New projects are always great at the beginning but how do you know if it’s going to last?
You’ve got ideas, you’ve got a plan, you have a vision and it’s exciting as hell, but if you’ve ever had a bad experience with a web designer you’ll know how stressful it can be when things start to go wrong. The more you understand about web designers, developers, freelancers, agencies and how they all operate, the more smoothly your web design projects will run. We’re going to help you with finding great web designers and how to make sure your web projects are successful.
Simply knowing what to ask, what to look for and what to avoid will help you in your quest to find an honest, reliable and decent web design partner. Finding the right web designers to work with will help make sure things get done properly the first time round. You’ll save time, energy and money – who doesn’t want that?
Is finding great web designers really that difficult?
Unfortunately it can be. Some clients came to us in real desperation, hoping that we can save what was left of their project after previous web designers had walked away or were unable to finish the project. They were left feeling angry, confused and frustrated about having their plans delayed, or worse, put on hold. Even with hindsight it can be hard to figure out exactly where things went wrong. Throughout this guide we will give you everything you need to make sure your next web project is a success.
Web design, like many other digital services, belongs to an industry where anyone can claim to be a pro. This has led to so called professionals taking advantage of clients, thinking they can get away with doing whatever they like and tarnishing our beloved industry in the process. Most services that web designers provide are technical in nature, so it can be tricky to figure out whether someone actually knows what they’re talking about or not. For some services, like SEO and other online marketing, results can take up to 6 months to start showing any results. This makes it almost impossible to truly know whether the people you’ve hired actually know what they’re doing. It can often feel like you have no other option but to take a giant leap of faith, we’re going to help make sure you never have that feeling again.
Finding the right person or team to work with can mean the difference between a successful business and a failed one, especially for start-ups that need to focus on maximising online sales and exposure. Sometimes people just aren’t compatible, but this has to be realised before starting a project, otherwise things can go really, really wrong.
Good communication helps both sides make the right decisions for the project
Long before you start asking for quotes or proposals, the web designers you’re speaking with should know almost as much about your project and business as you do, especially if you’re working with them on branding too. If you’re worried about people stealing your ideas, you need to look into using Non Disclosure Agreements. These are basic contracts that require people you share your ideas with to not discuss them with others. Don’t treat your web designers like outsiders, bring them into your world. By knowing more about your plans and objectives they’ll be able to help you solve problems now and avoid them in the future.
Missed deadlines, designs that look nothing like what you were promised, hidden and surprise costs, project abandonment, bad attitudes, broken websites and many other horrible outcomes can be avoided by simply picking a decent web designer for your next project.
Sometimes it’s just not your fault when things go wrong
We’re firm believers that most people out there want to do a great job but confusion and lack of communication can stop this from happening. If things get bad, it’s very difficult to agree on an outcome that makes everyone happy. Usually one person has to either compromise or make sacrifices to keep the project running smoothly, which leads to a whole host of negative emotions. The good news is that unless one side is being entirely unreasonable or unprofessional, there’s a good chance you can finish the project, even if it’s not quite what you wanted. It’s better than having the whole project fail.
There are three types of people in service based industries like ours and you should do everything in your power to make sure you don’t hire the wrong type. Those that can, those that sort of can and those that can’t. We’ll be exposing the last two types and talking about how you can spot them.
Everyone is Responsible for Something
Problems usually start when people involved (on either side) have expectations that don’t get discussed until there’s a problem. Once contracts have been signed and the project has begun it’s difficult to start changing things that are likely to affect the budget. It’s in everyone’s best interest for both sides to make clear what they expect right at the beginning. If you’ve not been a web design client before, we’ll be talking about everything you need to consider shortly, but here are a couple of examples:
- The client expected three face to face meetings every week, but they didn’t mention it. The web designers expected to hold two virtual meetings every week, but never asked the client and it wasn’t mentioned in the proposal. If the web designer buckles, they’re going to start losing money on the project. If the client buckles, they might not get enough opportunities to give feedback on the project.
- The client has a big event coming up in the next few days, it’s a really important one and if they miss it they’ll lose out on hundreds of sales. They need their web designers to make some important changes to the website. Unfortunately the web designers (like most) schedule their work several weeks or months in advance. They may already have other rush projects on or will have to work late into the night to get it all finished on time. There’s a big chance that the client is going to lose those hundreds of sales.
Keep great web designers in the loop and make sure that all of your expectations are discussed as early as possible.
Questions great web designers are likely to ask
As web designers, it’s our responsibility to ask questions early on to make sure that everything is in order before starting. This means asking lots of in-depth questions early on, such as the following:
- How will a new website help your business grow?
- How do you measure and define the success of your website?
- Why would people come to your website and what information will they want?
- When is the earliest and latest you need the project to be finished by?
- If you have any deadlines or events what are they and what makes these dates so important?
- Do your current plans maximise any potential for your website to automate processes save you time?
- Are you wanting a highly interesting website that engages users or do you just need something that tells people what you do?
- Do you expect your website to play a vital role within your business or do you see it more as just something you should have?
We’re sure there’s at least a few we’ve missed but this should give you an idea of the level of insight that good web designers are looking for.
