So you have decided you need a web site. You are presented with two possible paths:
1. Build it yourself
2. Hire someone to build it for you
Both paths can present challenges, but unless you are technically inclined, have a lot of time and determination, desire to learn some coding, and are pretty handy with graphics, you are likely to be doing yourself (and your business) a disservice by trying to do it accomplish this on your own. There are many places online and application syou can buy which promise the allure of “building your own web site”, but in this business, you tend to get what you pay for.
Once you choose to hire someone, the choices then become:
1. Pay your 18 year old nephew to do it cheaply because he “knows computers”
2. Pay a professional
Hopefully, since you knew better than to do it yourself, you will know better than to hire a family member or relative who seems to know more about computers and the Internet than you do. In short, hire a professional if you want a professional-quality web site!
Don’t seek out a web designer until you know what you are seeking to accomplish. Doing as much decision making now verses after you hire your designer, can alleviate a lot of frustration later for everyone involved. That includes your wallet!
A good place to start is by defining some goals. What do you want to gain by building a web site, and what will be the driving force behind people visiting it? Some possibilities include:
- Online Presence: A simple “brochure” site with contact information so people can look you up before calling or visiting your store
- Selling your goods online: Administering a shopping cart site, taking payments, and doing e-commerce
- Online customer support: Support guides, discussion forums, documents
- Online resources/publishing: Frequently updated articles, papers, and blog posts
The more you can elaborate on your goals, the better.
Seeing What Is Out There
Once you know what kind of web site you are interested in, start searching around for similar sites. Make notes about what you like and dislike:
Be sure to save the web site addresses for future reference, and write notes which describe which aspects of the pages you like. It’s easy to forget why you liked something the first time you saw it, and in the world of web design, first impressions are crucial.
What Will it Cost?
This is a critical question, and often it can be hard to answer. That is why you need to be as well-prepared ahead of time as you can. As a very loose estimate, a very basic web site will start at $250 to $500, then go upward depending on size, functionality, and complexity, which leads us to…
Set a budget you are willing to work within, and stick to it. Not having a budget in mind can be detrimental to you and your potential designer. Once you approach your designer, tell them your budget and see if they can work within it in order to meet your goals. Being upfront about what you are willing to spend and what you expect will reduce a lot of beating around the bush, and makes it much easier for your potential designer to quote the project fairly and accurately.
Assembling The Pieces
The final step before you seek out designers is to collect as much content for your web site as you can. The entire design process will go much more quickly if you go into the project already having text, images, logos, videos, and anything else you want on the site assembled in one place. Choose your color palette and fonts ahead of time as well, if you can.
Create a Word document which is organized into sections representing the pages you want on your site, and has the content already pieced together. Don’t worry about making it look pretty or laying it out (that’s the designer’s job), rather, put everything in there you want on each page. Provide at least the basics to get started, then you can flesh out the rest once the design process has started.
For example, the first page of your Word document might be called Home, and would contain a few paragraphs of text you want on your home page, some images of your store, and a list of features you want to be noticed about what you do.
Speaking of images, assemble them and burn them to a CD which you can hand off to the designer. The higher resolution the images are, the better. Your designer will love you for that.
If you approach your designer with these materials in hand, he or she will be able to give you a much better estimate on the cost of developing your site, and will be impressed at your preparedness, which can help give you the “easy client” label in their eyes. This may well mean a better price!
A little-known fact is that many web designers will quote a project based largely on how much of a pain in the rear a client will be to work with. By all means, make yourself easy to work with!
Finding a Designer
Now you well are prepared to find a web designer who can help you build your dream (or at least, your web site). So how do you go about doing this? Start locally.
Forget the phone book — no one except nationwide businesses looking to make quick bucks off of unknowing chumps advertises web design in the phone book. Search for web designers in your area using Google, with keywords such as “web designers in Asheville”.
Start browsing through the portfolios of the companies you find, seeing if you like their designs and style.
If you can’t find someone locally, look regionally. Even though the Internet is global in scope, clients and designers often find it works out better when they aren’t too far from each other. A face-to-face meeting can help you make decisions about your potential designer much more easily than a string of emails, or even phone calls.
If you are looking for a basic “brochure” web site, you probably should seek out a freelancer or a smaller design firm. Even the smaller outfits can create enterprise-level web sites, so don’t discount them based on size. Larger firms have more expenses to cover, and will likely charge you more for their services. However, they often have a wider array of skill sets on hand and can often get your site cranked out more quickly.
What you want to avoid are people who do this as a hobby, or who overprice themselves hoping you don’t know what you are doing. You want to seek out designers who like to create quality over quantity.
What to Ask
While you may not understand some of the answers you get, it is important to ask questions to get to know your designer and make sure no red flags are raised. Some important questions to ask which can help you discern the unqualified designers from the good ones:
Q. Can I see samples of sites you have done which will be similar to mine in budget and size?
Q. What existing web applications/products will you use?
Some designers will use open-source applications such as Joomla, WordPress, and Drupal, which is fine as long as you know what you are getting into, and are aware that these tools help the designers speed up the process because much of the work has already been done for them. The tools I mentioned do have perks such as allowing you to be able to edit and update your pages from a secure admin interface, similar to how you might update your profile on Facebook by uploading pictures and adding text.
Q. What is the process from beginning to end?
You can learn a lot about a designer’s experience based on the answer to this question.
Q. What happens if I need the site updated after it has been completed?
In other words, what sort of costs will there be to make updates a few months down the road?
Q. What about web hosting, email, and the like?
Most web designers will have a web host in mind, or may provide the service themselves. If they try to force you into using their services, be wary, and do a little research to make sure they are not trying to rake you over the coals or lock you into something. Web hosting is pretty cheap these days, and unless you are starting your own MySpace, it should’t cost you more than $15/month.
Q. Who retains ownership of the site and the files?
You should, in all cases, be the owner of what gets made. However, many firms will not hand over ownership to you until final payment, which is normal. This is usally spelled out in the contract you work under (more on that later).
Q. What tools and languages will you use to make my site?
Be sure they don’t confuse you with technical jargon. If they can’t talk on your level, you are likely to be walking into a frustrating process. You are also more likely to be bamboozled.
A good sign of a good designer or design firm is if they have a contract to work under. Don’t be afraid of contracts, but be sure to read them thoroughly and ask questions if you don’t understand something. If you take issue with a piece of their contract, ask them to change it before you sign it. A well-crafted contract will be beneficial to you and the people you are hiring by keeping everyone focused and on track, and making sure there are no suprises.
Once the contract has been signed, you should have a good idea of what to expect. The main thing to be mindful of is being responsive and detailed in your replies. Web designers don’t like to try and read people’s minds, so if you can provide as much information as possible, the whole process will work more smoothly.
That should get you rolling. This can be a daunting task, but if you do your homework beforehand, you are more likely to come out satisfied with the results!