Let's say you've decided to hire a professional. How do you find the right one? Start by giving serious thought to your site's function. Looks aren't enough; what do you need the site to do? Asked differently, what can your site do (or entice your customers to do) that would make your job easier and your business more efficient? Write down your wish list, alongside any questions or concerns you may have. It may also help to prioritize certain details, since added functionality often means added cost.
Once you're in discussion with a web designer or design company, the next step is asking questions:
Who are your past clients?
Some companies will design for practically any SMB. Others have taken the time to understand a niche more carefully. Those niche companies specialize in industries as diverse as contracting, facilities management, real estate, photography, and healthcare. Finding a specialist often means a smoother process; they know your industry and can advise you as to what works best.
What is your process?
Understanding the kinds of information your designer needs -- photos, text, the geographical areas you're targeting, your logos, and your input on their progress -- will lead to less headaches for everyone involved. Be clear about what's expected from you and what you, in turn, expect from your designer.
What happens once you're done?
Some businesses have an in-house marketer or marketing team for blogging, social media, and web work. If that's your business, you may just need something that's easy to maintain once the designers have finished their bit. If you're technophobic and would rather someone else handled updates, find out if that's included.
What else is included in my plan?
Your site must be mobile friendly. On-page and off-page SEO should be part of your initial design (you may be on your own if you're blogging or updating on your own once the site is up; ask about periodic SEO audits). The site should also work across a variety of platforms, especially as Flash is phased out in favor of HTML5.
Who is my point of contact?
In some instances, you may have a team of people working on your site, including an account executive, project manager, designer, programmers, a copywriter, and an SEO professional. Find out who your point of contact is, and how they interface with the rest of the team.
May I see your references?
Think about it. You're proud of your work and you're probably happy to have your clients sing your praises. If a designer hesitates to put you in touch with a few clients, that should raise red flags.
What will this cost?
Determine whether pricing is project-based or hourly; if it's hourly, ask how hours are tracked and itemized, and don't be afraid to ask to be kept in the loop. Ask about any recurring costs for services like SEO, hosting, and updates. Also be sure to find out what additional fees might be incurred by third-party apps, domain names, SSL certificates, and the like.
Of course, get all of the above in writing. Everything -- timetables, deliverables, down payments, refunds and the like -- should be agreed to ahead of time and spelled out in writing. Never, ever, proceed on a handshake or the equivalent, and don’t be afraid to shop around and get multiple quotes to find the best designer for your business.
Website design can seem unintelligible to the average person. A bit of research and careful consultation can de-mystify the process for even the most technophobic people. The process can be time-consuming and a bit intimidating at first, but the results -- and resulting rewards -- for your business can make your new website or redesign pay for itself many times over.