Some of these questions are difficult to answer, especially for new businesses, but do spend some time thinking about exactly what you expect. Asking for a basic website without being able to talk about what you’re trying to achieve makes it very likely that you’re going to end up with a crap website that does nothing for your business.
Responsibilities as a Client
You’re paying someone to build you a new site, shouldn’t they take care of everything and just get on with it? This is only ever going to end well if you have zero expectations for your site and don’t expect it to add any value to your business. The less access web designers have to you or your team the less likely you are to end up with a website that engages site users and generates sales, leads or enquiries. You might know exactly what you want to say on your site, but actually the most successful projects rely on collaboration between the business owner and the people building the new site. Would you rather have an awesome new website or someone to blame for a failed one?
The more you communicate and the more you talk about what you need and want, the higher the chances are of the project being a success. Web designers can be a great many things, but psychic doesn’t make it onto that list. Make sure they know what’s important to you early on, otherwise it’s simply a case of hoping that they plan to do is the same as what you want.
Start by Figuring out Exactly what You’re Trying to Achieve
Realising that it’s important to have a decent website is a good start. Knowing exactly what you want from your new website and how it’s going to help your business is vital to achieving success online.
Number and Complexity of Web Pages
The number of pages and their complexity play a big role in how much work is needed to build your new website. A long time ago many web designers would base a price almost exclusively on the total number of pages. These days there’s a much greater variety in how complex each page can be, a single page might take longer than the rest of the site to build, so we have to look at what else is going on as well.
It’s all well and good having a few paragraphs of text on each page, but is that really the best way of encouraging people to want to spend time and money with your business?
List What’s Important to Your Users or Customers
Everything you do should be about making the lives of your users and customers easier. The more you focus on helping them, the more they’ll love your brand and the more they’ll want to spend money with you.
Think about the following points and create a separate list for each one. Sharing this information with web designers will really help them to determine the best approach to take with your new website.
- Why will people want to visit your website?
- When they get to your site what will they want do?
- What questions are they likely to have and how can you answer them in the fasted way possible?
- Are your site users only interested in one service/product, or will they want something else you offer?
- How do you sell to people in the real world? What information do you give them and what sales techniques do you use?
With your lists complete, you can start working out what you want to say on each page of your new website and share this information with anyone you speak with. Great web designers will talk about and show you all of the exciting ways to display and promote content throughout your site.
Enhanced Web Design
Having to look at a boring, poorly designed website a bit like being presented with a bowl of rice for dinner. It will fill you up but there’s absolutely nothing interesting about it.
When you force people to look at large blocks of text they will start to lose interest. It’s like having talking to someone with a monotone voice, it’s bearable but not exactly enjoyable. Here are some additional design services you might want to consider:
- Illustrations – Large feature illustrations to help communicate a point or enable better scanning of a page.
- Icons – Small icons to help promote individual items and highly specific sentences or paragraphs.
- Better Page Designs – Looking at better and more coherent ways of presenting facts, statements, information and links.
Advanced Web Development Features
Whether it’s promoting your content in more interesting ways, automating processes, making it easier to find information, increasing promotion of products/service throughout the site or you just want to impress your users, it’s worth investing a little more and going the extra mile.
Here are some advanced web development features you might be interested in for your next project:
- Advanced blog, content display and filtering of items
- Advanced contact forms with automatic email responses
- Integrating and optimising your site for social media engagement
- Sending or receiving data from/to other sites
- Interactive or animated content
- Better ways for customers to browse products
- Showing live search results as users type into a search box
When it comes to forming opinions and picking one out of several options, how something is presented is right up there on the list of important factors for most people. Two pieces of fruit, on the same shelf, at the same the same price. One is fresh, it looks great. One is a little past its best. Which one do you think most people would choose?
If that doesn’t convince you then think about the following:
- Interesting websites keep users on your site for longer. When a business invests in making their content enjoyable to read, people are more likely to want to spend time reading it, learning about products, values, services, opportunities and more in the process.
- When people spend longer on your site, sales, enquiries and engagement will increase. A user may have been interested in just one service you provide. Thanks to all of your great content they’ve realised that actually there’s a couple of other things they need too – oh and you just happen to offer that product/service as well!
- Great websites make you look like a serious contender. Smaller businesses tend to invest less in having a good website, often believing they can’t afford it. Of course, great websites don’t have to cost a fortune, but spending a little more can go a long way to making you look like a leader within your industry.
- Premium brands can charge a lot more than competitors, but it’s not easy maintaining that reputation. If you cut corners and it looks like you’re being cheap, people just won’t believe it when your brand talks about being luxury whilst trying to justify those higher prices.
Learning about your users and the problems they have allows you to plan and adapt your business to better suit their needs. In order to do that your website has to engage with people in the right way, which isn’t going to happen if you try and do it yourself or hire a student…
Don’t Try and do Everything at Once
A successful business identifies a problem, creates a solution and does everything it can to get the word out about it. It sounds simple, yet so many people get it wrong.
According to the ONS only 45% of start-ups survive beyond five years. A separate study by RSA suggests that 55% of businesses in the UK will fail by their fifth year, a claim backed up by findings based on based on ONS business closure data:
Even with an optimistic view, of all the current 5.5 million UK businesses, hundreds of thousands will fail and close every year. Globally, millions will suffer the same fate.
