There are literally hundreds of thousands of website designers all competing for your business. Due to the nature of the industry they work in, pretty much all of them use their own website as a key marketing tool. All of their websites will tell you how great they are, will demonstrate their skills in visual or technical design, and will list client websites in a portfolio of examples to highlight their credibility and experience. This all makes sound marketing sense because they are all in business and need to promote themselves the same way a retail store needs a dazzling frontage to attract new customers.
When trying to find a website designer however, you need to do more than simply search on Google and approach the ones with the flashiest websites. Building a new website requires a big financial and time commitment. Unlike a restaurant you can’t visit and spend a few dollars on a meal, then decide if you will return or not. Once you have started down the track working with a designer on a new website you are pretty much locked-in to an agreement. Common complaints of people who have not found a web designer who meets their needs are:
-“He was wonderful, fast and efficient when pitching for my business, but now that we have started and he has my deposit the service is slow and communication is very poor”
-“The design they have come up with is nothing like what I asked for”
-“They are telling me what I should do when I am the client and its my website so I should get what I want”
-“They are really slow and I always have to chase them”
-“They keep leaving off details and I constantly have to check what they have done against what I have requested”
In many cases the best designers are those who aren’t even actively promoting their services. This is often because they are so busy with word of mouth referrals from their existing happy clients. Unless a small web design company has exponential growth targets, they can often grow quite satisfactorily through viral marketing and leveraging existing clients. A web design company that offers sales gimmicks might be one that doesn’t have a happy client base, or one that is focused more on sales than actual delivery and client satisfaction.
There are a few good ways to find potential designers. Most of these do not involve searching on the internet but actually talking to people and doing research the good old fashioned way. Before you start looking you should clarify your own personal requirements as these will set some of the criteria you develop. The most common questions to ask yourself before searching for a web designer are:
-“Do I want someone I can meet with face to face, or does it not matter if they are out of town and we work over the phone and internet? This will help refine the geographic parameters of your search.
-“Do I want someone with specific expertise in my industry, or does it not matter as long as they are professional and good to work with? This will help refine the expertise parameters of your search.
-“Do I want someone from a small design firm or from a large design firm?” This will help refine the size and personality parameters of your search.
Once you have the above criteria clear you can start searching for a website designer. As noted earlier, old fashioned word of mouth is the best method, so start with those closest to you and spread your research out from there. Potential people to ask are:
- Friends and family who have websites – they will give an honest answer and you can trust they are not going to exploit you for a commission.
- Organisations within your industry – they will often know of other businesses who are happy with their websites, or who have had problems.
- Search Engine Marketing companies – they will often work with many different designers and will know which are efficient and easy to work with, and those that are difficult.
- Successful local businesses not in your industry – they are likely to be savvy business people who have already done the research and will share it with you because you are not a competitor.
- Charities – in many cases they have limited budgets so have to be very careful about who they choose to work with.
Once you have been given the name of a good potential website designer, don’t approach them for an interview yet. First Google their name and you will find the websites of all clients coming up in results. Most websites have the name of the designer at the bottom of the homepage. Try to find a couple of clients who are not listed on the website designer’s portfolio page as these will be real examples of clients and not just the ‘favourite clients’ that the designer always rolls out as referees.
When you contact the client try to ascertain:
- How long they have been a client of the web designer?
- What is the designer like to work with?
- Does the designer stick to budgets and timeframes?
- Does the designer take an active interest in their clients, or simply build a site, take the money and move on?
- What sort of fees does the designer charge?
After you have checked with a couple of referees, if the designer sounds like a good operator and meets your criteria, then you should approach them for an interview. At the actual interview and assessment stage you should have a prepared list of questions to ask the designer, as you would if you were hiring a new staff member. You should also have a design brief developed so you can talk specifics with the designer and they can prepare a quote. It is a good idea to find at least three good potential designers to interview. The more methodical and thorough you are at the assessment and selection stage, the smoother the entire website build process will be.