Today, anyone who wants to provide information,
sell something, share information or promote
a business knows that a Web presence will
help them achieve those goals.
A charity organization may want to
promote itself to potential members
and volunteers, as well as provide information
through newsletters and articles related
to its work, so that anyone who's interested
can learn about that organization. A
rock climbing center may want to display
a map with directions that explain how
to get to the center, hints on climbing
techniques, tips on where to find good
equipment, a photo gallery of the gym
with action shots of climbers... Unlike
other marketing strategies, a Website
has a global reach and can be accessed
If you want a Website, but you're not
a designer or developer, how can you
go about getting one? You don't have
the time to learn what it takes to be
a Web design guru and you don't trust
that your cousin, who studied computer
science, has enough experience to build
you a professional Website. So, who
can you hire to build your site? With
thousands of Web designers and developers
out there, ranging from individual freelancers
to big Web design agencies, how can
you make sure you choose the right help?
What Do You Want?
In order to find help, you need first
to figure out what you want. Ask yourself
the following questions:
What kinds of information do you want
on the site? How big do you think
your site will be?
Who are your users? Do you know which
operating system and browser they are
Will your site require regular updates?
Would you like to make changes yourself?
Will you be selling something?
Will you need a database to store and
Do you want to rely on search engines
to send more traffic to your site?
When do you need the job done?
What is your budget?
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Those who can spot a good Web designer are usually a good Web designer themselves,
or will at least have done quite a bit of Web design themselves. But for those
who aren't designers, the choosing of a professional can seem an overwhelming
Referrals are a safe bet; although
you know you may not be getting the
very best Web designer in town, you
can usually trust that you won't get
the worst, either. However, if you use
referrals and also conduct your own
searches, you will have a much better
chance of finding a designer who's right
for you. Once you've compiled a list
of Web designers and/or developers from
the sources of your choice, you need
to do some serious homework.
What if some of the designers on your
list are from out of town? Don't rule
them out if you really like them. If
you don't mind working via email and
talking on the phone, you may be quite
happy with your choice. There's always
an advantage to meeting in person and
onsite visits can be important, especially
if there are problems.
There are many things to consider when
reviewing your list of potential Web
experts. The first, obvious thing to
do is to check out their Websites. Browse
through the pages and find as much information
about them as you can. Ask yourself:
Is it easy to find information and to
get back to where you started?
Do you like the navigation system?
Are the pages accessible (no broken
Are the pages and overall design consistent?
Are there a contact page and site map
and can they easily be found?
Is there enough relevant information
on the site (eg. details about the company
including location, what they do, the
people, policies, etc.)?
Are things aligned properly?
Is the text easy to read?
Do the pages load fast?
Are the pages short, so that it's not
necessary to scroll horizontally, and
there's little or no vertical scrolling?
Do links open onto the same page?
Is there a portfolio you can view?
Does the site discuss the designer's
Does the site make use of the right
Are page titles appropriate and informative?
Hopefully, the answer to all the above
questions will be yes. Basically, if
you don't like a Web designer's site,
you probably won't want them to design
your site. Check their portfolio and
see if the style is right for you. If
you see sites that you really like,
make sure the employee/s who built those
sites are still employed and can work
on your site. What technologies does
the designer use? Will this technology
work for you and your viewers? Does
the team follow Web standards or are
they still stuck coding sites like it's
the 90s? Ideally, you want your site
to work independent of the user's operating
system and browser.
Has the team created sites for other
businesses in your industry? If so,
were they able to reflect the business
properly? If yes, then this team already
knows the needs of your industry and
will be more the kind of expert you
need than will other Web design generalists
who haven't produced these particular
sites. If the site offers testimonials,
read them to see what past clients had
to say about the work they received.
In addition to having technical skills,
the designer should be continuing his/her
education in order to keep up with the
latest technologies and standards.
Beware of companies and individuals
who claim to be Web designers and developers
but perform mostly graphic design and
work in print media. Being able to use
Web creation software such as Dreamweaver
does not make a Web designer. Your Web
designer should, at the very least,
be able to help you with Web design
and development, Web hosting, graphics
creation, database creation, Web content,
maintenance and Internet marketing and
Freelance vs. the Big Web Design Firm
After you evaluate the selected sites,
you may need to choose between engaging
a freelancer and using a big Web design
company. A big Web design company
may appear to have a lot of credibility
due to its large portfolio, many testimonials,
and large collection of experts in
all areas of design and development.