Relying on Guesswork Will Cost You Time and Money
Businesses, products, services and solutions have to be flexible. People make the mistake of believing they can predict everything about everything, it doesn’t work that way. After launching and engaging with users/customers/clients you’ll have gained an incredible amount of insight into the solutions you provide, this applies equally to creating and launching new websites.
Major Flaws – If the solution you offer doesn’t work or the problem you’ve identified doesn’t exist it won’t matter whether your budget is £10k or £100k, things probably aren’t going to work out. What would you rather spend to find out if your business idea is going to work or not?
Insights – Gaining an understanding of people’s expectations and how they want to use what you offer is only possible once you’ve started the business. With the right amount of engagement you’ll start to understand what’s attracting people and what’s driving them away.
Minor Issues – Once you’ve gained these insights you can begin to address the little things that you know are stopping people from working or spending money with you. Guessing and trying to solve problems you don’t understand is just going to waste time and money.
New Features – Whether it’s a product, service or your new website you shouldn’t try and guess at what people want, otherwise you’re likely to, again, waste time and money on things people don’t care about.
Dealing With the Unknown – Big web projects are much better being built out in multiple phases. Instead of hoping all of your assumptions and predictions were right you can focus first on what you know is important. In that time you’ll discover new problems, new solutions and new opportunities may come along that you want to take advantage of.
By focusing on everything, you’re prioritising nothing. It’s like when people tell you they’re multi-tasking, but actually they’re just doing lots of things badly. If you’re launching a new business, we strongly recommend reading up on the Lean Startup method and Minimum Viable Products. They’re all about getting things right the first time round, doing more with less and achieving success quickly.
Decide on Project Priorities
Whether you’re looking for someone to work with on a single project or you’re trying to find a team to work with on an on-going basis, it’s important to help them understand what aspects of the project are most important to you. The clearer you can be about what you want the less they have to guess. Guesses are based on assumptions, which lead to inaccurate expectations and disappointment when things don’t happen how everyone thought they would.
Many people refer to the Project Management Triangle, also known as the Triple Constraint or Iron Triangle, which highlights the three main priorities of project management. It’s a great starting point but not the most effective way to think about the fundamentals of web design projects.
As you can see, it’s all about being good, fast or cheap. The idea is that you can only ever pick two of these and that if you deviate from this you will unleash chaos and destruction on the world… Or at least, that’s how many people have incorrectly interpreted it.
You can’t assign zero importance to any one area, it just doesn’t work. You can’t expect web designer to build highly complex websites as fast as they possibly can without any budget.
A better way of looking at this is to imagine that you’ve got 100 points to distribute, to make your project cheaper, faster or better. You can’t go over this limit. What numbers would you give each property?
Failing to understand, set and stick to your priorities will result in unrealistic project expectations; the more unrealistic your project, the higher the chances of it ending in disaster.
The problem with this train of thought is that it doesn’t distinguish between project scope (amount of work) and the quality of work carried out. Both of these have a huge impact on the project.
Scope – What are your goals and how much work is required?
Think about all the different services you’re going to need:
- How much information will your users expect about the services or products you offer?
- Do your users expect a great online experience that engages them and answers all of their questions?
- Do you have a lot of information that could be made more interesting with illustrations or other visual aids?
- Does it need any advanced functionality, integrations or technical features?
- Do you need people to find your website and can SEO services help?
- Do you know what’s involved with SEO and do you really know the best way to get a page one ranking?
- How will your website grow and improve after the initial launch?
Trying to figure out how much work is involved early on helps you to build stronger relationships. The more exciting your project and the bigger your goals, the more likely you are to attract great web designers.
If you want a large business that supports a whole team of people think about how quickly you want to grow the business, are you thinking six months, two years, and five years?
SEO or online marketing activities can take about six months before the effort you put in starts moving your site up the rankings. If you get it wrong, that’s half a year you’ve just wasted. Reading a book or taking a three hour course is not a replacement for working with a professional.
Quality – How advanced and flexible should the deliverables be?
Think about how your content will change over time:
- Should some features be coded from scratch or can we use a plugin without affecting the stability and integrity of the website?
- How much of your content do you want to be able to easily edit after launch?
- Do you need any intricate, advanced or bespoke page designs where text or other content needs updating a lot?
- Do you need to pull data or content from another site or database to use on your own?
- Are your site users happy with an okay mobile experience or do they expect you to make sure it’s as good as the desktop experience?
- How important is it for people to easily find you website?
- How much time should be spent on creating unique and interesting visual styles?
You don’t have to spend thousands building a huge elaborate website, but spending a bit more to lift your online presence above your competitors is really going to help you sell. If you are offering something that people aren’t already familiar with, it’s probably worth looking at ways to explain how your products or services help people and what they can expect from you.
Most web designers appreciate that a lot of what they do can be difficult to understand, they don’t expect clients to make every decision by themselves. Great web designers find ways of making complicated things seem simple. The less experienced web designers, and the stereotypical developers out there who spend more time coding than talking to people, may end up confusing with lots of jargon.
