Choosing a web designer for your small business can seem intimidating at first - what do you ask? How can you evaluate their work? Before you crack open your city's Yellow Pages and start calling web designers to work on your new web site, here are some things to keep in mind as you speak to prospects.
Beware the “Joe's nephew has a computer" syndrome.
It may be tempting to save money by using an eager novice to design your site. But do you want to trust your business image to Joe's nephew? I didn't think so. Think of it this way - would you let Joe's nephew design your annual report? Balance your books? Write your business plan? Then he shouldn't be messing with your web site either. The web isn't just a marginal sideline any more - the web may be the only way some people interact with your business. Make it good.
And while newcomers will charge a lot less than professionals, you definitely get what you pay for. A professionally-designed site will have a longer useful life, and attract more customers, than something churned out by a template factory (or Joe's nephew).
Check their work.
Once you have a few candidates picked out, carefully scrutinize all their work on the web. Is it attractive, easy to use, and fitting with the image of the business? Are there errors, missing pages, or other problems? How long do the pages take to load? If multimedia is present, is it used intelligently and for a purpose? Would you be confident putting your name on each one of the designer's sites? Have they done sites in similar industries and circumstances to yours?
Watch their language.
One of the most important indicators of a web designer's expertise, after the work itself, is how they talk about the web. Do they sound excited about it? Do they talk in terms you can understand? Do they relate the web project to your business objectives? Do they answer your questions completely and in non-technical terms? Do they ask a lot of good questions about your business and goals? They could be the most brilliant designer in the world, but if they have bad “bedside manner, " working with them is going to be more trouble than it's worth.
Style is important.
Web designers, like other creative professionals, tend to have a consistent style. Does that style match your business, and what you're trying to achieve on the web? If you want a no-frills, text-heavy site, for example, someone who specializes in Flash interfaces probably won't be able to give you what you need, no matter how talented they are. It's not like a house painter, who can paint your house any color you want. It's more like asking Stephen King to write a tender love story.
What's their background?
And by this I absolutely do not mean whether they have any sort of formal degree in web design. The web is an eclectic medium, and people with all sorts of backgrounds can do well. (I was a newspaper reporter. ) But you want to get an idea of their experience in areas you need. If you need a database as part of the project, how much of that have they done? If you need original art as part of the project, can they do that? A good mix of the technical and the artistic is usually best for the web, but it all depends on what you need.
Get it in writing.
Once you've chosen someone, make sure you have a contract that spells out all the phases of the project and what will happen in each phase. Don't take anything for granted. Things like data entry, future updates, completion and payment schedules can all become bones of contention if you don't get them worked out beforehand. If everything is spelled out, it means fewer headaches for both you and your new web designer - and a better final product.
Following these basic steps should go a long way toward picking the right web designer for your business needs.
Adam J. Blust is a web designer, writer, photographer, graphic designer, programmer, pop culture fanatic, and head honcho of lucky8ball design in Madison, WI. lucky8ball specializes in helping small businesses create web sites that get results. Visit his web site at http://www.lucky8ball.com or call him at 608-661-0888.