Hiring a Website Designer Dos and Don'ts

The Internet has changed the way people purchase goods and services, and having a Web site for your corporation is as common as a phone number and street address. However, even with this continual electronic surge, many smaller businesses are still intimidated about adding a Web presence to their marketing plan. But, being on-line will not only give your customers access to your services 24 hours a day, seven days a week; it will open your company up to a global customer-base.

Unless you feel confident about designing your own Web site, you should consider hiring a designer. But, before you begin calling companies, you should first determine what your goals are for going on-line, including:

  • Are you strictly interested in e-commerce?
  • Do you want to attract more customers?
  • Do you want to give your existing customers better service?
  • Are you interested in showing video, commercials, interviews, etc.?
  • Are you looking for an informational site that would introduce your company to individuals?

Once you determine your goals, you are ready to begin the process of hiring a designer. But, simply opening the yellow pages won't do; you must find a designer who will help promote your professional image to your customers while making the on-line process as easy as possible for you. Below are some basic steps to take in order to find the designer who will build your perfect site:

Do Your Homework by researching Competitors' Web sites?

Before you hire a Web designer, you should have an idea of what you want for your Web site. Sometimes the best place to start is with your competition. Research your competitors' sites and take note of who designed them (it is usually listed at the bottom of the Main Page). What do you like about their sites? What don't you like? Note what you like about both the overall look of the site and the functionality. Do they offer on-line shopping or are they purely informational? How large are their sites and how fast do they load? Make a list of Web sites you like and dislike, and note why you feel that way about them.

You can even take this one step further and contact your competitors directly to find out what they like and dislike about the company that designed their site. Starting with your competition is a great way to begin the research process.

Do Define Your Individual Business Needs

Once you have a list of your likes and dislikes of certain sites, and the designers who created the sites, you'll want to define your business's key points, mission and goals and present them to the designers. In addition, make note of your customer-base, as they may look for certain aspects on the Web. Make a list of the information you would like to see on your own Web site. For example, are you interested in e-commerce, an "About Us" page, and/or "Employment Opportunities?" Will you need a section where customers can log-in, or is all of your information free to the public?

Once you have a solid definition of your company, and what your ideas are for your site, you will be better prepared to present this to the web designers so that they know how and what to propose to you. Discussing all of this before a Web designer gives you an estimate will help save time for both you and the potential Web designer and will help your designer work more efficiently.

Do Research the Web Designer

It is important to work with someone you trust, so before you begin interviewing designers you should review designers' on-line portfolios to see if you like their particular style. Ask the designers to explain design decisions in the portfolio and request a brief description of the overall process. In addition, make sure you check references. Ask the references if the designer has fulfilled their timeline in the past and find out about the reliability of the designer. In addition, some buzz words in which the designer should have experience with are HTML 4.0, document object model (DOM), JavaScript, and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). You more than likely do not know what these terms mean, but your designer should.

Don't Forget to Ask for a signed contract and a project schedule

Like any other business relationship, you should make sure you have a signed contract before the relationship begins. The contract should include the start and completion dates for the project, as well as the project's estimated cost;the complexity of your site will be a major determinant of the overall cost. Obviously, if you require streaming video and flash presentations, the development time will cost more than a simple, informational site. It is also important to get a flat project rate in lieu of an hourly rate, as Web sites sometimes take longer than originally expected, and many times you will go through numerous revisions before the project is finalized.

The contract should also stipulate who owns the completed project and domain name (you should require that the contract states that all content and graphics, and the domain name, become your property). Accompanying the contract should be a timeline of the project, as having a schedule will help keep things on track, especially if you're paying by the hour.

Don't forget to Ask for one-stop shopping?

Unless you have the knowledge to host your own Web server, you may want to consider hiring a designer that can take care of the site design and development, hosting, domain name registration, search engine optimization, and ongoing maintenance. However, this doesn't mean you should wash your hand completely of these processes. Find out what the average price is for Web hosting so that your designer isn't padding its pockets with added charges. In addition, find out who is hosting your site so that you can make sure they are reliable. Receive, in writing, the cost for monthly maintenance and what this maintenance entails. Finally, as your company grows so will your Web site, and your designer should be able to keep up with those changes.

Do Get a Copy of Everything

Although you hope your designer is around as long as your business is, there may be a time when the company folds, and then what happens? In this situation, things will be much easier if, in advance, you received copies of all graphics, stock photos, and graphic files (i.e., Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.). In addition, make sure to get the names of the hosting company and any special software needed to maintain your site. You may even want to consider taking classes that teach you how to maintain your Web site, just in case you find that you become the temporary "Web guru."

Other Questions to Ask...

  • How long will it take for my site to load?
  • Is my site easy to update?
  • Do you validate your code?
  • Can you develop back-end functions (such as a database)?
  • Will my site be compatible for multiple browsers (i.e., Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.)
  • Can you develop secure e-commerce solutions?
  • Do you have the capabilities of using frames and/or flash intros, streaming audio/video, etc.?

Having a presence on-line is becoming a requirement in nearly every industry. By having a strong partnership between you and your Web designer, you will have an effective, attractive and user-friendly Web site that attracts customers, builds customer relationships and helps your company grow.

Are you ready to get started?

If you would like to get started, our partner Web.com is currently offering LegalZoom.com customers a discount on their professional design services.