Speed – When does your project need to be completed?
Think about each element of your project rather than just a single launch date:
- When does your new website need to be launched by?
- What deadlines do you have and what happens if you miss them?
- If you have a tight deadline, are there any features that can wait until after launch?
- Are there any events or opportunities coming up that you need to be ready for?
There are so many different ways to build a website, even when using the same platform or a content management system like WordPress. Without knowing exactly what a client wants it’s difficult to tell them exactly how long it’s going to take to build. However, we can give you some basic time frames.
- Basic brochure websites without any additional features, bells or whistles usually take around 2-3 weeks to complete.
- Sites with a lot of content and a few advanced features or a small amount of additional design work can take anywhere between 4-8 weeks.
Rushing a project is sometimes an option, but it should only be when you’re in a real emergency. If you’re in a tight spot, most web designers will do everything they can to help you as we all love to impress our clients, but it will cost you more. The bigger the rush, the more experienced your web designers should be. There’s a lot more pressure and if they don’t know exactly what they’re doing things could get ugly, fast.
Cost – How much do you want to invest into this project?
Think about how different levels of service will affect your ability to achieve business objectives:
- Is your project a rush job?
- What level of service do you need?
- How advanced are your requirements?
- How often are you expecting to have meetings? Face to face or will remote do?
- Is your budget realistic for what you want to achieve, can you spread payments out over a longer period of time?
If you don’t make it clear what your budget is, you are more likely to receive a proposal that gets you less value for what you’re spending. Some people worry about getting ripped off and others genuinely have no idea how much their project should cost.
If you get ripped off it’s because they thought they believed you’d fall for their lies, not because you told them how much you wanted to spend. If you don’t know how much your project should cost then you’re much better off speaking with two web designers for a couple of hours than quickly rounding up quotes from ten.
Struggling to plan your next web design project? We can help.
Avoid the Budget Guessing Game at all Costs
How much does it cost to build a house? It’s impossible to answer. Don’t fall into the trap of forcing your web designer(s) to play the guessing game when it comes to the project cost, it’s a recipe for disaster. Without knowing (at least roughly) how much you are looking to spend and exactly what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll likely end up with a number that far exceeds what you want to do because working with uncertainty costs more than knowing what needs to be done.
You don’t have to tell them exactly what you want to spend, just give them a minimum and maximum range. You can always ask whether there’s any flexibility with pricing. If it’s too much then talk to them about different levels of service or whether they need any more information about what you’re trying to do. You’ll be in much safer hands working with a more experienced team who know what they’re doing than someone who’s willing to slash their prices in half – all that means is they don’t value their service.
Getting the Most for Your Money
Adjusting priorities to suit your situation can really help achieve a problem free project. Some web designers are flexible with payments, for example we’d rather spread the cost of a project out over a longer period of time, giving the client exactly what they need, than carry out a smaller project knowing it’s going to stunt the growth of their business. Their business is more likely to succeed and we get paid a fair amount – everyone’s a winner.
Equally if you have a really tight deadline, just be clear about it from the start and recognise the situation for what it is. We love helping clients get out of tight spots, even if it means sacrificing a lot of our spare time, but not when that becomes an expectation which is taken for granted and gets abused. It’s always worth asking how long a project of your size would usually take, different teams have different processes which can make the project faster or slower to complete. Unless you’ve done their job, it’s not going to help your case by telling them how long it should take.
When you’ve given these four key areas some thought and have put together a solid set of notes about your project then it’s time to start the search!
Start Looking for Potential Web Design Partners!
Web designers are ten a penny but finding a good one that’s right for you can be difficult. Getting this wrong could cost both you and the web designers hundreds of hours and thousands of pounds, no one wants that!
If you want a web design partner that always does their best to help you out then it’s worth spending a bit of time making sure you pick the right one. What makes a web design team great for one client could make them a terrible choice for another. Knowing your requirements beforehand will make it easier to find “The One”.
Freelancers, agencies and cheap overseas outsourcing
You’ll need to have a think about what kind of web designer(s) you want to work on your project. When you have a lot of deliverables or the work requires many different skill sets then it’s definitely going to be better to work with a team, rather than an individual. Typically this will apply where five figure budgets are involved.
If you expect your project to be carried out quickly and efficiently then it’s probably not going to work out using a large agency, they will be reliable but that’s because there will be many processes in place to ensure consistency in everything they do – but it all takes a lot of time.
It’s absolutely possible to have a great experience working with web designers at any level, cheap or expensive, local or foreign, it doesn’t matter. What matters is what you need from them and whether or not they can provide it. Have a think about what sort of web designer you’re after, we’ve listed a few of the pros and cons of working with each one below:
Agencies – The most reliable and most expensive option. Working with an agency is the least risky choice when it comes to deadlines, guarantees and promises, professionalism and quality of work. Everything is done by the book, so it can take longer to get things done and communication may be less personal than you might like. Not the best choice if you have a simple project.
