A Step-by-Step Guide for Choosing a Web Designer (Pro Tips Included)
- Why are you there? (Is it your company’s mission? Values?)
- What do you love about your job? (Is it the products you create? Your relationship with your customers?)
- What keeps you going back to your job? (Do you get to make an impact in your role?)
However you answered these questions, next I want you to consider, does your company website do a good job at communicating these things with the outside world?
In other words, if I were a potential customer and I starting exploring your website, would I get a good feel for who you are, your purpose, mission and the value you provide to your customers?
If the answer is "yes," well then congratulations, you’re on the right path to creating an exceptional digital brand experience. If your answer is "no," or "I don’t know", don’t sweat it, you’re in the right place! This article was written for you.
Today, you’re going to learn how to choose a web designer that is right for you, depending on:
- The stage of your business (i.e. are you new to the market or a seasoned business owner?)
- Your current level of technical and design skills
- Your budget and,
- The amount of customization you’re looking for
In this digital day and age, your website is often the first impression and interaction people will have with you and your brand. We want you to feel good about your decision and who you choose to develop this aspect of your business.
First, let’s review the three main options available to you for creating a website:
Website Builders - You know them, you’ve seen the commercials. Squarespace, Wix, Weebly etc. are online tools for building a website without the need to manually write or edit code.
Freelance Web Designer - This is usually a one or two person operation that provides the design and development of a website, or possibly just handles the design and then outsources and manages the development process.
Full Service Creative Agency - This is a team of designers, developers and project managers that handle the entire website creation in-house with each person focusing on their area of expertise.
How to choose what’s right for you:
(>> Hint, if you’re an established company or entrepreneur with a dedicated budget, you can skip to the Freelance and Creative Agency section)
OPTION #1: WEBSITE BUILDERS
This is a great option for the solopreneur or small business that is just starting out with little to no budget, decent technical and design skills and time on their hands.
REASON #1 TO GO WITH WEBSITE BUILDERS
If you’re just starting out, odds are you’re still perfecting your product and service areas, so it doesn’t make sense to make a sizable upfront investment 1-3 months into your business launch.
Unless you have everything completely nailed down, including a solid budget and business plan, and products and services ready to go, a website builder is a great first step in getting yourself out there. It also allows you to save your money for a more substantive web design investment down the line.
WHEN TO MAKE THE HANDOFF
The caveat here, if you go with a website builder, is that I highly recommend hiring a professional to take over your website design, development, hosting and maintenance as soon as you have the budget for it, and when your business in a solid place.
Having professionals working on your site will help you scale your business, add more features and functionality and raise the overall bar in terms of quality design and user experience. Also, site maintenance is incredibly important to have for your company website, so you don’t run into performance issues (like broken links etc.) or security risks (like compromised customer information). Make sure that you incorporate this into your next iteration or website build.
REASON #2 TO GO WITH WEBSITE BUILDERS:
YOU'VE GOT SKILLS
The second thing to consider when using a website builder is your level of technical and design skills. If you have good design skills and feel confident using technology, then I’d say you’re good to go. If not, let’s review some things you want to be aware of when using a website builder.
BEWARE OF TEMPLATE AND DRAG AND DROP SOLUTIONS
Even if you’re working from a template, it doesn’t take much to stray from the original intention of the template, to make your website (and business) look amateurish. For example, when you drop your content into the fixed content containers and you have more content than what is intended to fit there, things can start to look bad and uneven, quickly. For example, the image below is the template as it is designed to be used, from Wix.
The next image is what happens when content doesn’t fit into a container properly in the template:
These kinds of mistakes (especially if they’re made throughout your website) will reflect poorly on your brand and could have negative consequences of how people perceive the quality of your products/services (and how much they’ll pay for these items).
If you are not naturally a designer or if you’ve never worked in a design program, or have limited tech skills, then working with a freelancer or creative agency to get you started, even with a basic homepage, might be a better route for you.
REASON #3 TO GO WITH A WEBSITE BUILDER:
TIME IS ON YOUR SIDE
Last consideration here is your time. How much is it worth to you? Let’s say you’re an entrepreneur or busy business owner, you could get in and tinker with a website builder in your off hours, but everything comes at a cost. If you’re spending time trying to design your website, what other areas of your business are being neglected?
If you’re an entrepreneur and your going rate is $150.00 an hour and it takes you two weeks to get your website up, and you’ve spent on average about 15 hours per week on your website build, you’ve just invested $4,500 of your own time into your website.
Next question, do you like what you built? Could it have been done better by a professional with the same amount of money, while allowing you to invest your time into your business in other ways? These are the things you’ll want to consider when choosing the website builder as your option.
Here are some other key considerations when looking at website builders:
- Relatively cheap (there are even free options) - There is usually no upfront cost and you will pay a monthly fee that also includes the hosting of the site
- No coding knowledge required
- Lock In - Most website builders keep your site if you try to leave their service meaning you never truly “own” your site
- Lack of customization - You are limited to the features and elements within their templates and if you are not a designer, you will not have custom graphics
- Lack of scalability - These sites are usually catered towards personal use or small businesses. As your company grows (or if you are already a medium to large company) the capabilities of these sites might not match your needs.
Let’s roll right into your next option, hiring a freelance web designer.
OPTION #2: FREELANCE WEB DESIGNER
This is a great option if you want something fairly straightforward and you’re not looking to build out too much customization or develop more sophisticated products down the line, like a web or mobile app for your company.
