So you’ve got the idea, the vision, the dream. This is big. It’s gonna be ‘yuge’. Better get a developer to work on it for you.
Then the big day comes, deadline for delivery of your app. Nightmare. It’s not remotely how you pictured it. It’s full of glitches, it looks horrible, and it doesn’t represent you as a brand.
It’s the very depiction of website development gone wrong.
What can you do?
This is an all-too-common story these days in the thriving tech world. There are so many horror stories: the founder who couldn’t launch because the developer failed to deliver on time; the developer who ran off with the Intellectual Property of a new app; the app that accidentally leaked customer data due to a glitch that was the fault of the developer.
You get the picture. There is certainly no shortage of website development horror stories.
Too many companies are having developer issues, many of which lead to costly and inefficient litigation.
This blog will take you through some of the key points, from prevention through to cure. How can you prevent these scenarios happening? What are the documents you need? What steps should you take if the developer does an awful job? Can I sue for poor website development?
How Can You Prevent Poor Website Development?
Get some contracts!
They don’t have to be 50 pages long, but get something in place. A Development Agreement or Consultancy Agreement that sets out your expectations for the partnership – what they can expect from you and what you hope to receive from them. It will get the two of you on the same page and, if something goes wrong, you’ll have a document to point to to support your argument. If necessary, you’ll have grounds to sue.
This is really a non-negotiable for any website development project.
What should the contract include?
The Basics: Explain what the contract is, the parties it relates to, and any relevant definitions.
The Services: What is the developer/consultant doing for you? Include as much detail here as possible.
Payment Terms: When you will pay the developer and how much you will pay? Will you pay in installments or in a lump sum? Get these terms covered in your website development contract.
Termination Clauses: These explain in what circumstances the contract for the website development project can be terminated. For example, if you have reason to believe that the work is not being done to schedule, or is failing to live up to expectations, you may wish to terminate the contract and start with a new developer.
These clauses will provide an amount of notice required before you can terminate (2-4 weeks is quite standard), but will also provide that there are occasions where the contract can be terminated without notice.
Intellectual Property (IP): Arguably the most important clause in a website development contract, this will determine who gets to keep the finished product! It may sound obvious, but we have dealt with a number of startups which have paid for developers to create their product, only to realise upon completion that all the IP rights belonged to the developer.
Not a good situation to be in! One developer we heard about was even trying to ransom back the app to the founder!
These aren’t exhaustive by any means, but they’re a start. Any website development contract without those terms would have some serious problems.
It is also worth checking your developer’s Terms of Business. They should be shown to you, but if not, just check that the developer doesn’t have any hidden terms that you are signing up to!
Okay, I Don’t Have An Agreement With My Developer, But Nothing Has Gone Wrong Yet – What Can I Do?
Don’t panic! While a contract is massively beneficial, there are ways around this problem.
Keep a close eye on things. This is an obvious one, we know, but just check in regularly with your developer. Check he/she is keeping to any deadlines and ask to see any samples/prototypes that they may have developed so far. Keep it all friendly of course, but if necessary, remind them what you are hoping to get out of the project.
Keep a record of all communication. Gather together all the email conversations you have had and save all the ones you have from this point on. Keep them in a safe space and email them to another account to back them up if necessary.
While a contract is most obviously valid if written down (as described above), a contractual relationship can still exist without this document. Any agreements you came to over email may be enough to satisfy this.
Get a contract for any website development project! Suggest to your developer that you write something down on paper and both sign it. Look to include all the above terms (and more).
Okay, This Is Bad – I Had No Contract And Now My Developer Has Screwed Me Over; What Next?!
Again, don’t panic! Let’s look at some solutions for resolving your website development issue. We’re going to list these roughly in order of most to least preferable.
1.Talk it out.
Yep, it’s that annoying thing that teachers used to say in school. ‘Can’t you just talk it out?’ Again, this seems like it is stating the obvious, but if you can resolve the issue without having to pay legal fees, it’s a win-win situation.
Mention that it would be in both of your best interests to sort this out quickly and without fuss. And, as before, save all communication. If talking it out doesn’t work, you will need those emails to show your lawyer.
Here are some additional tips by Michael Lewis on how to avoid this without going to court.
2.Speak to a lawyer.
Talking it out didn’t work? Time to chat to a lawyer about your website development nightmare.
Many people will run a mile at this stage, terrified by the prospect of legal fees but (this is important) this really doesn’t have to be expensive! A one-hour consultation with a lawyer specialising in startups will transform your situation and shouldn’t cost more than a few hundred pounds.
The lawyer will be able to review all your company documentation, all those emails you’ve been saving up, and any agreements you had with your developer. They will provide advice on the strength of your position, and on the steps you should take going forward. If necessary, they will be able to send your developer a scary letter – a letter explaining that you have sought legal advice and that you are prepared to sue.
Most of these disputes get sorted at this stage (lots of developers will panic and fold) and yours should too. If not, however, things get trickier.
3.See you in court (or in mediation)
Okay you don’t have to go straight to court, but go back to your lawyer. Depending on the issue at hand, the steps here will be different. But generally speaking it will involve another (more serious) letter saying that you are suing them for breach of contract and that you are prepared to go to court if necessary. If you believe they have stolen your IP, there could be theft issues as well, which could mean criminal charges.
If this still doesn’t get a good response from them, then you may need to go to court. It may be exciting, but this step is really best avoided if possible. Litigation (the legal term for court processes) is always drawn out and rarely leads to good results for both sides. Costs will pile up, and there is no guarantee that you will get those fees back (if you win the case you will normally, but not always, be awarded costs).
If you didn’t have a contract here, courts will generally look at what the intentions of the parties were and what should reasonably be expected of the partnership. So, whatever happens, make sure you keep record of all communication and of the general pattern of conducting business. This can all be used as evidence in your favour if your website development issue goes to court.
Adrienne Krikorian covers this in great detail in this article.
Are There Any Other Options?
There is the option of mediation to resolve your website development issue. This is behind-closed-doors negotiation between the two parties, presided over by a neutral lawyer. The advantage of this is it stays secret – there are no public court cases and there is no-one involved apart from the three of you. It also often leads to better outcomes for both parties. The disadvantage? Maybe it’s less dramatic?
Conclusions: Website Development Gone Wrong
Prevention is always better than cure. Spending a few hundred pounds on a well-worded contract may seem like a drag in the first place, but it can save you a huge amount of time, energy, and cash. Always keep a record of your communication and keep tabs on your developers. It may feel like you are annoying them, but that is their worry, not yours.
And if it does go wrong? Don’t panic – speak to a good lawyer. As above, the initial spending may seem annoying, but cut your losses and strengthen your position. The goal should always be to nip these things in the bud before they spiral out of control.
We’d love to help you out if you’re in a similar position with your current website development project, or even if you have any questions on this, so get in touch! Best of luck with your business!