Freelancers – These people occupy both ends of the spectrum, from fresh students to industry veterans. Usually working alone or as part of a small local or remote network, it can be hard to know exactly how well they do their job if they don’t have a great portfolio. Some freelancers focus on lots of different skill sets, so be careful with the jack of all trade types. Whilst cheaper than agencies, if they don’t have a decent website or a good portfolio of work then it’s a good idea to ask to speak with some of their previous clients or test them out on a smaller project first. Be wary if they don’t use a contract.
Cheap Overseas Outsourcing – The cheapest and most risky riskiest choice, but still a viable option in the right circumstances. If your web project needs strong branding, lots of complex visual elements or advanced technical features then you should steer clear. Language barriers will likely cause confusion, leading to lots of back and forth as you try to correct their mistakes, which may result in missed deadlines and increased costs. Also consider that if you end up having problems with them or their work, you won’t be able to go through UK courts.
Something else to consider is the cost of things going wrong, which could far outweigh the extra cost of working with more established and experienced web designers.
Where to start your search for a great web design partner
Unless you’ve already got a couple of contacts then the best place to start is online. There are two levels to focus on, locally and by county. We’re based in Worthing, West Sussex. Worthing is a small and growing seaside town with a population of around 110,000. If you search for web design Worthing you’ll struggle to find many experienced freelancers or large agencies.
Clients with big projects and five or six figure budgets will likely start their search in Brighton or London because when the trains actually work (ha ha ha… Only joking Southern Rail, we know your services don’t handle pressure very well) it doesn’t take very long to get to either location and a lot of the work can be carried out remotely without sacrificing quality.
Using Their Website to Gain Insight
Whether you’re searching locally, slightly further afield, at the county level or all them, start taking a look at the top ranked websites. It’s important to note that the smaller the town you are searching in, the less competition there will be for the top spots of any web design related searches. We mention this because there are a few things to look for which will help separate the good from the bad.
Making Sure They’re Legitimate
Are they claiming to be a large agency when really they’re a sole trader? Check out what they’re claiming. Serious, tax paying businesses and anyone worth speaking to should be easy to find online. Find out about businesses and their company type, size, location, listed directors/owners and more by going here: https://companycheck.co.uk/ If the business isn’t listed, they could be new or possibly trying to hide their identity. Be warned though, the data isn’t always 100% accurate.
You can also verify a business by running a “who is” search with someone like this: http://whois.domaintools.com – Just make sure the important information, wherever you’re looking, all matches up.
Inexperienced or out of touch?
Working with people that haven’t spent enough time learning about current best practices and modern web design techniques is going to suck, especially if you have big long term plans for your site and the business it represents.
Whether it’s a clueless student or an out of touch industry veteran, you should try to avoid them both for serious projects.
Take a look at their site and compare it some of the biggest, best and most modern web design agencies out there. Check out some of the big London agencies, the ones you know you can’t afford. Compare their sites to the ones you’re looking at. Don’t obsess over the quality or quantity of content because the principles of good design are the same at every level and whether the business turns over £20k or £200k a year, they should still have a clean website with well written content.
Wannabe or part-time jack of all trades?
Are they running with a tiny three page website and just a gallery of images with information about what they’ve worked on? Hopefully it’s filled with lots of useful information about the services they provide and how they can help people like you. Smaller sites will likely mean the person behind it is used to working on small projects and may struggle and with anything outside of their comfort zone.
Great web designers do a lot to improve their services and make life easier for their clients, it’s an on-going process. Everything is built around experience earned or knowledge gained, which should be easy to convert into lots of great web content.
Do you want to work with a professional who adds value to the relationship, helping both you and your business reach new levels or do you just need someone who will do what you want?
Language & Focus
When a web designer talks about how they can help your business grow, increase sales, improve conversion rates or anything else that can be measured then you’re on the right track. This shows that they understand how successful businesses operate and are less likely to waste time making things look pretty for the sake of it.
Do you just want a website or would you prefer an asset that’s going to help you sell more, grow faster and achieve greater things?
Take a good look through their portfolio, get an idea of how big each project is and how many show qualities that you’re looking for, whether that’s amount of work, design style or functionality. Focus on how much detail the portfolio entries go into, a collection of images might look good but if they can’t talk about what challenges were involved, it was likely a very small, quick project.
Do you need a reliable web designer or can you afford for them to cause delays to your project?
A premium theme or template is basically used to get a simple website up quickly. They’re not design for serious business use, where the site needs be designed or coded in a certain way, to achieve the best conversion, engagement and SEO results. Web designers that don’t/can’t create their own custom themes tend to rely on plug-ins for anything that isn’t text content, and the more of those you have, the more problems and restrictions you are likely to face.
A web designer tends to build their site using the method they’re most comfortable with. If they are using a theme or site builder for their own site, they likely don’t have much experience building high quality websites. There isn’t a tool that can check every type of website but you can use this one to check whether a WordPress site is using a theme: http://www.isitwp.com/
Will your site stay as it is for the majority of its life or do you need something professional that you want to invest in SEO for that’s easy to upgrade over time?
We’ve heard of many web designers who are just so busy that they don’t need to chase more work or don’t need to do any marketing to get by. Whilst that’s great for them, it also means they aren’t able or prepared to move up to the next level and grow their business.
