We talk with several potential client’s a week regarding web design projects, most of which are getting quotes from several designers. The only question about 90% of these potential customers ask after giving a brief rundown of their requirements is, “how much will it cost?” Cost is one of the most important pieces of information in the decision making process but unless you follow up with several other crucial questions, you may be left in a very bad position.
More often than you’d believe, we are hired by organizations who’ve been burnt by the designer who was originally hired for their project. All of that lost time and money can be avoided by taking a little extra time before your project to consider a few things and ask a couple additional questions.
Lifehack.org put out a great article on hiring a design firm which will empower you to hire the right web designer the first time around. Excerpts of the article are below.
When you hire a web firm, your job as a savvy consumer is to make sure your web firm has the right components as well as the answers to several questions before you give them your hard-earned money. Here are some things to look for and questions to ask, as well as a few red flags to watch out for:
Look For This: A Real Business
Your web design firm should be a real business. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they need a big office and overhead. What it does mean, however, is that you should probably avoid hiring your family members, friends, and “that guy you know from church” as your web developer. You need a business relationship with your web team for many reasons, including so that you can feel comfortable negotiating, providing honest and critical feedback, and being straightforward if there’s ever a time when you aren’t happy with your firm’s work.
Don’t be afraid to ask for references. You should be able to get a couple of client names and phone numbers so you can talk to real people and get a solid feel for what it’s like to work with this team.
Look For This: A Web Site
Your web firm should have a web site — a good one. It doesn’t have to be designed in a style that you like, but generally speaking, it should have the components I talked about in my last article. Don’t let any web firm tell you that they’ve been so busy working on clients’ projects that they haven’t designed their own site. If they don’t know that a strong web site is the calling card for their business, they probably shouldn’t be designing a web site for your business.
Further, you need to see a portfolio of their previous work and it should be easy to find on their web site. Most of the porfolio sites should still be live. However, if you come across some sites have changed or that are no longer live, don’t necessarily hold that against the developer. In this economy, companies are going out of business right and left. Plus, companies often re-design their sites and may or may not use the same team to do it.
Question to Ask: What are the components that my web site should include?
If your web firm starts to answer this question without asking about your business, consider that a pretty big red flag and run the other way. There are some general components that most business web sites should have (print out my last article for easy reference), however when you’re working with a web firm, they shouldn’t answer this question unless they know more about what you do, what industry you’re in, and what you want your web site to accomplish for your business.
Question to Ask: Will you design my site from scratch or use templates?
A strong web design firm will design an original site for you. They won’t send you a site design that looks generic, or that is based on a pre-fab template. Price can be a good indicator for whether your team is using templates or original designs. If the estimate for your site is under $1,000, it’s more likely that you’re not getting an original design. However, I’ve seen several firms charge what I consider a ridiculous amount of money to provide a pre-fab template site.
Why is a template bad? You want your web site to stand out as original and distinct. Your site should be designed to carefully reflect your brand. How much can a template design represent your brand, if others around the world have the exact same web site that you have? What distinguishes you from them? Smart investing in your business makes sense, and for most businesses, investing in a solid web site that incorporates at least the elements I recommend, as well as embodies your branding, makes for a strong ROI.
Question to Ask: How will you incorporate search engine optimization principles into my site?
When you ask this question, if all they do is talk about meta tags and keywords, that’s a big red flag. If a web firm is serious about their business, they should know and understand principles of SEO and how these principles apply to the code, the copy, and all of the content of your site.
If they talk to you about using Flash for your site, ask them if that will cause any problems getting your site content indexed. Take note of how they answer this question. The actual answer is murky and complex and they shouldn’t just say, “Flash isn’t a problem for Google.”
Question to Ask: Can you develop my site in a content management system?
If you want to manage your site yourself without learning HTML or Dreamweaver, ask your web team if they can develop your site using a content management system. Within this framework, you should be able to manage your site, including editing, adding pages, deleting pages, and more, from virtually anywhere in the world that you can access the web via a browser.
The Most Important Thing You Should Know:
Your contact at your web firm should be able to talk to you in your language, but also be able to easily converse with the programmers. You need someone who can explain things that you don’t understand without being condescending, and make web principles you should know accessible. Customer service is paramount in the web industry, and you want someone who will return your e-mails and phone calls in a timely manner.
Keep in mind that while the design responsibilities fall squarely on the shoulders of your web design firm, you have some responsibilities as well. Next week, in the last article in this four-part series, I’ll talk about how you can help your web design firm create a phenomenal web site for your business.