How to find a good web designer or developer for your small business site

In April of 2014, Forbes.com contributor Mark Cenicola published an article entitled Nine Questions You Should Absolutely Ask Your Future Web Developer. The article has some great advice aimed at helping busy small business owners make more informed decisions when it comes to getting help with their websites.

Web developer interview red flagsIt’s unlikely you’ll find a good web designer or developer without doing a little homework. I’ve been hired for more than a few projects after a client’s previous choice didn’t work out. It’s frustrating and usually expensive when that happens. But most of the time, the red flags that led down that road could have been spotted by asking a few questions of potential website partners.

Cenicola’s article is a good resource for non-technical business owners who want to avoid hiring mistakes. The suggested questions don’t rely on geek jargon and a brief explanation accompanies each. Do check it out if you’re ready to start talking to prospective partners.

A good web designer? How do I go about finding ANY web designers?

So, what if you are still trying to figure out how to find people to talk to about helping with your site? I wrote this page here for people too overwhelmed to deal with their website who now have a crisis on their hands. It offers this advice for avoiding that situation in the first place:

If you make it to the point where you actually start looking around for qualified help, you may feel overwhelmed by trying to make sense of widely disparate pricing, by uncertainty about what you actually need, and by a lack of expertise about websites that makes choosing an option an act of blind faith.

So, what do you do, if I’ve described a situation similar to yours? No, I’m not going to tell you to just call me. I’ll give you actual advice which may or may not lead you to me. Do these things:

  1. Ask other successful, trusted business owners for recommendations.
  2. Search the Internet; local to you is usually most helpful if you’re not a web expert.
  3. Look through all of the pages on the firm or individual’s website, and several pages of at least three recent projects, which they should have posted on their site. All should work well, be easy to use, have a professional appearance and really sell the business.
  4. Know your budget, make sure it’s realistic, and be up front about it.
  5. Decide which firms or individuals merit followup. To make sure you’re gathering the right information, ask each one these questions when you speak with them. Here are my answers to those questions, in PDF form.
  6. When it comes to choosing who to work with, listen to your gut.

How I’d answer the nine questions

If you don’t want to download the PDF linked from the quote above, below are my responses along with Cenicola’s questions. I didn’t include the article text, but if you haven’t already clicked through to read it on the Forbes site, do. Cenicola offers to-the-point guidance around each question and it’s a quick read.

  1. How long will the project take?
    As with any project, the time it takes to build and launch your website depends on its complexity as well as how long it takes you to respond with approvals or needed content.

    Simple projects with johnny-on-the-spot responses could take just a few weeks to complete. Most projects take longer because they are usually more complex and not the only thing on a client’s plate. 60 to 90 days from kickoff to launch is a typical timeline for the majority of my clients’ projects.

    Projects involving committees tend to have longer timelines because of the more complex approval process.

  2. What other services are provided?
    I focus solely on your website as the hub of your online marketing efforts. While I have experience with many ancillary areas (e.g., hosting, graphics, social media, SEO), with few exceptions I use this experience only to help guide decisions.
  3. How much will it cost?
    Fees for very simple sites aimed at providing visitors with basic information about a business or organization start at just under $1,000.

    Most businesses choose sites with more complex feature sets, because those sites offer options that make running their business easier, help the site look and work better with less effort, or make it easier for visitors to do business with them.

    Most of the sites I create cost between $2,850 and $4,500 to produce.The cost of sites for businesses or organizations with more complex needs such as e-commerce, audio, video, scheduling, etc., depends on the time and expertise required.

    All but the most basic sites I create have feature sets that are somewhat unique; once I know what we would like to accomplish with your new site I will determine what features will best help with that mission and provide a firm price to carry out the work.

  4. What do I need to do?
    Unless we have contracted with someone who will provide your copy and imagery,  you will be responsible for creating the copy, headlines and captions for each page as well as providing me with quality imagery.

    You will need to provide vector-format files for any artwork that must be included, such as your logo. If exact colors are required, you must provide the values for those colors so that I can recreate them.

