So you’ve decided that you need a website.
Maybe you’ve just started a new business. Or perhaps you’ve realized that your current website is a bit long in the tooth and needs an overhaul. But you’re not a web designer, and you’re not a developer. For that matter, you’re not a techie at all. What do you do? In brief, here’s how to get started on your search.
- Go local, that’s just my preference. Local designers know your market; they may know the competition, have local resources and — most importantly — they can actually meet with you to go over details. It is definitely possible to do massive projects over the phone and via email. I’ve done it. You just have to decide if that’s your thing.
- Get references. Do you have a neighbor or friend or colleague who has a website you like? Ask them who they worked with and if they were happy with the results.
- Check out the websites of competitors (of similar size). Very often there’s a link to the design firm at the bottom of the page
- Check your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau for reliable providers in your area.
There is nothing wrong with doing a web search for a local web design firm. Your chief problem will be an overwhelming number of choices.
First, look for a portfolio.
- Do you like the firm’s work? Do they work in a style that meshes with yours?
- Does their portfolio have examples of the kind of functionality you’re looking for? Like shopping carts, or animation, or blogs?
- Many companies (but not all) now put pricing plans on line. This can be very helpful in finding out if you can afford their work, and if they work on projects like yours. But just because the pricing is not posted, doesn’t mean you can’t afford it. Contact them with a brief description of your project and ask for a typical price range for projects like yours. Whoever you work with, be sure to talk to them in detail about your work and get it in writing. The bigger and more complicated the project, the bigger and more complicated will be the written agreement between you and your design firm.
Things to beware of:
- A portfolio with hundreds and hundreds of websites. Real companies only put their best work online. Hundreds of websites = webfarm. Don’t expect too much.
- A portfolio that is full of errors: spelling, grammar, pages that don’t load, images that are over there when they should be over here. Your site will not be any better than what is in the portfolio.
- A firm that gives you a price without asking for any information about your project.
Things that you may be surprised about, but shouldn’t be:
- Most of the best design firms will not do work ‘on spec’. That is, they will not not provide free sample pages and then hope you choose them to design your site. Students or companies who are just starting out may do this in order to build their portfolios … but the business relationship will not be there.
- Most professional design firms require installment payments once a mutual agreement has been reached to start a project. A typical arrangement might be xx% up front, xx% midway, and xx% on completion. Scope of work and payment can be a challenging area to navigate, and it is always advisable to clearly explain the what is provided and what is expected.
No matter what kind of project you’ve got, there is a web designer for you. From the one page “Get to Know Me” site, to the next amazon.com, there’s a firm out there who can do the work. And if you take a couple of wrong turns while you’re looking for them, that is life. As they say, education is never a waste.
When you speak with potential designers, ask them what kind of work they do best, and beware of folks that only seem to be paying lip service. You’ll have a more productive relationship with a designer who will be honest about what your expectations should be, gently but firmly push you out of your comfort zone, and who will be forthcoming about areas in which they are not an expert.
You should always look for a vendor who asks lots of questions about your business and — even if they are not an expert in your field — understands your overall mission and goals. Trust me, the designer wants you to be happy with their work. They want to add your site to their portfolio, and they want you to tell all your friends! They have lots of incentive to do great work for you. You’re the expert on your business, and they’re the experts on web design. As long as everyone keeps that in mind, your project will be golden.