Choosing a Web Designer

Now that you have that you have completed Mapping Out Your Website, it is time to choose a web designer for your vision.  It your are just starting out, you probably know little to nothing about web design.  Let's change that, shall we?

Let's start by making a few assumptions about your situation:
  • You own or are a partner in a small business
  • You are not trying to build a web site the cheapest way possible
  • You are looking for an experienced professional or organization, not your neighbor's son.
  • You are willing to invest some time and money to get the job done right the first time.

Forget about HTML, PHP, CMS or any of the other acronyms you have heard.  That is what an experienced web designer will figure out for you.  It is your job to create that wish list from the perspective of your business.  Do you want the website to help sell your products or services? Do you need to recruit new employees? How to want to stay in touch with your clients? The better your designer understands how your business works, the more effective your web site can be built to achieve your goals. 

After you have figured out your high level requirements, it is time to identity the right web designer for you.  Here is the process:

1 - Geography

A local designer/company will be more interested in ensuring you are a happy customer.  After all, if you are unhappy you can walk down the street and yell at them.  On the other hand, a web designer who has a good reputation or you find through a trusted referral shouldn't be overlooked if they happen to be located elsewhere.  With today's level of technology, you can work with a business located anywhere in the world.  It really comes down to what you are comfortable with.

2 - Locate Designers

 The Internet makes this easy to do.  Simply do a search for 'web design city' where 'city' is your city. You should pay attention to two areas in your search results:

  • The first three to five listings in the regular or 'organic' results, and
  • the top three to five paid advertisers.  

Create a list of between five and ten possible candidates.

3 - Go Surfing

Using the list you just created, visit each designer's website and examine the following things:

  • Content.  Does the writing make sense to you as a possible customer rather than a geek? Does the website show how they solve a problem?  If yes, that's good. Do they offer their services in packages based on the number of web pages and 'add ons' are additional? If yes, then that's bad.  The right web designer needs to be someone who understands how your business works rather than try to jam your business into a bronze, silver, or gold 'package'.

  • Presentation.  Do you like the design of their website and how it is organized?  Does it make sense to you?  Do you think your customers would like it?  The designers website and examples of those they have created for others is typically indicative of their 'style'.
     
  • Their Clients.  Look for testimonials, a portfolio and case studies.  Does it look like they are comfortable working with different industries?  Ideally, their testimonials include full names, which means they are not trying to hide anything. If there aren't any sort of portfolio or client list, then they are either bad or lazy.  Stay away from them.
     
  • Contact Information.  Will you only be able to converse with them through an online form or email.  Will you be able to talk to them by phone if you need to?  Will you be able to meet with them in person if local?  Companies that are not willing to work with you the way you are comfortable are not really serious about running a serious business.

4 - Narrow Your List

Based on your surfing research, choose the top three possibilities. Then:

  • Call.  If you are not comfortable filling out an online form to start the conversation, then simply look up their contact information and ask for their phone number so that you can call them.  There is nothing wrong with wanting to ensure that you are dealing with a professional.  A good web designer will be delighted that you want to talk to them rather than hide behind automated forms.  They will get you talking about your business, listen to your problems, try to assess whether you're a good client for them, and take things to the next step:
  • Meet. Assuming your candidates are local, meet with them.  The goal is to give the web developer the information you have been compiling so they can prepare a proposal for you.  You'll also get a chance to find out if you feel comfortable working with them.  A face-to-face is the best way to accomplish this.
  • Proposals.  Get three of them.  Fewer than that and you're not exploring your options.  More than that and you're wasting your time.  Be sure that the web designer gives you the proposal with a week of your meeting or they likely won't have the time to take on a new client.
  • Assess.  Here is how to assess the proposals:
    • Solving Problems.  The proposal needs to have a solution to your problem that makes sense to you and in plain language (no geek talk).
    • Comprehensiveness.  Were all of your issues covered?
    • Follow Up.  What kind of support is available when the web site is finished?  Will they help you market it?  Will they train you?  Do they provide on-going maintenance?  Do they guarantee their work and for how long?  How much would future changes costs you?
    • Ideas.  A good web design company will probably have some really good ideas that you never considered when you mapped out your website.  In fact, they should.
    • Timeline.  The proposal should also tell you how long the project is going to take.  You will need to determine whether you can live with timeframe.  
    • Reviews.  It should be stated at what stages during the project you will be able to review the work that has already been done.  It is easier to make adjustments during the build process than when the site is ready to go online.  It will also help keep the project on time.
    • Budget.  You aren't made of money, so make sure you can live with the costs and any overages that may be caused of changes you want made outside of the scope of the contract.

When getting quotes from a few web designers, you want to make sure you are comparing apples to apples.  By going through the above process, you can weed out the oranges.  Web design is an industry that has a broad range of choices, from DIY or full interactive websites.  With a little research, you will make sure that you find the designer that fits your business model.