I hear you ask: “How do I find a Good Website Designer for my Small Business?” What I’d love to answer is: “Hey, look no further! You’ve found my blog. You’ve clicked on the link to this post. I’m a good web designer who creates websites for small businesses.” Tick. Tick. Tick. What more do you need?
Unfortunately, life isn’t that simple (although in your case, perhaps I am the right designer! Read the rest of this post and then feel free to contact me). There are plenty of factors that will define a “good” web designer for you. Let’s start with three to expand on below:
1. Do you “click” with your web designer?
2. Do they have the right skills to build a website for your business?
3. Do they have business integrity and credibility?
1. Do you “click” with your web designer?
When I started my web design business, I began to hear – time and again at networking events and seminars – all sorts of horror stories about web designers. The common opinion was that “most people fall out with their web designer” and it was generally deemed that the web designer was the villain of the piece. “Help!” I thought. “What profession have I gotten myself into?” I’m happy to report that this has not been the case for my clients, to date.
You don’t have to like your web designer so much that you’d be happy to buy them drinks and a long lunch (although that would be nice, thanks). But it helps if they understand your way of thinking and can get to the heart of your business requirements and concerns. Without too much hard work on your side.
To see if you might click, check the designer’s website first (and if they don’t have one, or it’s poorly written or obviously incomplete, consider that your first warning of how they approach their work.)
- Do you like their approach?
- Check their portfolio. Does it look good and work effectively? Have they dealt with businesses that are similar in size or nature to yours? If they have a lot of large, high-profile customers, will yours be considered too small and handed off to the junior staff?
- Have they explained their offering clearly enough? Do you know what you’re getting for your money?
Then pick up the phone and let them know what you’re after, and in what timeframe. Notice:
- Do you like their phone manner?
- Do they sound interested in your business and ready to take it on?
- Do they speak in terms you don’t understand or are they good at explaining things in plain English (without patronising)?
A face-to-face consultancy should then be your preferred method to go through the full brief, if that’s possible. That way you can draw pictures, show the designer other materials, discuss your logo design, view competitor’s websites on a portable device, and get a feel for one another’s likes, dislikes and reasoning.
If face-to-face isn’t possible, consider using Skype (with video), or whatever you’re most comfortable with.
2. Does your website designer have the right skills for the job?
Web design isn’t just about getting an attractive website. If it’s going to be effective, it needs to pull together your whole business strategy – branding, marketing, selling, delivery, customer service, value add. That means a lot of thinking up-front, and really understanding what you need and what a designer can offer.
What are your requirements?
- A brochure site, an ecommerce site, an interactive site with secure client access?
- Do you need a Content Management System to update the website yourself?
- Do you want a blog?
- Do you already have an accounting system or online inventory process that needs to be integrated? An existing customer database?
- Or perhaps you have an existing site that needs updating, which was written in a particular program (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc).
Depending on all these factors, a web designer may not have the skills or experience to create the site you want. Establishing this early can save time and effort, on both sides. If they can’t help you, ask if they know someone who does have the skills they lack – most designers have specialisations. Some will also specialise in just one part of the whole process.
Do they just provide a design layout – basically a ‘template’ that you will then need to fill with your own words and images? If this is all your web designer provides, you may also need the services of a professional copywriter.
You may need a web developer to assist with the ecommerce back-end and integration with your accounting system, CRM, etc.
Going beyond technical skill, what else do you expect from your web designer? Perhaps you have a tight timeframe, and they’re so snowed under with other work that they can’t deliver on time. Set your time expectations clearly. If you want to be kept informed of progress, make that clear from the outset, including your preferred method of communication.
3. Does your designer have business integrity?
If you’re just starting a business, you’re probably discussing ideas with a web designer well before launch date. Keeping that information quiet can be very important to you and your success. Likewise, with an established business, you may not want your competitors to get early news of your planned website revamp either.
A friend of mine had a less-than-satisfying experience with her web designer. What she thought she was getting was a website by a local developer in Australia, but it turned out they subcontracted it overseas, so changes she requested along the way were more like Chinese whispers – the end result was pretty different to her expectations. Not to mention that, somehow, parts of her logo design mysteriously appeared on a new competitive website.
Of course, I wish I could have helped her avoid all that trauma (which resulted in legal wrangling and all sorts of nastiness) by designing the site for her, but unfortunately she needed to base her eCommerce business on a platform with which I wasn’t familiar (see point 2 above).
So… how do you know that your designer has integrity, is performing the work themselves, and isn’t about to share your design out to the rest of the world?
- Read the fineprint on their contract. (What do you mean, they don’t have a contract!? Consider that a second warning.)
- Ask up front. “Who exactly will be working on my website design?”
- Get references, if possible. Don’t just rely on written Testimonials – although they show that some clients were happy, nobody publishes bad references…
- Request a written quote, with a detailed cost breakdown (after you’ve delivered your brief). Question any of the details if you don’t understand them. (And if you receive a very basic, generic quote with no detail, consider that your third warning…)
- Set your budget, and ask your website designer what can be done within that budget. You might want a super-sexy, all-inclusive website, but a good designer will explain what is possible at your particular price-point.
So how much does a good web designer cost?
I like this quote from John Ruskin (an English art critic who died in 1900, but whose words still hold true).
“It’s unwise to pay too much but it’s unwise to pay too little. When you pay too much you lose a little money, that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing you bought it to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot. It can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it’s well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”
Websites are one place where you really shouldn’t go with the cheapest. Always check the fineprint and make sure it’s clear on what’s included and what’s not. If you want extras, how much will they blow out the original price?
Watch out for factors that “lock you in” to staying with the same designer – they might offer web hosting (and it’s usually a good idea to go with it, for convenience) but if they insist on your site being hosted with them, you need to understand why and what choices you’ll have in the future.
Of course, a wildly expensive quote doesn’t guarantee a good job either, and if the 3 factors explored above aren’t met, you could end up even more dissatisfied.
I already have a couple of clients who came to me when disillusioned with their previous designer. Perhaps I’ve been lucky to find clients who “click” with my style, but I also like to think it’s because of the customer service I provide. I love coding websites, but what satisfies me most is putting together a website that meets my client’s brief and that works effectively for their business.
You see, I care about your small business success and that, I believe, makes me a “good web designer”.