REASON #1 TO GO WITH A FREELANCE WEB DESIGNER
YOU'VE GOT SOME ROOM IN YOUR BUDGET
Freelancers are good options if you have a decent budget, I would recommend at least $3K-$4K to start (if you have more room in your budget, you will want to consider an actual agency that can offer you more in terms of wraparound services. Website builds with agencies can start around $5K-$6K).
With a freelance web designer, be sure that you shop around and find someone through a referral (a friend or colleague) if possible and ask for references and samples of their work.
PAYMENT RECOMMENDATIONS - NEVER ALL UP FRONT!
Also, never pay for everything up front. Work out some type of staggered payment of services such as 35% to start, 35% at the midway point with the remaining payment due upon launch of the website. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard horror stories where people pay up front and then never see a full website built and then never hear back from said freelancer (hence the recommendation of asking for references and work samples).
ASSESS THE TECHNICAL SKILLS OF YOUR FREELANCER (KNOW WHAT YOU'RE PAYING FOR)
You’ll also want to know what kind of technical skills the freelancer has. For example, are they a front-end developer or back-end developer? Or, do they possess both skill sets? (Side note: it is rare to find a web developer that is incredibly skilled in both areas, so be wary if someone is spouting off about how they’re fantastic they are at both until you see examples of their work.)
If you are having a front-end web developer work off of a wordpress platform, for example, he/she may be limited when it comes to doing any kind of customized coding on the back end to add a feature that is outside of the scope of the template and basic plugins.
On the contrary, if you’re working with a back-end developer, he/she may be a strong programmer but lack front-end design skills (like CSS) that are important when designing the interface of your website.
ASK ABOUT OUTSOURCING
If your freelance web designer outsources some of the work (for whichever area may not be their strongest) find out how long they’ve been working with their outsourced team or developer. I know talented freelancers who swear by their outsourced team that they’ve hand selected and worked with for years. This tells me that the freelancer is confident with the quality of work their outsourced team produces and that team’s ability to stay on time and within the budget has been vetted.
Again, its buyer beware, you don’t want to work with a freelance web designer who outsources their work to the lowest bidder and then run the risk of problems happening down the road, if they have creative differences for example, or the outsourced developer uses a programming language that will be difficult to transfer to a new website or make changes to down the road.
In the long run, it is worth it to do your due diligence when selecting a freelance web designer. There are many talented freelancers out there they can act a great partners in developing creative assets for your company.
Here are a few more considerations:
- Customization - Someone to work with you to create a custom design
- No lock in (once you pay for your site you own it)
- Cost - Going to be more expensive than a website builder tool since you will need to not only pay for the site but also for ongoing hosting
- Jack of all trades - If this person is both the designer and the developer then there’s the risk that they aren’t an expert in either domain
- Timeline - A freelancer usually needs multiple clients to keep food on the table so their attention will always be split across multiple projects and clients, know where you stand
- Not so custom design - There are a lot of preexisting themes and templates that a freelancer can use to create a site without the need to design from scratch
This is not always a bad thing, but it does mean you may have the same template as other sites and you may see similarities between your site and other client sites. If full customization is what you're looking for, by a team of expert designers and developers, then working with a creative agency will be a great option.
REASON #1 TO CHOOSE A CREATIVE AGENCY
ONE STOP SHOP
Depending on the agency, you’ll have the option of choosing from a suite of wraparound services from marketing strategy, brand development, print and graphic design, social media marketing, SEO, hosting and website design and development.
REASON #2 TO CHOOSE A CREATIVE AGENCY
THEY CAN GROW WITH YOU
Even if you only start with a website, as your company continues to expand and grow, an agency can grow with you. Since they already know your brand and you as a client, implementing services down the road will be much faster.
REASON #3 TO CHOOSE A CREATIVE AGENCY
Instead of going to several different freelancers, web shops and vendors, using a creative agency will make it easier to maintain a cohesive brand across all areas of your business. Also, if you choose several services, an agency may work with you to bundle those services (at a better rate than if you were to buy them separately), and will often provide free consultation as an added bonus.
Here are some other considerations when exploring creative agencies:
- Complete customization - The design of your site is completely unique to your company and brand. The functionality of the site is tailored to your company’s needs.
- Subject Matter Experts - Each aspect of the project is addressed by people who focus on that field. Designers handle design, developers handle development and there is a project manager dedicated to working with you and the team to facilitate the project. Not only does this equate to high quality output but it also means a team of people are contributing their expert opinions to create the best product.
- Ongoing design and technical support after the launch of your site
- No lock in - you own your code and website
- Cost - This will likely be the most expensive of the three options so you’ll want to typically have at least $5-$6K to play with to start, as you budget for a basic website
- Timeline - Because an agency typically builds full custom, the time to custom design and develop a site may take more than a couple months
In the end, each web designer option has its benefits, and pros and cons, which must be weighed when deciding what option is best for you. My recommendation is that you assess where you are with your business, establish your benchmarks for success, identify your sales goals and determine your budget, that way your website is a cohesive reflection of your business and vision.
This is my favorite aspect of working with clients at Affari, I like to understand my clients’ businesses as a whole and the key drivers that will move them forward, and make recommendations rooted in solid business strategy.
If you’re considering working with a creative agency, please feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a FREE consultation. I work with businesses like yours everyday to ensure that your digital brand is optimized for growth.
Affari is a creative agency that puts it’s clients at the center of everything it does, from branding, web design and development, print and graphic design, to marketing strategy and analytics. Affari believes in delivering exceptional customer service through every touch point and interaction with its clients to deliver stunning designs and fully customized, digital experiences. Whether Affari is working with a local non-profit or a well-known brand, the team approaches every project with the same heart, passion and creativity.