- Are you looking to use Magento for your next or new eCommerce website?
- Are you unhappy with your current website?
- Have you received an obscene quote from a “design company”?
- Do you have no idea about coding and been baffled by developers in the past?
If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, then to ensure you don’t get ripped off on your next Magento site build you’re definitely going to want to read on.
How to Avoid being the Next Victim
Magento is by far the best all-round eCommerce package available today, used by close to 30% of the top 1 million eCommerce sites . Magento is especially curious if you factor in your can also use Magento to sell on eBay and on Amazon at the same time at a fraction of the cost of other “multi-channel” software tools.
However, there is sadly a small number of companies out there that pretend to be experts.
They will tell you Magento can do everything you want it to, but then fail badly at delivering most if not all of it, while of course charging you a pretty sum of cash while you find this out.
This article will ensure that you don’t become the one of the horror stories you read about and sadly we’ve heard too many of those lately.
Knowledge is everything and if you spend just 20 minutes reading this article (Watch the video as well, being added shortly), you’ll be empowered with everything you need to know to ensure that your next Magento website build goes to plan.
No smoke, no mirrors, no snake-oil sales man will call. You’ll know everything you need to know.
If that’s you, read on.
What do you actually want?
That’s a serious question.
What do you really want from your Magento website?
Taking the time to write a project specification can be worth it’s weight in gold.
You might be thinking “project specification”, that sounds scary, but really it’s a bullet point list of features you’re expecting (see nothing scary at all!).
A very simple specification would be like this:
- SSL for the entire site (have budgeted £250 for a green bar ssl certificate)
- Can choose products to display on the homepage easily
- One step checkout (Have budgeted £150 for extension)
- 12 banners, 4 on the homepage and 8 for category pages
- Integrated blog (WordPress)
- Integrated Reviews via a 3rd party company (TrustPilot, Feefo)
- Customised transaction emails with full branding
- Training for staff
This might only be 8 points, a real-life specification commonly goes over 50 or even 100 points, but you get the idea. Actually write down what you want from the site.
Without an outline of any form, even a couple of bullet points it’s like standing above a man-hole cover, opening it and chucking notes down it.
Go to any bad design/development company and they’re going to think “sucker” and sap you for all your budget.
A budget is better spent on a small number of add-on extensions or maybe what really counts, the ongoing marketing of your website to drive customers to it over the long term so any investment made, is recouped as quickly as possible.
Matt’s Note: A specification will change over time. You might see a feature on another website that you want and then add that to the specification list. Also you might think you need feature xyz and then realise that it’s either already built into Magento or maybe that you didn’t want it at all. The point here is to have a plan, even if you deviate from the plan thats OK. At least you have some idea of what you want and can communicate this to others.
Dave’s Note – Things have a got a lot, lot cheaper over the past few years. Did you know you can buy an off the shelf fully responsive Magento website theme for just $99, here’s how: https://understandinge.com/course/designing-a-responsive-magento-website-course/
That kinda puts a £2000 or more website build into perspective.
Do you want to add in eBay or Amazon sites?
Did you know that you can also use Magento to sell onto eBay and Amazon?
Keep stock levels correct, process orders and inventory from within the Magento admin panel?
If you didn’t, you do now :)
Marketplaces are a very specific niche and any company offering you the “whole works” when it comes to Magento and the marketplaces should be immediately questioned.
For example it’s taken Matt over 10 years with the marketplaces, launching some of the largest UK companies on eBay, such as Tesco and Office Shoes and he’s still learning things every day.
If you’re intending to use Magento to also manage your eBay or Amazon listings & orders, does the company you’re looking at have the experience you would expect to be able to support you?
Building a website is one thing but having multi-channel ecommerce experience is something else entirely.
Knowing how to structure your Magento system accordingly to make it as easy as possible for you to list to marketplaces is going to save you loads of time in the long run compared to if they don’t take the structure into account from the beginning.
Dave’s Note: Having a website is one thing but handling the marketplaces is something different entirely.
If you are going to be using Magento as your central multi-channel system to handle this then you really need to know that the company who are building this for you know all of the challenges they will face and crucially the best practices in order to make sure the automation for your business is as fluid as possible.
Go on then, Prove It
Do you know how to make a lemon drizzle sponge cake?
Frankly both myself & Dave being blokes, we haven’t got a clue and would need to turn to a recipe to make it.
Now would you want to make a cake from a recipe that has flour everywhere, has lumps and is likely to cause you indigestion or that of a finished cake that looks absolutely delicious, with a light dusting of icing sugar on it??
Yea we’re guessing you fancy the edible one.