If you are trying to launch and grow a big business then you’ll probably get on better with web designers who have the same goals. Web designers who are happy with the status quo are probably not thinking about how they can become more efficient or how to improve the services they provide.
Design is such a subjective topic, it really is. Some people like certain things that others would describe as disgusting. So how do you know if what you’re looking at is good or not? You just have to remember that good design isn’t about looking nice, it’s about solving problems.
Unless a web designer is intentionally being very specific in whom they’re trying to target with their website, they should be using a clean, minimal style that appeals to as many people as possible. If their site looks okay, but doesn’t really look great to you, that’s okay, you may just have different tastes, it doesn’t mean the web designer behind it can’t create something you’ll love. If you really don’t like the look of it at all, you could argue that their web design abilities have let them down, as their site is putting off a potential client.
Ask some of your friends to have a quick look through the websites of web designers you’re thinking of hiring. If people come back with strong and negative opinions on any of the sites (and your friend isn’t just being silly…) then it begs the question of whether that designer is any good.
Plan How You’re Going to Approach Web Designers
We’ve covered the different sizes and levels of web designers, you should now also know how to compare them against each other. Now we’re going to look at how to approach them. There are two main strategies you can choose from here, one attracts the great web designers we’re trying to find, the other puts them off. Emailing twenty or more different web designers or businesses is a really lazy way to go about finding a good long term partner. Understand what you need, who is most able to help you and spend a bit of time getting to know them first.
We’ve talked a lot about the importance of knowing and sharing the finer details of your project, now let’s focus on how to make a great first impression (yes, this works both ways!) and how it can help you get the best proposal for you.
Step 1 – Initial Contact. Email, Phone or Meeting?
As far as good first impressions go, it doesn’t make much of a difference either way, but you should cover a few points before asking for a meeting. Whether it’s by email or phone, try and cover the following points:
- A brief introduction to yourself and/or the business you work for
- What problems you’re trying to solve and why
- How you want them to help you
- Why you chose to contact them over others in your shortlist (they will love you for this)
- Any brand/web/other materials you currently have
- When and how you can discuss your project in more detail
If they’re prepared to spend a bit longer over the phone right then and there, great. If you would rather a face to face meeting then just let them know. Web designers and business people know that the more effort made by a potential client before starting a project, the higher the chances of it being a good project, a good client and a good opportunity overall.
Mass mailing 50 different companies and expecting them all to send you a full proposal based on not very much information is the easiest way to make a bad first impression. It’s just a waste of everyone’s time. It also shows that you either aren’t serious and don’t value forging strong relationships – two big red flags that web designers will be looking for.
Step 2 – Discuss Your Project & Their Services
Sharing important details about your project and asking specific questions will help you get the information you need and show you who’s going to be the best partner for you. You can of course go into as much detail as you like, but we’d recommend at least talking about the following:
- The scope, quality, speed and cost you’re expecting
- Any advanced requirements
- Any important dates or deadlines and how they might affect the project
- Whether you’d prefer remote of face to face meetings and how many
- How they can exceed your expectations and make you happy – be realistic
- How you intend to grow your business after the new website launch
This should be more than enough for any serious web designer(s) to get their heads fully into and be able to provide you with a solid quote.
Test Them Out Early On
As a new enquiry, web designers will be doing everything they can to increase the chances of you hiring them. It’s a perfect time to test out what they consider to be good service and how much they prioritise good communication, something that’s key to any successful project. Whenever they have to get to you with something just ask them to let you know when they’ll be able to do it by.
By getting them to set the deadline, they only have themselves to blame if they miss it. You can now make a note of their actions based on whether they miss, hit or exceed the set expectations. If they set reasonable deadlines and keep getting back to you early then you’re more likely onto a winner!
Asking Questions & Getting the Right Information
Some people think that because they aren’t technical they can’t get into an involved discussion about the services that are being provided. That’s not true and if you give it a go you’ll gain valuable insight into the people or teams you’re speaking with.
Firstly, if they can only talk to you using jargon words and lots of complicated phrases, they probably don’t understand how to speak with clients. Secondly, you’ll be able to gauge how knowledgeable they are about their own services and whether or not you can work with them.
The goal here is to find web designers with enough experience to handle the work you need them to do without it being outside of their comfort zone (causing time delays and potentially extra costs) but not for it to be so trivial that they quickly begin to lose the motivation (resulting in a lower quality of work) needed to finish your project to a high standard.
“How would you tackle my project?”
You should be communicating in terms of the problems you’re trying to solve, rather than just telling them what to do. Why? Because they (should!) have done this a lot more than you have, which means that they’ll know what works best and will likely have solutions you might not even knew were available to you.
“How busy are you at the moment?”
How many projects do they usually have on the go at any one time (it’s probably more than you think) and how many do they have on at the moment? They might not give you exact details but they should give you an idea of what their current workload is like. It’ll also give you an idea of their current size and how big they are.
“How are you different from all the other web designers?”
What about their service will help you personally and take care of your requirements better than others? What do they specialise in, why do their other clients keep coming back to them? If they can’t answer any of these questions it’s likely that they don’t care very much about understand how to make clients happy.
“Do you use contracts?”
