Choosing a Website Designer
In a previous post we talked about do you really need a website. Now we will talk about designing your website. There are many web designers out there, some professional and many not. If you choose to go with a design company for your website, then the first thing you have to do is to obtain a list of the more popular companies in the local area. You can search Google for this, but note that there are many companies either pretending to be professional or even more pretending to be local. Nothing wrong with either, but you will get what you pay for and if they are lying to you about being local, what else are they going to lie to you about just to get your business?
The Company Website
Once you have a starting point then you should visit each of their websites. If you run across one that does not have a website of its own, that is probably a surefire signal to avoid that company. If you run across one that is using a free site like WordPress.com or Wix, then that is also a good indicator that this designer is not too interested in having a good web presence and may not be that interested in assisting you.
Portfolio & References
There are several quick things you can do to weed through the listing of designers. When you are visiting their websites, look for their portfolio or samples of websites that they have designed. If they don’t have samples or don’t want to show you then that is another indicator that that designer may not have much experience. If they have portfolios then carefully examine their work. Contact the owner of those sites (not the webmaster but the actual owner) and ask them how they like the design and the company that designed the site. Ask them about the customer service they received (response to emails and phone calls), and about the timeliness of the entire design project. Many web designers work as part-time designers with full-time jobs, and some are even students that attend classes during the daytime hours. This isn’t a problem as long as it doesn’t affect your overall project. This can make timeliness in the response to requests very important, since you personally shouldn’t care what time of the day they get the job done, as long as they get it done in time for your requirements.
You will also want to contact the Better Business Bureau and verify that there are no major complaints on file for any of the prospective companies you have chosen. As a side note, don’t disqualify a company because they have one complaint, it could be a misunderstanding or a mistake, but keep it in mind when you talk to them. Also, note that an established company may not have a file at the BBB, this is simply because they don’t have any major complaints that the BBB is aware of and they don’t pay to belong to the BBB,
If the sites that they have designed look tacky, silly, or unprofessional, then that is probably another indicator of the quality of work the company does. While you are evaluating the sites that they designed, make sure you pay attention to items like:
- How fast the page(s) load
- Are the sites attractive and easy on the eyes?
- Are the sites easy to navigate and seem logically set up?
Don’t disqualify a company if the sites in their portfolio are all nicely designed except one or two, that might be exactly how the client wanted the site to look. I can personally tell you that some of my clients have little to no taste and have wanted some very tacky-looking websites. A good company will try to steer the client into a better choice, but ultimately they will build what the client wants if they are unable to steer them.
Next, make a phone call to the companies that are on your shortlist. Ask them questions about your project and see how they answer them. Be aware that many companies will refrain from giving you a firm price over the phone. This is because they will want to write it out and make sure that there isn’t a surprise somewhere on the website that they didn’t expect. This “surprise” could be costly to the designer. However, if they are providing great customer service at a fair price, then they should have nothing to worry about, should they? The reputation of the design company is directly related to its ability to get the project done. However, be careful not to cut your expected timeline too short. It normally takes a month or two to complete a good site.
Take note of companies that don’t list a phone number, this is mainly due to them doing this part-time so they can’t take calls while they are doing their real job. Also, note that some design projects take a long time to complete. There are many factors as to why this could happen, but the most common is that the customer themselves didn’t make the web design project a priority. We have had clients that will take 5-6 months or more to complete a project, as they haven’t dedicated any time from their busy schedules to the website. So we have a difficult time getting answers to questions, getting the correct content, and even obtaining photographs. So please keep that in mind when you talk to their clients.
I would recommend that you also email the designers on your shortlist and test out how quickly they reply to emails. I suggest you ask the same question(s) to each of the designers, so you can compare answers. Avoid a question about pricing as that isn’t a fair comparison, as you may not be comparing the same things. One designer may include services that the other designer doesn’t. I would recommend that your first question be something along the lines of, “Hello, I’m looking to have a website designed and I wanted to inquire about seeing some of the websites that you have designed before. Is it possible to send me a list of some of them and tell me what you did for that project?”
Using that line of questioning will allow you to compare companies. You can compare how quickly they reply, do they speak the language (trust me a language barrier is not something you want to deal with when laying out a website), do they have previous clients, what the websites look like, and what services they actually perform. Many companies will state that they do something, but have never done it before.
At this point, you should have narrowed your choices down to a few good companies. From here you want to talk services, prices, timeline, and customer service with those remaining companies. In the field of web design, many companies are small establishments with only a handful of employees. The web design business normally does not demand large offices with hundreds of employees. If you visit a company that is larger than life, just keep in mind that their money is coming from someplace, and you may be adding to that larger-than-life image they are presenting. This does not mean that they are not a good company, however, they are probably going to charge you too much for your website. Never sign anything until you have visited all the potential designers first. You should also not have to pay anything to talk to them about a website. They should offer free consultation, if they do not, then at least make them the last company you visit. You may find the right one first and save some money by not having to pay to visit them. We never charge a consultation fee, it just isn’t good business.
Before you actually sit down and talk with the design company, you need to decide how much or how little you want them to do. Some companies will design a website template and you provide all the rest. Other companies are more full-service and will take care of everything. At my company, we have built a reputation on “holding our client’s hands” during the entire web design process, from the planning stages to maintenance of the site, to upgrades and promotion of the site and the business. You may want to ask your designer what other services they offer. We will do as much or as little of the project as you want. Also, be aware that some designers will even write the text for your page. Generally, the outcome is very bland and does not really capture your business ideals well. We always work with the client to draft the content, where they submit the first draft and we massage it to be more SEO friendly and then they get to sign off on it before it ever sees the internet.
There are some pitfalls you may want to look for when you are visiting these companies.
- Don’t fall for a really low price, there is surely a reason that one of the companies is offering the same project for half the cost. We find that this is often, they are going to produce a lesser quality project or they are farming everything overseas. We have seen some interesting things with companies that are overseas, but that is a different post.
- Don’t go with the cheapest cost, you get what you pay for, period.
- Watch for hourly fees. Many companies will charge you by the hour for a project, however, they won’t tell you how many hours it will take. Hourly fees may be normal, just make sure there is a cap and an estimate of hours to complete the site.
- Watch out for add-on items that you may not really need or want. This is often a practice for some companies. Question them about what they think you should have, and ask the next company if they think you should use them on your site.
- Make sure you own the site. This may sound strange, but there are many companies that will design the site for you, but they retain ownership of the site. This is because they don’t want you to move the site to another company’s servers. Remember that you paid for the site, it is your site, and you own it. Copyright laws will often protect the designer, not you.
- Make sure that your designer can handle all the technical aspects of the site that you don’t understand, such as domain name registration, hosting, maintenance, and support….
- Watch for hidden fees and charges. Ask them upfront for a firm price. Beware that project “creep” does happen. This is when the scope of the work morphed into a larger project, usually at the request of the client.
- Don’t forget that you have a web design project going on. Dedicate time to it or it will never get completed.
Communication is key to any design project. Make sure that you are available to your design company and make sure that they are available to you. They can’t design your vision if you don’t communicate it to them. We have had many clients Make sure that what they are designing is what you want. We have had clients that let us design the site and when we are ready to release it, they finally decide that they don’t like it. All that does is cause contention between the client and the designer and add cost and delay the project.
Most designers will show you mockups of the site before it is made. This is your time to enact your vision if they didn’t capture it well.
Don’t let all this scare you, it is actually easier than it sounds. Hire the right professional and you will have less stress during the whole project.