The same idea applies to choosing a design or development company to help you with the build of your Magento website and also raises the question, do you even need help doing this? (more on this shortly).
There are many ways you can work out if the company you’re looking at working with is up to scratch or not.
Take myself & Dave for example, we might not have the Magento qualification certificates, but what we do have is over 300 video tutorials on this very site (verify here) covering everything you need to know and a YouTube channel (verify here) rammed to the hills with practical videos on how to do pretty much anything with Magento.
While it’s unlikely the companies you come across are going to have anything that compares to the video tutorials on UnderstandingE, there are other simple ways you can verify if they know their mustard from their multi-channel ecommerce.
Magento runs a certification program where developers, designers and implementers are formally tested for their knowledge of Magento.
You’ll see icons like the ones below, most likely at the bottom of their websites:
These details can be easily verify on the Magento website here http://www.magentocommerce.com/certification/directory and you can also use this directory to find developers, designers and partners that are local to you or from anywhere in the world.
The thing to remember about certificates, is that they’re like doctorates. Seriously would you go to the dentist and not want the person treating you to not be a doctor who has studied for 5 years or more on the subject?
Matt’s Note: We should really get ourselves signed off as “Magento Solution Specialists”, as we’ve covered everything they test for in the exam already on UnderstandingE and even delve into the development site as well (and a whole lot more!!!).
Previous Customer Testimonials
Let’s face it they’re easy to fake.
When looking at previous testimonials on a website, always take these with a pinch of salt.
Obviously they’re showing you all the good ones.
Take a few minutes to research the company on google by searching for the company name plus the word review.
An example is here https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?q=neoteric%20review
Look deeper into the reviews and while you cannot expect a company to be “perfect” and the odd bad feedback is to be expected, generally the comments being left on review sites are going to be either short & to the point or longer and much more detailed.
Checking Customer Reviews
When reading reviews on review sites always take careful note over the wording that is in the review.
For example “fulsome praise” is a combination of words I have never seen and wreaks that it’s a fake review.
Look for stories on how the build went, people generally only care about themselves so a true review is likely to be highly specific to their business.
If you can find absolutely no reviews or anything about the company that you’re looking at, that should be enough for you to discard them as an option.
Call the People in the Testimonials
Ask the company for the website and contact details of the business owner(s) and then call them.
If you received an email from someone like yourself, explaining that that they were looking to use company xyz that they had used, you would probably have that chat with them, as they’re a fellow business owner.
Or at least you would get a feel on what their views are in any email replies.
Ask them for other recent customers that you can speak to as well.
Again the thing to remember when speaking to other company owners is that they might not be as prepared as you, so expect a couple of minor issues to be pointed out where either knowledge was lacking or a miss-communication happened.
These 3 things may sound daft, even obvious, however even with a few minutes checks it’ll be become obvious whether the company you’re talking to actually knows their simple from their configurable products, their eBay from their Amazon and are worth your time (and money) continuing with them or not.
A Websites Portfolio
Basically no portfolio, skip over them.
Check their Portfolio.
The most important thing to note about a portfolio is that the entries should be a companies best work.
So with that in mind, when looking through a companies portfolio, look for these details:
- Are the sites polished and look nice?
- If it was your company website, would you be happy with it? (Note, you must also account for someone else’s bad taste)
- There should be little or no broken links, so navigate around a bit on the example sites
- Look for social profiles on the site so you can verify they’re a real business and not a “show site” that the company has built
Oh and also look for features that you would like on your website!
Knowing what is and isn’t possible out of the box is a huge help and will save you frustration & wasting money later.
That leads us nicely onto the next part.
Knowledge is Power
As with anything knowledge is power and can save you from getting ripped off by website design companies who are willing to take advantage of you.
We have both heard of businesses being quoted, and charged (Yes they did sadly pay for it) hundreds of pounds just to change the text on a Magento website page!
By giving yourself a little bit (or a lot, fill your boots up here) of knowledge you can instantly protect yourself from those trying to profiteer from your lack of knowledge and experience.
For example some companies may want to charge you £200 for installing an extension. A lack of knowledge on this could result in you paying that amount or more for this to be done.
However if you have seen any online video tutorials or setup a test Magento site to have a play with, you will find that actually this is a 10 minute job (Including making a backup).
Is 10 minutes of their time worth £200?
Our advice here is simple, utilise the tools that you have around you
There are loads of fantastic FREE tutorials on UnderstandingE to get you up to speed with the basics (and the advanced stuff too), as well as YouTube too, and countless free step by step guides in blogs around the web.
Even a tiny, tiny, TINY bit of experience and knowledge will save you considerable money in the long run.
Money which could be much better spent on marketing your website and actually leading to the site making sales!