You should definitely be using a contract, this shouldn’t be up for discussion. If they don’t encourage the use of a contract from the beginning it means they’re inexperienced or aren’t confident in their own ability to carry out the project to meet your requirements. If they flat out refuse to use one, then avoid them at all costs. The only time to not panic is if you have a really small project worth less than around £500.
“Roughly how many hours will you allocate to this project?”
This isn’t the same as asking how long it takes to build a website, this is about knowing how much time will be invested into your project. Whether you get this answer straight away or along with the quote or proposal it doesn’t really matter, but knowing this information will help you compare the different web designers and the level of service they provide.
All web designers do things in different ways, so the websites they build each have their own strengths and weaknesses. It’s important to understand how different web designers approach projects and what the limitations of their websites are.
“Are your prices fixed?”
Something we hear of a lot, and get quite annoyed about, is other web designers thinking it’s acceptable to increase the price after it has been set and agreed. There’s no need for it. If they aren’t just trying to scam you, it’s usually because they’ve failed to understand a client’s requirements fully and underestimated how much work is involved. Great web designers will know roughly how long a task or project is going to take and their processes will give them the information they need in order to arrive at a fixed price.
The only time the price should change is when you, the client, change the scope of the project. Be sure to clarify with them (in written form – email is fine) that any additional work will be agreed upon before it is carried out and billed for.
“How Easy is it to Upgrade my Site?”
If being able to modify parts of your site and add new advanced functionality is important to you then you need to know how they handle on-going client work and whether or not they’re capable of implementing all of the advanced features you may need in years to come. Changing developers during or after a web project can be both difficult and costly depending on the situation.
This is certainly not a definitive list of questions but it’s a great starting point that should help you figure out exactly what you need from your web designers and it‘ll make them aware of your expectations and how to keep you happy!
“Can you work with my budget?”
When web designers don’t know what your budget is they have to guess at how much you want to spend. If they get it wrong, there’s a strong chance you’ll assume they’re just too far away from what you’re looking at. In reality, there’s every chance that they would be happy to work for your budget, but because the lines of communication weren’t open, you’ll likely dismiss them. That could have been the best web design partner you were ever going to find. Forcing web designers to play the guessing game doesn’t help anyone.
We’re not suggesting that you hand over detailed financial accounts but you can at least give them a rough idea of what you’re able to spend. For example if you know you’ve got £5k set aside for this project, tell them your budget is £3k – £5k. When people know the budget they can give you accurate and useful proposals that aren’t just going to get deleted, wasting both your time and theirs.
It’s Time. Start Asking for Quotes or Proposals!
We’re finally at the point where enough information has been shared that you can go ahead and ask for a quote or proposal! Speaking of which, do you want a quote or do you want a proposal? Quotes typically include a very basic summary of what they’ll do for you, but most importantly it will include a price. But as we now know, price isn’t the only important factor.
If it were us, we’d ask for a proposal every time. All the things that can make a project unbearable or even cause it to fail are contained within the finer details, which are never included in a quote. So why bother with a quote at all?
Quotes are best used when you’ve already worked with your web designers before, you know how they work and you know what to expect, you just want to know how much. In this instance, we’re assuming you haven’t worked with them before and things like trying to figure out whether they’re serious or not are important to you.
When you ask for a proposal, again, make sure you get them to agree on a deadline as you won’t get many more opportunities to test them out before having to spend money with them!
How to Spot Time Wasters
During the course of your phone and/or emails conversations, you should try and look out for the Making a good decision here is all about being able to spot the red flags. The more you know about this industry and how web design projects are handled, the easier it will be to know what you’re looking for. We’re going to start with a look at the three types of freelancers or web design businesses to steer clear of at all costs:
The scamming ones
People without any skill or talent whatsoever. They’ve learned the lingo and will do their best to make you feel as though they’ll take care of you in every situation but simply can’t (and won’t) deliver on their promises. They will prey on trusting people who don’t know much about web design, and they’ll take as much money from you as they possibly can without doing any real work.
- Written Testimonials – Unless these are faked, they’ll most likely have no ne at all, or if it’s on a public system, such as Google Reviews, they could even be negative. Ask about previous projects in detail, ask specific questions about the companies they have worked for and then go and check out those details.
- Formal Contracts – They’re in it for the quick wins and will play down the need for a contract. Don’t make it easy for them by skipping this stage. At least ask to see their standard contract, to make sure they have one.
- Referrals – Ask to speak with some of their previous clients, they should be happy to pass on details, unless they don’t have any or know they aren’t going to say anything good.
- No brand investment – No blog? Poor website? New domain? No testimonials? Seeing a pattern?
- Displays zero knowledge – Avoids talking about their skills or service in depth. This could be hard to confirm if you don’t know anything either, so talk to us and we’ll happily verify their claims and give you a second opinion.
The clueless ones
People with enough knowledge to convince even themselves that they can finish your project on time and at the originally agreed price. Maybe they know and are just winging it, or maybe they have fooled themselves into thinking they are better than they are. Either way, you’ll get the same result and end up disappointed.
