happens and your agreement falls through with your top choice, it will save you a ton of time going back to your notes and reconnecting with those other top webmaster’s you interviewed.

I hope this article is of some help to you in your search for the best webmaster. If you have questions or would like to share a funny story about a webmaster you hired, please submit it in the comments below:

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