Matt’s Note: You’ve probably already worked out our viewpoint on Magento (or any website build for that matter). Get the site up & running and focus on the part that will make you the most amount of money long term, marketing. Every £10 that is spent on the design & build stage is £10 of profit that needs to be made back after the site is live. Dig as small enough hole as possible and getting out of it will be a lot easier & quicker.
What are you actually paying for?
This is a golden question, and one that many untrustworthy design companies are hoping you aren’t going to ask.
When you ask this question it will very quickly highlight where they are most likely over-charging you, or in some cases ‘making up’ jobs that need doing.
When you receive a quote from a design company for your Magento website, if one isn’t provided straight away go back to them and ask for the quote to be itemised so you can see exactly where the costs are coming from.
Dave’s Note: Don’t be afraid to ask for a full breakdown of the work to be carried out, you’re paying the bill remember!
Combined with the above point of Knowledge is Power, things should very quickly start making sense or start raising warning flags as to the company you are dealing with.
Crucially never be afraid to get a second opinion, you could ask in a number of forums around the web, or maybe speak to any friends or family you have that either have had websites designed themselves and run it past them to see what their initial reaction is.
This leads us nicely on to our next point.
If something has flagged up in any of the above points as a negative when dealing with a company trying to sell you a Magento website then that should be a warning in itself that either they are a “no go” or some further investigation is required.
However you can’t discount good old fashioned Gut Instinct.
This one is hard to explain but we have all felt it before.
When you can’t quite put your finger on it, but something doesn’t seem or feel right.
In our experience this could be a number of things, such as:
- A poorly designed website (they are a website design company after all)
- No phone number or not answering the phone
- Poorly written communications (web pages or emails)
- Out of the blue communications (cold calls or emails)
- A lack of reviews or verifiable testimonials
- Asking for 90-100% up front
- Asking for too much (£20,000) or too little money (£250) for a design or build
Spam isn’t just restricted to emails but can come in the form of phone calls too.
The question you should immediately ask is where has this company got my details from?
If you have never heard of them before, or don’t remember giving them permission to contact you… then this is not a good sign.
Businesses that have to rely on cold calling or ‘Buying’ email addresses to market to, are not usually businesses you would want to deal with as if they are taking these types of shortcuts with their business, can you imagine what type of shortcuts they are going to take with yours?
Similarly three huge warning signs should be a poorly designed website with poorly written web copy (again if they can’t do their own website justice, would you trust them with yours?)
The second is communication.
Do they have a bricks and mortar office, an address is one thing but is this just a holding address (Google Street view is your friend here)? Do they have a landline telephone number on which you can call them?
If they do, call it a few times to ask them questions, do they answer the phone? How long does it take to answer? Do they have a voicemail and if so do they get back to you within an acceptable time frame.
Once again if they can’t answer the phone quickly to a company thinking about giving them money, how eager are they going to be once they already have your money?
Matt’s Note: Live chat via Skype or a similar chat client is OK too, a call isn’t always needed and rather bog yourself and them down with a phone call, see if they have a chat messaging system you can use instead. But do also have a verbal phone call with them if needed.
The third, is that if they are a single developer or a very small team, do they have reviews on freelancing websites, such as Elance, Upwork (formally oDesk) or Freelancer.com?
Matt’s Note: I’ve hired as many good developers as bad developers in the past. Always read the reviews on these sites and always have a specification.
These two simple steps have personally saved me tens of thousands pounds over the years.
Over the past two weeks we have had a flurry of emails from businesses who have had terrible experiences with companies who have promised them the world and delivered next to nothing.
We knew this was happening over 18 months ago and was a huge driving force behind what we started and have been doing ever since with UnderstandingE.
However these recent stories have made us both want to try to tackle this subject matter head on and if this article and video manages to help just one business from being misled and overcharged for Magento work then we will take that as a success.
Common sense is always your friend here.
Sprinkle in just a little bit of knowledge and experience and you can save yourself thousands and many wasted hours.
For example a Magento design doesn’t actually need to cost the GDP of a small country and instead can be picked up for just $99.
Spend a couple of hours getting used to Magento, whether it’s our tutorials or someone else’s, it doesn’t matter.
The point here is that get to know Magento before even considering it, as you’re going to be spending countless hours over the next few years working with it.
Even a tiny bit of knowledge here will go a long way.
So to leave you with 3 simple rules to follow:
- Do your research
- Specify what you think you need
- Trust your instincts
We would love to hear from you!
P.S. If you found this article/video helpful or know someone that would benefit from reading this, help them by sharing this article using any of the buttons below. Both myself Matt & Dave too would appreciate it