- Knowledge and Experience – Play on the fact they don’t know what they’re talking about. Ask about how they’ve handled issues like yours with other clients in the past, the more technical questions you can ask the better. Write down each answer and either ask another web design team to validate what they say or just compare answers with others you speak with.
- Relevant Experience – Ask how many times they’ve done work like this before. Find out what they’ve struggled with in the past and how they overcome the challenges.
- Personal Knowledge- Clueless people believe they can do everything. There’s no such thing as someone who’s great at graphic design and great at web development, there are always limitations. Professionals will be open and honest about what they, or their team, can or cannot do well.
The unmotivated ones
If someone can’t show they’re passionate about their role in your project then you shouldn’t be working with them. They could be overqualified, tired of their job or just simply in it for the money and happy to provide an average service. Unmotivated people will never go the extra mile, they’ll likely take shortcuts and can be very slow to respond or carry out work. Another thing to note is that if they typically work on projects much larger than yours, it’s less likely that a project with much fewer challenges will excite them as much.
- How They Talk – Listen to how they sound when you speak with them. Does it sound like they’re engaged with what you’re talking about. Do they really sound excited about getting involved?
- Questions They Ask – If they don’t care very much then they won’t be that interested in figuring out how to help you overcome the challenges you need help with. They will also probably ask fewer and less in-depth questions.
- Direct Questions – Just be blunt, ask them what they’re passionate about, favourite project types, what skills they’re currently developing or what made them choose this career. If they can’t answer these questions well, and quickly, then there’s a high chance that they are lacking in motivation and you should probably look elsewhere.
It’s important to choose someone that genuinely cares not only about their clients but the services they provide as well. People work better when money isn’t their only source of motivation, so make sure that you don’t end up with a dud.
Comparing Quotes and Making a Decision
By now you’ve probably already got a good idea of at least two web designers you want to work with, so let’s focus on how you make that final decision and pick the one you want to go with!
Did they go above and beyond?
When someone goes out of their way to try and help you, and you haven’t even paid them yet, imagine what a great job they’ll do for you once you hire them. Web designers come in many different forms, some are lazy, and some will do everything they can to take care of you. Think about whether they’ve done any of the following:
- Spent a long time talking with you about your project and how best to approach it
- Always picked up the phone and/or replied to emails straight away
- Gave you advice about setting up your business
- Took the time to help you understand how web design projects work
If they’ve done a ridiculous amount of work for you at this stage, without being paid or they never appear to be busy, they could just be desperate for the work. Obviously this doesn’t apply to web design agencies with a reception or front desk.
Who can actually give you what you need?
Have they really understood the brief? If they have, the contents of their proposal should be accurate. You shouldn’t have to ask for any changes, or for a second proposal.
If you’re still trying to get them to understand what you need, after discussing your priorities, budget, long term goals and everything else we’ve covered then there’s likely some issues with communication here. It might be you, it might be them, and it might even be both of you. If they can’t get it right it’s probably going to be a strained relationship at best, consider moving on to the next one.
If the price isn’t quite right
If you’ve told them exactly what your budget is and they still got it wrong, well, yeah, there’s not really a good excuse to be had here. What we would typically say to people in this situation (who perhaps didn’t have a chance to read our advice) is that unless they’re a million miles out with their quote it’s usually worth asking if they can provide a higher or lower level of service to better suit your budget.
Web designers can often lower their rates whilst still being able to do a great job, they may be just as capable of providing you with a better and more involved service too. Find out why they decided to quote you at that price and what would need to change if the price was adjusted to better suit your budget. You may end up with a great designer after all of this, just be careful not to get stuck with one who doesn’t understand what you’re asking for.
Who understood your needs the first time round?
If you’re looking for a web design partner, you’ll want someone who knows what you need before you’ve even told them. Based on what they already know about you and your plans they will predict the outcomes you’re trying to achieve and make suggestions on what needs to be done next. Professionals like this will know all the right questions to ask and they’ll do it early on. They will also take the time to make sure that you’ve considered all of the important things when it comes to starting a new web project, which is really important.
What if none of them are good enough?
It could be you, maybe you’re too difficult to handle? Only joking, the customer’s always right, right? But seriously, think about it… Is it possible you had unrealistic expectations? Perhaps you asked for too much without having a big enough budget. Perhaps you just wanted everything done too quickly?
If it’s absolutely not you, you may have just been really unlucky, there are a lot of crap web designers out there, and on behalf of the web design industry we can only apologise! All that’s left to do is to try again, we’re not all bad, promise.
Sometimes things just don’t make any sense, no matter how many times you’ve gone over it in your head. If you can’t figure out what went wrong and you’d like to get a professional opinion then feel free to give us a call or send an email. Hopefully we can help you figure out what went wrong so that you can stop it happening again.
Good Luck With Your Next Web Design Project!
This guide can’t help everyone in every situation but we hope it will give people a great starting point when you’re the client trying to find a great web designer or team to work with. It’s not the easiest of processes to get used to, especially if you’re new to web projects or you’re trying to set up your first business.
Interested in finding out whether we’d be a good web design partner for you? Just get in touch, we’d love to speak with you.
If you’ve got anything to say about this post, feel like we’ve missed something or just want to talk about your own experiences with web design projects then please do leave a comment below.