How to Choose a Web Designer or Agency

“But I Already Have a Website!”

In today’s world there are a lot of available platforms that people or businesses can easily create a website on. Wix and Squarespace are probably the most widely known but there are several other similar platforms that also do a great job in that department. A lot of businesses find the big drawback to these types of “drag and drop” platforms is they all have the same basic template structures, they usually maintain some level of the parent branding and they can be difficult to truly customize in a way that most businesses really need without paying excessive fees. A lot of them are very easy to use and great for the average person to get started on, but eventually if you are a modern professional business you need to build a custom website that really represents your brand and isn’t sitting on top of a consumer level service like Squarespace or Wix.

So once you get to that point, how do you choose the best designer or an agency? How do you find the type of designer who can create something that is clean and professional and accurately represents your brand? In most cases the site also needs to be functional and drive your business forward. We did a bunch of research, peppered it with some of our own experience and pulled together several tips for choosing a web designer or agency that will build something that best represents your brand.

Know What You Want

The first and most important thing to know before you go out and look for a website is what you want. You should look at websites similar to your business or in your industry and find samples of what you like and what you don’t like. By now you thoroughly understand what your business needs to do online and should make sure that your website fits well into the industry that you are part of and accomplishes the things you need to be successful. You can vet designers by looking at examples of their work before hand. Any experienced designer will have a portfolio with samples of work they’ve done in the past.

References and referrals always come in handy, especially in the web design world where things can be subjective. We got a lot of business from referrals when people that we’ve done work for in the past tell their friends or family about what quality work we do. You can sometimes find a good designer by asking your friends and family or peers in your industry.

Mobile Optimization

Now days roughly 60% of your traffic and climbing is going to be on mobile devices Look at mobile sites, look at tablets sites, look at desk top sites, look at everything. if your business is primarily sales driven and flash sales or mobile is important you should have a great mobile site. If you’re more of an industrial type business who sells to a corporate client who is always going to be at a desk, maybe that’s not as important… As mobile adoption continues to increase it will be an issue so it’s always smart to consider it.

Content Management Systems

Most businesses now need the ability to constantly update content and other elements on their website. This is why Content Management Systems (or CMS’) like WordPress, Magento and Shopify, etc. are so popular. If you’re going to hire a designer and you want to run on one of these platforms be sure that the designer knows how to code for the type of platform you like to use.

Know Your Budget

It’s important to have a realistic budget and know what you should expect to pay. Do a little research, it’s not hard to google “how much does web design cost” and read up a little bit. We have had experiences with people who expect the world for half of what we would normally charge for a website. If you want a world class site, be prepared to pay world class prices. It’s not a terrible idea if you’re a small business to go the cheap route. But if you’re going to go cheap understand the pitfalls. You might have a site that takes much longer than average to develop, even though the hourly rate is cheaper. If you go to Craigslist and look for a “moonlighting college student” as your designer who is doing your job between their college classes expect to run into issues you won’t have if you hire a professional agency or individual with a track record.

On the other hand if you go out looking with a realistic budget of 3 to $5,000 you can almost certainly find a very talented individual or agency that will be able to create exactly what you need, within reason of course. Sites with e-commrece functionality that manage a ton of product integration and require things like functional shopping carts with shipping calculators, tax calculators, that can accept credit cards etc. range more from the $5,000 to $20,000 range. Like with anything else, again you get what you pay for. While there are people that will build you a Magento site for $5,000 the chances are good it’s not going to have everything you need to be successful and you will invest in further development.

Who is Doing the Actual Work?

Make sure you know how the work is being done and who’s doing it.  We run into this a lot because of the nature of our business, there are a lot of mostly sales driven companies who will outsource their work to India, Russia, the Phillipines, etc. While our company doesn’t do this I’m not always against it. In a lot of cases the work can be very good and the project management is what the company is paying the agency. We personally do not outsource and only contract programmers in the US some companies do, so that’s something you should know about and inquire about when you’re having work done.

Agree to a Deadline

Make sure that you and whoever you whire set a deadline that’s reasonable based on the amount of work that you need done. It’s always good to set a time and date you want things finished especially when you have a clear picture.

Own Your Domain & Hosting

Finally, and this is a very important point that gets lost on a lot of people because it’s more of a contractual thing than a technical thing – make sure that your domain, hosting and everything you have the site built on belongs to you. I recently did a project for a guy who had no idea where his site was hosted, where the folders where, how to access or FTP into it, etc. etc. It’s difficult to save a website if you don’t have access to the files. I spent a lot of time trying to find where his site was hosted because when he initially set it up he he just didn’t care about these details. He just kind of let someone handle that stuff for him the guy set it up in his own name and it ended up being a nightmare to locate. This is a good example of why we always make sure that when our clients build a website they understand that hosting and domains should be purchased in their name and on their own accounts. That way should something go south with your designer you still own all of your files and domain and can easily continue the project with a new person.

These are some great things to keep in mind when choosing a designer, but do your research. Don’t stop here, look around – read everything.

Best of luck!

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