So you need a website...

So, you need a website, but you don't know where to start. 44 odd million results to your Google query for a “web designer” have done very little to clarify the mud puddle. You call a friend only to find out the guy that did their site made 100 promises and delivered on two and a half of them. How about trying the yellow pages – 100 ads filled with technical jargon and photos of happy smiling tech support people! Right now you are finding more questions than answers. Face it, you don't even yet know what you don't know!

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So you need a website...

Let's try and change that, shall we?

Let's start by making a few assumptions about you and your business:

* You either own or are part of a small business.
* You're not trying to do this on the cheap.
* You're looking for an experienced professional or organization. Your nephew or your neighbour's daughter isn't going to cut it.
* You care enough about your business that you're willing to invest some time and money to get the job done right the first time (see the above two points).

Know what you want, and what you want it to do

You wouldn't start building a house without a full set of plans drawn up by a qualified architect, and you need to follow this same approach when building your webiste. Having a clear set of goals and objectives means your chances of succeeding first time are tenfold.

Forget about PHP, ASP, CMS or any other strange acronyms you've heard. The right web designer will figure all that out for you. At the end of the day there are 1001 ways to skin the cat and any competent designer will know which is the right one for you!

Create the wish list from the perspective of your business. Do you want the website to help sell your products or services? Recruit new employees? Stay in touch with clients?

Define the challenge and let the web designer propose the best solution!

You want to compare apples to apples. Following the process outlined below can help you weed out the oranges.

1) Geography.

A local designer/company may try a bit harder make sure that you're a happy customer since it's easier for you to walk down the street and slap them silly if they don't deliver. That said, a web designer who has a good reputation or comes to you through a referral shouldn't be overlooked even if they are located in another town or country. Instant messaging an other technologies quickly bridge the communication divide.

2) Locate Designers.

This is easy thanks to Google. Simply search for 'web design city' where 'city' is your city. Pay attention to two different areas of the search results:

a) the first three to five listings in the natural or 'organic' results, and

b) the top three to five paid advertisers. Create a list of between five and ten possible candidates.

3) Go Surfing.

Visit each candidate's website and look for the following:

  • Quality content. Does the writing make sense to you as a consumer rather than a geek? If yes, good.
    Do they offer up their services in 'packages' based on number of web pages and whether you want fries or a side salad? If yes, bad. The right web designer will be someone who understands your unique issues rather than trying to jam your business into a bronze, silver or gold package.
  • Presentation. Do you like their site? Is it well organised? Does it make sense to you? The design and layout of a web designer's website will usually tell you a lot about their 'style'.
  • Happy clients. Look for testimonials, a portfolio, case studies. Ideally their testimonials will include full names, which means they're not trying to hide anything. Web designers without some sort of portfolio or client list are either bad or lazy; either way, they're not for you.

4) Revise Your List - choose your top three candidates

Pick up the phone. You want to ensure that you're dealing with a professional, so call them up and see how they respond. A good web designer will get you talking about your business, your challenges and goals. They will listen to your problem, try to assess whether or not you're a good

Take things to the next step, which is:

  • Meet with them - A face-to-face meeting is the best way to ensure that you are comfortable with them, and also give them enough opportunity to ask questions about your business.
  • Proposals. Always get Get three of them! Any fewer and you're not exploring your options, any more and you're wasting your time. Three is the magic number. Ensure that the designer gives you the proposal within a week of your meeting.

Assess the proposal:

  • Problem solving. Did they propose a solution to your problem that makes sense to you?
  • Comprehensiveness. All the issues covered?
  • Follow up. Will they help you market it? Train you? On-going maintenance? Guarantees?
  • Ideas. A good web designer might demonstrate creative, out-of-the-box thinking and have some really good ideas that you never considered.
  • Timeline. Ensure that they tell you how long the project will take, can live within that timeframe?
  • Budget. Make sure it fits within your budget!

Web design as an industry is still very much in its infancy, so unfortunately this is not like shopping for a car or a pair of jeans. You'll need to do a bit more homework to ensure that you find and choose the right web designer for your business. Good luck!

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