How To Hire A Web Designer

As I sit here helping a new social media client navigate the vagaries of their less-than-awesome web design firm, it occurs to me that I do this a lot. In fact, helping untangle small businesses from a service provider mess has become part of a guesstimated 80% of the work I do with small to medium businesses.

While we do offer web services here, we don’t force it down folk’s throats – we’re always entirely happy to work with the firm you have. This puts us in touch with a lot of sub-par web design firms, and we really feel for the dilemma small business owners face. Here is a post to quickly help you know what you should ask and what you should look for in web design and development (and web design and development friends – please add anything I miss in the comments):

1) Know your budget, but don’t shop by price alone

Much like a good homebuilder, a good web designer will work with you on your budget. Sometimes working with you on your budget means telling you your budget is unrealistic.  If they can also explain, in detail you can understand, why – that is a good thing.  If they bully you about it – that is a bad thing. It sets the tone for the rest of the job.

2) Have a contract

This should go without saying, but neither of you will have any recourse on a job gone sour if there is no contract to back it up.  Your contract should include a variety of things such as estimated time and deliverables, up to and including how to end the job gracefully if it isn’t working out.

3) Have a clear set of deliverables

These deliverables should include all of your site files (You should get a copy, even if the design firm is doing the uploading. This empowers you to work with other designers in future if the need arises due to incompatibility with your designer down the road, or simple unavailability when it’s time to do the future work), FTP access information to your site host, Administrative access to your blog, any relevant passwords to the site or attached profiles (Twitter, Facebook, etc), copies of collateral used (images, etc). It is pretty old-school for a web firm to insist on keeping control of your access to your site.

4) Know where your domain name (that’s the thing) is registered, how it is paid for, and the details to log in should the need arise to move the regsitration.

5) Know your WhoIs info (this is what shows up as site owner, admin contact, etc on the web when folks are looking at domain names)

6) Know where your site is hosted, how much it costs, how it is paid for – this helps you ensure you are getting the best deal on hosting (sites like BlueHost, which is what we use here, are under $16 per month, for example)

7) Don’t fall for bluster, and don’t stand for being treated like a jerk

It is absolutely ok not to know everything (or anything) about the internet and web design. It’s why you need help. You should be treated with respect and kindness by your service providers, plain and simple. If you ask a question and get bluster and bluff in reply, then ask again and the explanation is still vague: shop around.

8 ) If a web designer only talks about meta tags and old style link based SEO and doesn’t include SMO and other social and newer tactics, push the point. Search engine algorithms change every week, and you need a designer that gets that and that makes a site for you that can weather the storm and stay relevant.

9) Check out the designer’s portfolio

Do all of the sites look exactly the same, indicating a heavy reliance on canned templates (or one template that they favor)? Do the designs capture the essence of the businesses they represent? Do they look fresh and new or trapped in 1996? It matters – choose a designer that resonates with you. Extra bonus points for being able to talk to previous clients or see referrals/testimonials on LinkedIn or on their site.

10) Treat your designer with respect as well – it works both ways.  You’re asking them to understand you and your business and translate that to a web site – no easy feat.


Designers, what did I miss?


  1. Jean Terranova July 21, 2011

    The small business owner should also do a Google search on the designer for any potential reviews.  Rather than request references, find out independently who the service provider has worked for, and call at least three of those people for references.  

  2. Matt Nelson July 22, 2011

    Don’t make you decision based solely on the portfolio on the site either. Sometimes those work samples and lists can be deceiving. You need to talk to the people who are going to do the work and have them articulate and discuss what the goals are for your project and how they are going to accomplish it. If you are doing good work as a designer and developer you are giving people what they want. Which is why I mention the portfolio because if they are good then the design work is simply a reflection of what their clients wants and needs are.

  3. Chel Wolverton July 22, 2011

    It would be handy if we could reach people before they get sucked into the trap of some designers who give the rest of us a bad name by making it appear as they can’t possibly handle control over their own websites.

    If only there was a way to reach small business owners when they first start with marketing online.  

    I realize that some folks thing that non-techies can’t possibly handle their own stuff, but they can.  I promise.  It just takes a bit of patience to teach them.

  4. Triston McIntyre July 23, 2011

    can’t overstate the value of a written agreement (contract) explicating precisely what they will deliver to you, over what period of time, and in what specificity, in exchange for your payment.  Way too many people don’t appreciate how significant this is when you receive subpar service and product, and then have no way to enforce it.  You’ll be out the money, and the greatest return you’ll see on your payment is skepticism towards moving on with someone new!  

    Contracts are GOOD.  Contracts are security, and keep both parties accountable to their promises.  Couldn’t agree with you more, Leslie 🙂

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