How to Hire The Right Web Design Firm

Regardless whether you manage a small business, charitable organization, or Fortune 500 company, choosing the right web design firm can quickly become a full-time research project. With thousands of design firms to choose from, what factors truly determine which design firm is best for your business?

The primary considerations for choosing a web design firm are:

* Price

* Customer service/access to support

* Credibility indicators of the design firm

* Portfolio and design experience

* Other services offered (domain renewal, hosting, SEO)

* Turnaround time

Let’s take a closer look at each consideration in detail, and explore how to identify and qualify the right design firm.

Price

Like many products and services we purchase, both personally and professionally, deciding on a web design firm can often come down to price. But the value of the services rendered is really what’s important. A $200 web site usually turns out to look, feel and perform like a $200 web site.

The price of your site’s development will depend on three factors: the features of the site, the amount of content, and the service options included with the design package, such as hosting.

Because pricing varies by firm, here are several principles to use when determining the validity and value of a web design quote:

* Does the quote state one all-inclusive price for the entire project?

* Is there a reoccurring monthly fee for hosting?

* Is the site custom-built, or is it customization of an existing template?

* Is there a separate fee for content development, such as writing sales copy?

* Is domain registration/management included in the package?

* Will the firm provide multiple design concepts, prior to actual development?

It’s important to compare quotes from at least three firms to, determine the value of the services offered. Looking for the best value is important in a competitive service market.

Customer Service

There’s nothing worse than signing with a firm that offers a great product, only to find out they are impossible to contact. Consistent, open contact with your web design firm is important for ensuring success before, during, and after your web site is developed.

Throughout the design process, you may identify text, photos, or contact information you’d like to change before the site goes live. If you have immediate questions regarding your site’s development, you’ll be glad to have immediate contact with customer support staff by e-mail, telephone, or live chat.

If you are limited to e-mail technical support, consider other firms that offer a wider range of customer service options such as telephone and live chat support. E-mail is great for convenience – when it’s convenient.

Credibility Indicators

Identifying “credibility indicators” can help ensure a firm is trustworthy, and will be around after your deposit or full payment is sent. Credibility indicators include, but are not limited to:

* Toll free telephone support

* 24 hour customer service

* Better Business Bureau affiliation

* Human e-mail address contacts

* Google PageRank of 2 or above

* Presentation of a hard-copy quote/design contract

Design Experience/Portfolio

Does the design firm have experience in working with similar types of businesses? Even if a designer doesn’t have a web site in their portfolio related to your industry, the firm you select should have a strong working knowledge of how to develop an effective site for your business type. Product and service web sites are not the same. Your designer should have a plan of action for developing a site that reaches the maximum number of prospective customers in your target market.

A few good questions to ask about a firm’s design experience include:

* Does the firm offer a number of diverse, finished web sites available for review?

* Will the firm conduct research regarding my competition?

* Will my web site highlight the features, benefits and value of my product or service?

* Has the firm outlined a plan of action for creating an effective site, start to finish?

Design experience need not always relate to the type of web sites the firm has previously developed. If you have a specific look in mind, ask the firm if achieving a similar design is possible. The ultimate goal is to know you’re going to get a tangible benefit out of your site through effective, affordable web design.

Additional Services

Many web design firms offer design, but do not provide other required services such as hosting and domain name registration. Ideally, your web design company should be a full-service firm, offering at least basic hosting, domain registration and search engine optimization services tailored to your needs. Research each firm to determine other key lines of business, so that any future expansion of your site will be seamless as your business grows.

Turnaround Time

An effective website should take 30-60 days to go live, from the start of production. Unless you’re offering hundreds of individual products or services on your web site, the entire development process, start to finish, should take no longer than 60 days. Turnaround time should include:

* Upload of your web site to the hosting provider

* Configuration of any scripts or forms on your site

* Domain propagation (accessing your web site and e-mail via yoursite.com)

Choosing the Right Web Designer

Choosing the right designer for your new business web site:

When it comes to choosing the right web designer for your web site, you should always shop around first to check out all of the available options. There are many web design companies out there to choose from. And most of them are pretty good at what they do.

