Selecting a qualified web designer is not an easy process. If you are in the market for a new website design for your business, there are many things to consider before making your final decision. Knowledge is power. Preparation is key. Don't get burned.
Before you hire your next web designer, take some time to make sure that you do your homework first. It is important to know exactly what your own needs are before expecting someone else (i.e., your web designer) to satisfy those needs. A little preparation will go a long way to making sure you are not disappointed (at best) or ripped off (at worst).
I. Before you begin your search for a web designer:
- Make sure you have a clear understanding of what you want your website to do. Write down all of your ideas. Start to organize them into bullet-point lists (like this one).
- Clearly document your short-term and long-term goals. You need to be very clear about what you want your site to be, and what you want it to do.
- Will there be any custom features or programming requirements for your site? This includes (but is not limited to) eCommerce integration, user account management, interactive features, file uploads, etc.
- Who is your target market? Who is the intended audience of your site? What are you going to be offering them that is unique or compelling?
- What do you want your site to look like? What is the look-and-feel that you are going for? Do you have a logo design?
- Search for competitor web sites and note what you like and don't like about them.
- Document what your competitors are doing right... and wrong. Identify opportunities to do better on both counts.
- Establish a budget range for your project. It is OK to walk before you run. Perhaps you should consider breaking up your project into two or more phases. You can often minimize your risk (and money spent) if you can create a "proof of concept" website first to measure consumer or client interest. Then build and launch subsequent versions or features as your site begins to succeed.
II. Domain Name Registration:
- Do you have a domain name registered? Do you have a list of potential domain name ideas?
- Your domain name (URL) is your Internet address. Make sure it is suitable for the business you are in. Although it is not required, always try to secure the .COM version of any domain you register. .NET and other extensions are OK, but .COM is the de-facto standard.
- It is important to be in control of your own domain. It is best to register and pay for your own website domain names. That way, you are always in control. If you allow someone else to register your domain name for you, make sure that they record your information (i.e., name, address, phone and email address) as the "Registrant" in the "Whois" record. If you maintain control of your domain registration, you will help to ensure that you will never be held hostage by an unscrupulous website designer.
III. Website Hosting
If your website designer provides hosting services, make sure you have a complete understanding of the following items:
- Is the site hosted through a 3rd party shared hosting provider? (e.g., GoDaddy, Blue Host, Host Gator, etc.) or on a dedicated server managed by the website designer?
- Who will be managing the hosting server configuration?
- Who will be responsible for keeping the hosting server up-to-date with the latest security patches and software upgrades?
- Will you have direct access to the hosting account control panel (Cpanel)?
- Will you have direct access to FTP?
- Will the host be creating full daily, weekly and monthly website backups?
- Will the backups be stored on the hosting server or a remote facility or both?
- Who will handle restoration of a backup if required?
IV. Content Management System (CMS): [coming soon]
V. Pre-Qualifying Web Designers and/or Web Design Companies - What to look for:
Select a web designer who has at least 5 years experience in building and deploying web sites and Internet solutions. Look for someone who has experience managing the entire web development lifecycle (from conception to delivery). Make sure your designer is experienced in creating search engine friendly web sites and understands the importance of integrating a flexible content management system (CMS).
Make sure you view at least 3 to 4 examples of the designers work and understand the extent of the designer's involvement in each design. Look for a variety of styles from the designer. If a designer has mastered only one style of layout, this may not meet your specific needs. Make sure that your designer understands your vision and has the experience to deliver an appropriate solution. The designer should have a strong knowledge of html, site layout, Cascading Style Sheets "CSS", color, content, content management and graphics.
Make sure that your web designer adheres to a structured web development methodology. A formal methodology helps to ensure continuous accountability and client oversight during the entire design process. In other words, a good methodology helps to avoid nasty surprises! Visit this website: Web Development Methodology to see an outline of a structured web development methodology.
A good designer will provide a detailed proposal of services, or better yet, a written "System Requirements Specificaiton" (SRS) or "Scope of Work" (SOW) document prior to accepting any engagement. Never engage a designer without a clear, written set of requirements. A professional designer will ask many questions about your needs prior to beginning an engagement. Be wary of any designer that is eager to start developing your site before these important questions are asked (see section I. above)
Don't be afraid to talk numbers. You will save yourself a lot of grief if you are up-front about the money you are willing to spend on your project. A professional web designer will not normally haggle on rates or overall cost for a specific solution. A true web design expert will be able to give you an accurate estimate of all costs to be incurred. It is not difficult to find designers who "seem" to be a good bargain. But, in the web design world, always beware. "You get what you pay for". Make sure you are paying for experience. Make sure you are NOT paying for someone to learn as they go. You'll end up paying twice!
Look for a long term relationship. In order to ensure that your designer will be available for ongoing updates, it is often a good idea to agree on a monthly retainer that will allow you to request minor changes without having to go through a quote and approval process. Some designers are willing to reduce the initial design cost if the client is willing to enter into such an agreement. This allows the client to spread the design costs out over time.
- Development Milestones:
For larger projects, always make sure that there are clearly defined milestones for project delivery. Otherwise, make sure that a portion of payment is contingent upon successful completion and delivery of the project. Make sure that your designer will continuously test your web site design with all of the major Internet browsers.
If you have any doubts about the experience or integrity of the designer, do not hesitate to ask for (and follow up with) references. Make sure you ask if they were completely satisfied with the work done? Was the work completed in a timely fashion? Did the designer maintain an open line of communication throughout the entire process?
- Ethics & Integrity:
Last, but certainly not least, make sure that your web designer has a good reputation for ethics and integrity. Ask the hard questions. Inquire about their commitment to quality, ethics and integrity. To view a standardized Code of Ethics, click here.
VI. Ongoing Considerations: In a forthcoming blog post, we will be discussing the critical importance of establishing a strong ongoing relationship with your web designer that is based on trust and accountability. Stay tuned. You won't want to miss this one!