This article is primarily aimed at self employed individuals and business owners looking for a small business web designer (either a freelancer or a company) to build and design a custom website, relatively fast at a reasonable cost. You probably would have already done a few searches on Google (I got 250 million results) and soon realized that this can be a daunting task. After all, there are thousands of website design companies and they all say they are awesome. You don’t have time or money to waste, so how do you make the right choice the first time. Hopefully this post will provide some guidance and make the process a little bit easier.
Why do I Need a Website?
Because everybody else has one? Yeah, that’s one reason, but take some time to think about what you hope to achieve with a website. Do you want to simply provide information to prospective customers, sell products online, provide additional services to existing clients, all of the above? Doing this step will help you figure out what website design expertise you need and clearly communicate your requirements to the web designer.
What are the Website Services that I will Need?
Now that you have figured out why you want a website, you will be able to determine which of the following services you will need.
Website Design and Development
This will cover the website layout, graphics, text location, colors scheme and navigation. Any programming needed to make the website function as designed will also be included.
Domain & Hosting
For your site to go live it needs an address and home on the Internet. The address is your domain name (i.e. thenetstuff.com) and the home will be online storage space provided by a website hosting company. Some website design companies can also register your domain and host your website, while others can guide you through the process and recommend what you need. There are many good web hosts out there, we use Site5 as we have found they provide excellent service at a reasonable price.
This can include everything from Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to Social Media Optimization (SMO). This area can get complicated and expensive, but every website should have at least some basic SEO and search engine submissions done. You should also select at least a few social platforms to allow your customers to connect with you. More often than not, most business owners would be familiar with social platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn. For more information on social media for small business check this and this.
Once the website is live, any updates to the content will be covered under website maintenance. You can either sign a maintenance contract with your website company or if you want to do it yourself make sure that your site has an easy to use Content Management System (CMS).
How to Evaluate a Web Designer
You know what you want and you have some idea of what services you need. Now you need to talk to a few web designers and evaluate whether they have the expertise needed to get you online at an affordable cost.
- Don’t always assume that the #1 ranked site on Google will do a great job, this just means they are good at SEO. Pick a few companies from your web search to evaluate. If you have family/friends or business partners with good websites ask them for recommendations as well.
- Once you’ve narrowed down the list, take a look at their website, look at their web design portfolio and clients. You need to like their site and their work. If they don’t have a professional looking site that is easy to use, chances are your site won’t be much better.
- Talk to them. Does it sound like they know their stuff? You don’t need to be a technical expert here. It is the web designers job to explain things to you in plain english. For every answer you get ask yourself, does it make sense. If you keep getting technical jargon and acronyms thrown at you, they either know what they are talking about but can’t communicate well or they have no idea and are just trying to confuse you. Either way you should walk away.
- Do they ask enough questions about your business and your goals for your website. If they don’t take the time to understand your business goals chances are they can’t build a website which will achieve them.
- Ask them how the project will be managed. Good project management is essential to ensure that things happen on time and budget.
- Talk about website maintenance. Depending on your budget, how much time you have and how comfortable you are, for most small business websites you should be able to update it yourself. At theNetStuff we do provide website maitenance services, however, all of our websites include an easy to use CMS (and free training) which can be easily updated by our customers.
- The number of website that are being viewed on mobile devices has increased exponentially. If you want your website to look great on a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer make sure you ask for a responsive design. This is a request that we get all the time, so all of the websites that we do now are responsive (whether the customer asks for it or not) so it looks great whether you access it from a smartphone or laptop.
- Often web designer will register your domain for you. It is very important that when they do this the domain is registered under your name and you are give the logon credentials for your domain name. I can’t stress enough the importance of this. If you are unsure check the whois information of your domain and make sure that you are the administrative and billing contact, and you have access to the email address listed. For more information check out our blog on how to choose a domain name.
- You should have full and unrestricted access to the website including the source files. This way if you need to make any changes, either by yourself or with the help of another designer you should be able to. You should be provided with the logon information to the website hosting account, domain account, CMS, FTP information and any database logon information.
- Copyrights can get a bit tricky. If they create a logo for you, custom design any graphics, create content, develop any software code specifically for you, you should own the copyright for these. In addition to these,t there are some components which you may not “own”. For example, we use WordPress for a lot our small business websites. The license under which the WordPress software is released is the GPLv2 (or later) from the Free Software Foundation. You have the rights to use and modify the source but you do not technically “own” the source code. Read the contract carefully and make sure there is a statement about copyrights which spells out clearly what you own and what you do not own.
- How do you test the website? Will they test on different browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari), different operating systems (Windows, Mac OS) and different devices (smartphones, tablets and desktops). Remember, just because your site looks great on Windows/Internet Explorer, there is not guarantee it will look the same on other platforms.
- Cost is always one of the key factors to consider. Unfortunately, each requirement is unique and it’s hard to throw out a number. At theNetStuff our website designs typically start at $900. We have found that this is the minimum that most reputable website design companies charge. Be vary of quotes too low or too high.
- How do you feel? Do you believe what they say? Do they answer your questions? Are they easy to work with, flexible and reasonable? You maybe working with them for a long time, so make sure you are comfortable and confident that there can be a mutually beneficial business relationship.
Common Myths & Untruths
When doing the research for this post I came across many blogs and articles that provided great information, but also came across some questionable advice and stuff that web designers say that simply aren’t true. Here’s some of them and why I don’t agree.
- Make sure your website design company has a local office – when it comes to getting a website designed, there is no reason to restrict yourself to looking in your area. Make sure you check that the business is legitimate, but as long as you can pick up the phone and talk to somebody there is no reason to impose this restriction. If the ability to meet face to face is essential to you, it must be understood that this can limit your choice and thus impact cost (depending on where you are located).
- Outsourcing is bad – outsourcing work outside the US, if not done correctly can be a disaster. However, outsourcing done right can greatly reduce cost and increase turnaround time. The company you select should be a registered business in the US and as long as you have a point of contact located in your time zone, for a small business on a budget this can greatly reduce costs.
- Websites are easy to design, my nephew who is into computers can do it – hmmm, not really. As a business if you want to project a professional image, get a website done by a professional. There are lots of free and DIY website options out there, which might be a good temporary solution. However, considering that you can get basic but professional website done for around a $1,000, it has now become more affordable and within the reach of most small businesses. Think of it more as an investment than a cost.
- A content management system (CMS) is only needed for large websites – No, not really. We believe that no matter how small, there is no reason for a web designer to create a static website. With open source systems such as WordPress and Joomla, this makes the process a whole lot easier. The simple reason why every website should have a CMS is because then you can update it yourself. You are not dependent on a web designer. In addition, having an industry standard CMS will allow your website to grow and expand without having to start from scratch whenever a major change is needed.
The Bottom Line
Spend the time upfront and do your home work. Make sure the designer answers all you are questions (and apply the “does it make sense?” test to every answer) and you trust their expertise. Then let them do their job.
Sound off on the comments below if you have any questions or any other advice to share.