These experts have to work together
to deliver a consistent and successful
package for their clients. The size
of this kind of organization can make
clients feel secure and confident
in enlisting in their services.
Freelancers are individuals who can
take on all the necessary design and
development responsibilities. These
kinds of providers often work very closely
with others to get the job done, and
such close collaboration between fewer
people (or in some cases, just one person),
means that consistency is easy to achieve.
Working alone or in a small group can
also generate more motivation and dedication
to completing projects in which clients
can be guaranteed satisfaction. In this
type of arrangement, what you see is
what you get: the professional freelancer
you meet on the Web will be the Web
specialist for your project, and can
be held personally accountable. In contrast,
in working with a larger company, a
perfect stranger may be assigned as
your account manager once the sale goes
Freelancers may also represent better
value for money. With a freelancer,
there are rarely any hidden fees, nor
many complex contractual details to
overcome before the project can begin.
Freelancers may also be more readily
available to go onsite if required.
Depending on the size and complexity
of your site, a big agency may be the
right choice. A larger company may be
in a position to deliver bigger projects
more quickly than can an individual
freelancer. An individual freelancer
may often need either to subcontract
or learn certain skills or technologies
in order to get a job done. This can
mean extra time and/or cost, and, depending
on the freelancer involved, can also
result in a less-than-expert product.
For this reason, if your project requires
the use of a particular language or
technology, it's a good idea to seek
out designers who already specialize
in that area.
Pricing and Guarantees
To further refine your list of possible
designers, you'll want to make note
of their service rates. The prices
designers put on their services can
vary drastically. Compare rates between
designers with similar levels of education,
experience and talent. Like most purchases,
with Web design, you tend to get what
you pay for. If your project is fairly
small and straightforward, freelancers
may charge less than big agencies.
By "small", I mean a site
with a few forms and a small database.
Once you've narrowed the list, get
in touch with the companies or individuals
concerned, explain your project, and
ask for an exact price quote. Make sure
your designer can outline all costings
and the work in detail for you. If you
have questions, don't be afraid to ask,
and remember: it's not unreasonable
to negotiate a lower price that that
quoted if you feel the quote price is
If possible, also take a look at the
supplier's Web contract. Make sure that
the client is protected under this contract,
and be sure to check the copyright and
payment policies. Make a note of the
supplier's response time, too. You want
to work with someone who's readily available,
easy to contact, and who will get back
to you promptly.
Look for, and ask about a guarantee
of work. Stated policies such as, "If
you are not 100% satisfied, we will
give you your money back," or "Our
rates are competitive but if you find
a similar service for less, we will
be happy to match it," will give
you a clear idea of the designers' confidence
that they can meet your needs. Guarantees
are important: there's nothing worse
than paying big bucks for a site you're
embarrassed to show your clients or
Guarantees show potential clients that
the company cares about making them
happy and is doing its best to ensure
your project's success.
Last Steps: Contact and Check References
When you've narrowed your choice down
to just a couple of designers, it's
time to contact them and check their
references. First, call the providers
and ask questions. Are they polite
on the phone? Are they good listeners?
Were they helpful at all? If they
are difficult to talk to and you don't
like the way they treat you, it will
be difficult to work with them.
Check each provider's references by
reading any testimonials on the site
and perhaps even talking to past clients.
Go to their portfolio page, locate the
contact information for a couple of
clients, and give them a call. If there
are no testimonials, ask for references
when you call the provider. You are
looking to hire, so you have the right
to check their work references.
Lastly, it's a good idea to meet with
the designer in person and go through
your project ideas. Even at this point,
you are not obligated to enlist in their
services unless you are perfectly confident
they are the right person for the job.
It's Worth the Work
Follow these steps and you should increase
your chances of successfully finding
and hiring a Web designer or developer
who meets your needs and those of
your project. This process may seem
like a lot of work, but when you're
spending thousands of dollars, over
many years, on your online presence,
it pays to do your homework!