Always ask to see samples of a web designer’s previous work and examine their portfolio. This will help you get a better feel for the style of sites any particular web designer is capable of doing. Most of the time, web designers have their own unique style and you can easily spot which designs they’ve done in the past. I mean, it’s similar to any other artist’s style; you can definitely spot their previous works based on the general layout, color scheme, and over-all visual appearance of the sites.

Experience is also a key factor here. Just like any other craft, web designers get better with experience. So naturally, you’ll be better off by choosing a web designer who has more experience under his or her belt.

Another key point you should define is whether or not the web designer can make you a 100% custom web site. Or will it be just a basic template web design that 100’s or even 1,000’s of people already have across the Internet. Pretty much anybody these days can create a basic HTML web page in Microsoft Word or Publisher and change the title of it to reflect their Branson business. But you must ask yourself: “is this really what I’m looking for”?

Web sites that are truly custom built will stand out more the rest of the basic template web designs that so many people are using these days. A custom web design will catch the eye of your potential customers and show them that you have a really professional web presence and you mean business.

A lot of web designers these days choose to do the template web sites for one of 2 reasons:

It’s cheaper to use a basic template web design. They might be lacking the necessary skills needed to develop a fully custom web site. Whatever the case may be, make sure you go with a designer who is capable of creating a custom web design for you. It will inevitably cost you more for a custom site. But it is totally worth the extra money spent. Trust me, in the end you will be much happier with your web site if it is a site that’s unique and created for just your business and not everybody else’s.

Communication with a potential web designer is also critical in the development of your web site. You need to be perfectly clear and define your goals up-front, before you actually sign a web design service contract with a designer. Make sure you know what you are getting for your money and make sure you get it in writing! I have a 9-page web site design contract that I use every single time I design a new web site. Included in this contract is an itemized list of all work that is to be performed during the development of the web site. Things like the exact number of pages, the exact number of graphics to be designed, whether or not I need to create a logo, the estimated time before completion, whether or not routine site maintenance will be performed after the site is 6 months or 1 year old, etc.

Defining these things will help you in the long run and will also make sure you and the web designer are on the same page.

I also use what I call my “web design planning worksheet”. This worksheet gives “milestones” or deadlines for each phase of the web design project. Things like “In 2 weeks the general layout will be done” and “2 weeks after that, the site will be coded and launched” and then “In one moth after the web site is launched, we will evaluate it to see what needs to be adjusted”, etc. (these are just examples, by the way. the details included in one of my actual worksheets gives exact dates and more specific milestones).

And what about the web hosting for your new web site? Usually, a web designer will provide some kind of insight as to which hosting company they recommend. Web designers in general have a preference for a hosting company that they know will be a good choice for your web site and they should assist you in making this selection.

Fortunately, we have our own web server here at Digital Spiral Web Design so we can do all of the hosting ourselves. This is very beneficial because we can make sure the web server stays up and running and if there is any maintenance that needs to be performed on the server, we can do it ourselves in a timely manner. Plus, we will always cut a deal for our web site hosting services to any new business who chooses us to do their web design.

Will your new web site require any specialized web programming? Well, the answer to that question is based solely on the needs of your Branson web site. What kind of site will it be? Does it need a shopping cart for e-commerce? Will you be implementing any special web applications or online forms for your viewers to fill out? Will it be a web site that requires your viewers to fill out registrations and sign up so they can login? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then chances are you’ll need a web designer who can also program.

Web developers and designers must be skilled in the art of web PROGRAMMING (something that is very different from regular web DESIGN). Web programming involves the implementation of different web programming languages like JAVA, PHP, Flash, SQL, or.NET. All of these web programming languages need highly skilled individuals to code them and develop web programs with them.

I personally love PHP! I use it for pretty much everything. I won’t go into the details of PHP in this article (I would have to write an entire book about it to cover all of it). But with PHP, I can create pretty much any web application that is logically possible.

So, make sure you choose a web designer who is also capable of coding any special functions that your new web site needs. This decision needs to be discussed and gone over by any potential web designer you might use to create your Branson web site.

And finally, you should always check with the potential web designer’s previous clients to make sure they give him or her a good reference. Remember: it just like any other service. You need to verify a web designer’s references and make sure they can do what they say they can do.

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