by Jennifer Lonoff Schiff

8 tips for hiring a Web designer for your business

Nov 11, 2015
E-commerce SoftwareWeb Development

Digital design and marketing pros share their advice on how (and where) to find a good Web designer and how to ensure the agency or individual you hire is a good fit with your vision, business and budget.

web design ts
Credit: Thinkstock

Many ecommerce and website platforms claim to be so easy to use that even nontechnical folks can create an attractive website. However, if you are like most people, you are still probably going to need some design help if you don’t want your site to look like everyone else’s.

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So how do you find a good Web designer – and by “good” we mean an individual or agency who has designed in your preferred Web platform, has a great portfolio, understands your business and goals, but won’t charge you tens of thousands of dollars? Following are eight suggestions, along with pricing guidelines and advice on where to find talented Web designers.

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1. Know what you want – and what you don’t want. Before you go looking for someone to design your website, make “a list of websites you like and admire and why you like them,” says Bill Adkins, campus director, CodeCraft, a Web-development school and coding boot camp. “Pick a few you like for their aesthetic (perhaps it’s what you’re trying to look like), others for their workflow, maybe others for their function. This will help designers know your taste and goals.”

Also, ask yourself: “Do you want a highly visual, modern, trendy site? Do you prefer a more traditional, conservative site? Do you expect to make a lot of edits to the content regularly, or will the site only need to be updated by a developer once a year or so?” says Rosie Brown, creative project manager, Sterling Communications. “Once you know what it is you want to create and how you expect to maintain the site, you can screen designer/developer candidates based on the scope and long-term vision of your project.”

2. Check out the designer’s Web design portfolio/work. “Reviewing a designer’s portfolio and [current Web design] work is a quick way to determine if what they do suits your taste and matches what you are looking for in a website,” says Tomer Lerner, UX director, Webydo, a code-free website design platform for professional designers.

3. Ask for and check out references. “Referrals from business associates whose websites you admire are your best source,” says Lynn Amos, principal, Fyne Lyne Ventures, a Web design firm. So “when searching for a website [designer], ask for references from past [and existing] customers, and look at the sites they have designed,” says Lisa Chiu, owner, Black N Bianco, a children’s formalwear clothing company.

“Solicit recommendations from [people you know],” says Carrie Middlemiss, U.S. director of marketing, Metia, a digital marketing agency. “Find out if [they] would be willing to refer a Web designer/developer they’ve worked with in the past.” Ask “how well [the designer] communicated throughout the course of the project,” if the designer met deadlines and “whether or not they would work with them again.”

“If your business platform has a partner network, start by researching its recommended partners,” says Russell Griffin, senior director of design and solutions partner program, Bigcommerce. “A good partner marketplace will have a variety of agencies to review, complete with examples of previous work, expected budget ranges and the industries they specialize in.” And you know that they can design for that platform and are trusted by the vendor.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, be sure to speak with at least two former or current clients.

“Timeframes for websites often extend dramatically, so it is essential that you speak to previous clients in order to understand if this was an issue for them,” says Simon Ensor, managing director, Yellowball, a Web design firm. “References can steer you away from agencies [or individuals] that are very good at selling but deliver projects poorly, or conversely, give you peace of mind [that you are hiring the right] agency.”

4. Make sure you hire a designer who has designed for your platform or CMS – or can help you pick a platform or CMS. “Look for a firm that has expertise in building sites on the [platform] or CMS that you’ve selected (e.g., WordPress, Drupal, HubSpot, Squarespace),” says Patrick Biddiscombe, CEO, New Breed Marketing. “Many of these companies also have partner ecosystems, so using a list of their partners as a jumping off point is a great way to generate a short list of [designers] that you know are properly accredited. If you haven’t chosen a CMS yet, find a firm that can support you in the decision making process on what CMS makes the most sense for your business and your goals.”

Regarding choosing the right platform for your online business or website, be aware that “some platforms are proprietary and template based (Squarepace, Website Tonight, Wix, etc.) while others (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal) are open source,” says Amos.

“Proprietary systems tend have a very simple interface – good for a non-techy person to update but limited in how customized the site can be,” she explains. “Open-source systems are completely customizable and not that much more difficult to update,” she says. “Additionally, the proprietary systems can never be moved if you are unhappy with your hosting company, whereas the open-source systems are independent of hosting company or designer/developer. They can be moved to any hosting company and any designer/developer can take over if your favorite one gets hit by a bus.”

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5. Have a realistic budget – and know what you can expect to pay. “The cost of website design is based on the requirements of the project, including the intricacy of the design, the number of pages [and] any special functionality,” says Randy Mitchelson, vice president, sales and marketing, iPartnerMedia, a Web design and Internet marketing agency. “A basic, 5 to 10 page brochure-style website will likely be in the $2,500 to $4,500 range. Ecommerce sites with a bunch of products and integration to manage payments could range from $4,500 to $20,000 or more. Like anything else, you get what you pay for. Sure, there are $500 website developers out there but quality may be sacrificed.”

6. Discuss where the work will be done (local or outsourced) and who will be doing it. “Always ask who is actually developing and coding the website, and whether they’re local or not,” says Stephanie Duncan, communication coordinator, Veterinary Hospitals Association. “There is nothing worse than [hiring a] designer, [then finding out the] actual coding is done in India – and when something is coded wrong, or you need changes, waiting hours because the person who actually built the site [is] located internationally and there is a huge time zone gap.”

To avoid this potential problem, “ask to meet the team who would work on your project,” says Griffin. “You or your team will spend time with them, so it’s important to make sure they’re a [good] fit with your team. If working and meeting in person is important to you, then location of the agency also comes into play.”

7. Ascertain whether the designer can meet your deadline(s), before you start work. Before you commit to a designer or agency, ask “Can you complete this project within my timeline?” says Griffin

Also, “when discussing your project with an agency [or designer], make sure you’re clear on the scope of what will be delivered, the amount of changes you can request, what’s required from your side to provide and the timeline for work to be produced,” says Travis Bennett, managing director, Studio Digita.

8. Make sure you are the one who owns the design (and website content). Before you hire a designer or developer, ask “if they are willing to sign over all intellectual property rights [to your site],” says Adriana Herrera, founder & CEO, TapAloha, which provides data-driven public relations. This is important to know upfront, she says, because not owning the design and content of your website can prevent or hurt you from getting investment capital and when you go to sell your business. “Any good freelance designer/developer or agency will sign over intellectual property rights. It’s common practice. If they don’t, it is a huge red flag.”

Where to find a good Web designer

  • Go to a website you like and look to see who designed it, often indicated at the bottom of the home page.
  • Ask people/businesses whose sites you like who designed their website – and if they would recommend that designer or agency.
  • If using an ecommerce platform or content management service, check out their list of preferred design partners (typically listed somewhere on their site) and reach out to some of them.
  • Check out designer portfolio sites like Behance and Dribbble.
  • Run a design contest on 99designs or CrowdSPRING.