Selecting a web designer for your business is a lot like choosing a contractor to work on your home. Get ready to…
Ask lots of questions
Check out the work they’ve done for others
If you use these common-sense tips when choosing a design studio for your web site, you are likely to get the results you want.
1. Be specific about what you want to accomplish. Write it down!!
Most web projects that get off to a troubled start do so because site owners do not know what they really want or need. When they look for the right company to do their project, site owners often don’t know the qualifications of the design studio. Is it a company that designs web sites that also does marketing, or a marketing firm that also makes web sites? All these things make a difference. Most companies usually have one core competency.
A good idea is to prepare a document that describes the purpose of your site. Be as specific as you can. If you’re not sure about something, say so. Have a list that includes “must have” and “nice to have” items.
The more a designer understands the scope of the work, the easier it will be to do your project. You’re likely to get price breaks if you can really pin down what you need to have designed. When I go looking for a designer suitable for my clients’ projects, I use a Request For Proposal (RFP) as part of my method. It’s a way to ensure that studios are competing on a level playing field. It gives you a better chance to compare proposals on an “apples to apples” basis. My RFP is as specific as possible. Even small projects should have something like an RFP.
2. Know what deliverables you will need beyond the web site.
Too many businesses just don’t know what they are going to get once the site is launched. Maybe it’s because it is the first time that they’ve contracted to have a site produced for them. It could also be that they just don’t know what they want and/or what to expect from a design company.
If you’ve done a good job writing down and describing the specifics of what you want done, you’ll know what deliverables to expect from your vendor. In addition to the web site files, the following items should be included in your deal:
Make sure it is clear that all artwork created for your project is handed over to you and that it is understood how the material can be used apart from your web site.
The documentation can be done in several ways all of which needs to be discussed BEFORE the project begins. The vendor must document matters pertaining to design and programming, paying particular attention to workarounds which resolved issues. This is very important if you need to hire someone else to work on the site down the road.
Content Management System (CMS)
Most web sites are built with a CMS which enables a site owner to make changes to the site once the site is launched without having to be a web designer. While a CMS can be easy to use (that’s the beauty of it), some training is usually required to learn how to use it. Make sure you will be trained to use the CMS and that you understand the support commitment made by the design company.
3. Have a contract.
A contract is more than just a sign that a studio is professional and knows what they are doing. It’s the key to understanding the scope of the project and, hopefully, how it will be done.
Make sure you understand the contract. If you’re not sharp with the legal language, you might want to run the contract by an attorney. If you’re not familiar with the terminology of web development, design, and production, seek out the advice of someone who is.
Typically you’ll get a list of services that are included in the deal. Pay particular attention to the following:
A) Who owns the materials created for the project?
Do you have the rights to use anything created for the project in any manner for any media? That’s known as a “Work For Hire” contract which is most favorable to you. Designers can be reluctant to grant such terms but you’re likely to find flexibility through negotiation.
B) What design approval process does the studio use?
Typically, you’ll get two or three “back and forths” as the studio attempts to obtain your final design approval. Determine how many “back and forths” you get before any additional charges are incurred and what those fees will be.
C) What happens if the project is not completed on time?
Something you might need to have in the contract is a missed deadline penalty. If you have a time sensitive project which is not completed on time, you’re likely to miss sales opportunities. Designers don’t like this idea because delays are often caused by factors beyond their control.
4. Know how changes will be made to the site following its launch.
There are two ways to handle changes after the site is launched – pay the design company to do the changes or make them yourself. Most businesses today don’t like to be beholden to the studio to make updates. If your web site is rarely changed (which is not a good idea) then you might like to leave it to the designer to do the updates. If so, know the terms of this arrangement. Usually it’s a monthly fee or hourly rate. The biggest problem is that the updates do not take place on a timely basis, so get that all worked out in advance.
The “do-it-yourself” approach involves using a Content Management System as mentioned. The CMS provides pre-made templates for your site so you can add and edit content. This way you won’t have to rely on a vendor to do the work for you. If you are growing your business online, this is the preferred way to go.
When looking for a web designer remember the adage – Buyer Beware!! Learn all you can about the web development, design and production process or work with someone who already knows the ropes.