Hiring a Web Designer

Part Two of a Three part Small Business series

Once you've procured a domain name, it's time to start thinking about hiring a web designer. Trust us: Don't design it yourself unless you've really believe you know what you're doing. The results can be nasty.

Web designers come in all sorts of price ranges and levels of competency, so it's often an uphill battle finding the perfect balance of cost-effectiveness, talent and web know-how. Some things to think about before making this crucial decision:
  1. Know what you want.
    If you don't communicate what you want, there's a good chance you'll be unhappy with the end result. Do a little comparison shopping - look at competitor's sites, browse the web and put together a list of things you'd like for your own site before you start speaking to consultants. Above all, figure out who the audience will be for your site, as their needs are paramount - don't please your users and your site will fail.
  2. Be aware of the costs.
    That fancy animation you loved on someone else's site may look amazing, but be sure to understand the additional costs these kinds of things carry. The more complex or flashy you want your site to be usually adds to the final bill, and sometimes requires hiring a specialist, which can be even more costly. You're not made of money, are you?
  3. Think about content.
    No matter how many graphics you have on your site, you'll still need text content to get your point across. Product descriptions, "About Us" pages, price lists… someone has to write this stuff, and if you're not willing (or able) to, you'll have to either hire someone else, or find a designer to can do both design and content for you. Of course, either option means more costs, so if you can, do it yourself.
Look, look and look again
Once you've got your wish list together, it's time to start looking for a designer. Do Internet searches, talk to business associates and get the word out that you're looking. There's such a burgeoning number of web designers and firms out there, it shouldn't be too hard to find ton of possibilities.

Things to look for when looking at possible candidates' web sites:
  • Is it easy to navigate?
  • Do you find the information you're looking for easily?
  • Does it look professional, or do you find the design loud, garish or plain annoying?
  • Does the site load quickly?
  • Is there blinking text? This is almost always a true sign of a novice, as it's nearly universally agreed among designers (and surfers, too!) that blinking text is completely obnoxious.
And, possibly most important of all: does the designer have an online portfolio? If so, take a look at some of the designer's past work, with an equally discerning eye. A good designer's portfolio will have a variety of looks and feels, be aesthetically pleasing and above all, each design should accurate reflect each business's needs.

Talk the talk.
Once you've narrowed the field, contact the designers or firms and ask if they can provide a general price list or range for services. Many won't, but you'll know right away if a company is out of your range if they do.

Set up a meeting with the ones you're interested in. Bring your features wish list and prepare a list of questions in advance to ask. Is your candidate friendly and willing to listen to your needs? It's very important to make sure you feel comfortable with the person you decide to hire. If the designer or firm representative has major attitude or the social skills of wet, moldy toast, walk away.

It's not worth your while to deal with someone with attitude, no how talented they may be.

The price is right
Once you've found a designer that you're happy with, it's time to nail down a price. Most designers and firms will work on a per-project basis, which means that they will be paid a flat rate for the entire project.

This is probably more advantageous to you as you will know right away how much the site will cost - there's no surprise charges or overtime fees you sometimes find with payment on an hourly rate. You'll probably also have to put down some kind of deposit - anywhere from 20% to 50% of the total cost is typical.

Get it in writing
Make sure to get it in writing! You don't need to have a contract written up, but it's very important for you (and for your designer) to have the terms of service spelled out, plus payment details and delivery dates. Sometimes, you can find a designer willing to work on spec (where they design a mockup or prototype for you, and then, if you're happy a contract is signed and a deposit is made), but usually you should already know if the designer fits your needs by your research.

Once the contract is signed and you've "signed off" (confirmed your approval) on a prototype for your site, let the designer go do the job. Don't hassle them with calls of, "Is it ready?" or "When can I see something?" until the time you've agreed on for delivery has come. You won't be helping the process, and many designers can't stand being called at all hours of the day with questions.

Check and double check
Once the final product has been delivered, go through it with a fine-toothed comb to ferret out any errors (including spelling mistakes!) You usually get a short period of time to makes small changes and fixes, so take advantage of this. Congratulations! Now, watch for our next installment, where we will deal with finding a good Web host for your new site!

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