Choosing a web designer can be a huge challenge and it’s generally something that you cannot afford to get wrong. In the absence of referrals (which aren’t always foolproof) here are 5 practical steps you can apply to choosing a web designer perfect for you.
Note: We are using the term ‘web designer’ to cover freelancers and agencies. It is all encompassing of the design and development process of your website.
1. Get into the right frame of mind
So, your business requires a new website and you are in the market for a web designer. But, how do you choose the right one?
Well, firstly you need to look at your new website as an investment. This will help to put you in the right frame of mind for all that is to come on this exciting (and sometimes frustrating) journey.
Just as there are many things to consider before buying a new house, choosing a web designer is no different. Prudence and diligence are vital and you must look well beyond the surface in order to find the right fit. Be weary of designers proclaiming to be pros at everything. Unless it is an agency of at least 5 staff members each specialising in a specific area, the likelihood is that they are over-promising.
Also, do not allow glistening bells and whistles on a designer’s website seduce you. Whilst their website is absolutely a window into their capabilities you should not dismiss the more average looking site of a designer who understands how to achieve your specific goals. Taking a look at a designer’s portfolio page will give you more of an indication of what they can do.
You must value function over gimmicks.
2. Establish your goals
Spend some time thinking about exactly what it is you are trying to achieve. Start by asking yourself why you need a website and know that the answer goes beyond wanting to be like other businesses.
Are you trying to take bookings, sell products or services, increase your following etc.?
There can be multiple goals but you need to ensure each of them are SMART.
SMART = Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound
Bear in mind that a good web designer will not rush to take your money. If they do run for the hills and do not look back.
A good designer will spend copious amounts of time discovering more about you, your business and what you are trying to achieve before committing to work with you. They will ask a million questions to get a good handle on your goals and they may then decline to work with you.
A designer’s rejection can be really frustrating for you, especially when you have spent so much time providing all that information. But, don’t take offence! Usually when a designer declines to work with you it’s because they discovered they aren’t the right fit for your project. That said, every cloud has a silver lining, and at least by this point you will be very clear on your requirements and can jump right into discussions with other designers.
3. Research the market
Looking for a web designer in your geographic location may be a good idea, particularly if you value face to face interactions. Or, perhaps your business is location dependent and having someone who knows the locality is important.
On the other hand, maybe there is a designer that is an expert in your specific business area. If so, they should really understand what you are looking for and what works well in your industry.
Specialist are generally in a position to bring ideas to the table you otherwise wouldn’t have thought of to help you grow your business, generate new leads, create a better experience for visitors etc. This is obviously a major benefit, however they will likely be more expensive, so you have to weigh up their worth.
Research can be a time-consuming endeavour, but remember this is an investment, do not jump in with your eyes closed.
4. Set a budget – a realistic budget
Some designers are cheap as chips and others cost the earth. You will find there is a huge disparity between the pricing of different designers. Unfortunately there are newbies, amateurs and hobbyists in the market promoting their services at a few hundred pounds a site.
Whilst there technically is nothing wrong with this, I’d caution against such services for a serious business endeavour. It goes back to what I said at the beginning about viewing this as an investment. If you want a good return on your investment then you need a designer that understands a website is much more than just a few pages on a server. If your designer can’t explain SEO, lead generation and converting (to name a few) then they are not the one you are looking for.
That said, don’t be extorted either. Obtain a few quotes from designers you would be happy to work with off the back of your research. This will help you gauge a realistic budget. You may want to set aside a small contingency for additional features you may have forgotten, or you come across at a later date. But – do not spend more and more money on useless features.
5. Ask the right questions
This can be a difficult one, especially if you have never hired a web designer before, but it is vitally important you ask the right questions. Do not get swept up in the excitement of this process and led by promises of how beautiful, clean or modern your site will look. Yes you want something that is visually pleasing, but as already discussed, function is far more important. You need to ask the right questions to ensure that a functional site is what you will be getting.
Questions you should consider asking include (but are not limited to):
- Can you show me examples of projects that you have worked on that have had similar objectives to mine?
- How many projects are you currently working on?
- What support will you offer me after launch?
- How do you measure results?
Assess how well they answer the question. Do not be dumbfounded by jargon riddled responses that are tantamount to pure waffle. A good designer will clearly convey what they do in terms a novice can decipher.
Bonus Step: Sign an Agreement
This is pretty standard stuff, yet so many small businesses fail to do it.
A good designer will put together a proposal outlining the specifics of your project before asking you to sign an agreement. An amateur probably won’t.
The cardinal rule for proposals and agreement is ‘check it, re-check it, oh and re-check it again’. Make sure it is accurate and meets your expectations. If there is anything you do not understand, question it. I can’t stress this enough, it’s really important as misunderstandings could be catastrophic.
Things to be weary of (again not an exhaustive list):
1) Web designers asking for 100% upfront (obviously). Anything above 50% would ring alarm bells for me.
2) Without getting too technical…check that you own your domain name and content. I cannot tell you the amount of times I have heard horror stories of designers doing a midnight flit taking a client’s site, domain and hosting with them. Or stories where the relationship has soured, usually because the designer couldn’t deliver on what they promised and so they left a site half done or handed over something that crashes at every turn that the client then has to spend more money to rectify it.Some designers will offer you a free domain as part of their package, personally I would caution against accepting this. However if this is the route you wish to go down ensure your agreement covers what happens should you part ways down the line. A good web designer should be helping you through the process of setting up a domain name for yourself.
3) Hosting is another huge consideration. Again I would personally advise you arrange your own hosting with the assistance of your web designer. However there are some design companies that also offer hosting services who are very good at what they do. If you come across this service with your chosen designer ensure you are very clear on what it is you are getting.
So, there you have it, your 5 practical steps (plus the bonus step) to choosing a web designer. We hope you find the perfect working relationship. If you have any questions feel free to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or add a comment below.