    Oftentimes clients are not familiar with the processes or terminology that is part of creating a website – for example, the phrase “vector format” in the previous paragraph. I try to avoid technical jargon where plain English will do but never feel bad if a request still seems unclear. Just let me know I haven’t explained it in a way that helps you get what you need.

    If you have special requirements that involve products sold on the new site, online self-service scheduling, podcasts/audio, video, a portfolio or other special items, content must be supplied in a clear, organized fashion.

    If you require specific features or design elements, you must communicate them in writing prior to the start of the project, and ensure that they are part of the proposed work plan. It’s not unusual, however, to have a better course of action become apparent partway into a site development project. But the earlier you can communicate changes, the less costly it will be to change course.

    You will also need to review work and provide decisions from time to time. If decisions are made by a committee, one person must act as a point of contact, collecting all feedback and providing me with a decision that reflects your group’s consensus.

    Some new clients are taken by surprise when they learn they have an important role in the process. While I handle the technical and design aspects of your site development process, I know – and respect – that this is almost as big an undertaking for you as it is for me. But I will be available to guide you when needed, even when there is something only you can do, or decide.

  5. Will training be offered/included?
    Yes.

    Training usually consists of two half-hour, one-on-one sessions covering routine updates and all of the common day-to-day tasks involved in managing a website. We will only cover what is needed for routine site updates, so no technical knowledge is needed.

    Those with the writing skills and level of technical aptitude to confidently use e-mail or post to Facebook can usually learn site update basics fairly quickly.

    If  your site has special features we will likely need to include more training to ensure you are able to manage them. Also, if you plan to share maintenance duties, please let me know so that we can plan for adequate training of additional people who’ll have access to administer the site.

  6. What happens if the site breaks, is hacked, or malfunctions?
    If this occurs within the first 30 days following your site launch, I will work to restore your site at no additional charge provided the measures I’ll put in place when we develop the site aren’t defeated or otherwise disabled.

    I can also create a maintenance plan for you that will provide a cost-effective, longer-term means of ensuring your site is up to date and as protected as possible, and that I can conduct a cleanup and restore operation in the event of an attack or malfunction.

    It is unfortunate that by virtue of using software that enables site owners to manage their own sites we also make it easier for those sites to “break,” so to speak. Because of this, I have specific requirements and recommendations that are slightly more costly in the short term, but will protect you and your site over the long run. When we work together, we will cover this topic in greater detail to ensure the best outcome for your site.

  7. Is any business or industry research done before designing?
    Yes.

    Before I start on your site, I’ll ask you for specific information that will help me create a site that is optimal for your business or organization. Because most smaller businesses and organizations do not have large enough budgets to allow for deep research, I ask only a few very targeted questions. The answers to these questions almost always produce enough information to create an effective website.

  8. Is it mobile compatible or responsive?
    Yes. Since about 2011/2012, all sites I create adapt to common device sizes such as those found on smartphones, the iPad and other tablets. There isn’t an additional charge – we will build this way from the beginning.

    I watch trends and understand that with almost no exception, a huge percentage of people visit websites with smaller screens than those on traditional computers. When it is hard to use your site with a tablet or smartphone, visitors get frustrated and may give up or visit a competitor’s better-designed site.

    I do not build separate mobile sites. A single site that is designed to display well on most devices ensures that your visitors have a good experience, with consistent design elements and branding, regardless of how they access it.

  9. Who owns the site/domain name/hosting?
    You do. Always. Additionally, if I need to purchase a service on your behalf I will either do so in your name or transfer it to you.

    Even if you don’t understand the technical aspects of your site, it is important that you always hold the keys, so to speak. If anything happens to me or if you decide to work with someone else in the future, you will own everything.

If you’re about to get started on a new site and you’re concerned with creating a polished, professional web presence that is truly reflective of a brand you’re working hard to build, maybe we should work together. Get in touch if you’d like to talk about it.

If you’ve found this post helpful, or you have further questions, please leave a comment below and I’ll follow up.

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