Congratulations, you’re a business owner! You’ve worked very hard to build an outstanding reputation in your area for your particular product or service, and now you are ready to expand your influence on the World Wide Web.  Whether you are dipping your toes into the digital pool for the first time, planning a major redesign on a functioning but not flourishing current site, or simply giving your website a little face lift, there are (as always) points to ponder when looking for a designer to help you with your project. The two biggest factors that go into successfully choosing a designer are 1) knowing your needs and 2) knowing what they can do for you. Below we outline some of the most important (and fascinating!) things to think about when searching for your designer.

Knowing your needs is a broad brush to paint with, but it’s an important place to start. Without a good idea of what you need, your conversations with any designer will be ambiguous, causing frustration and loss of interest, as well as possible loss of time and money while you firm up the details.

Refresh, redesign, or a complete new do:

You can’t get where you’re going without a place to start, so know what you are bringing to the designer from the beginning.  Do you have a current website that just needs a little tweaking to bring it up to speed, do you want to do a complete new look for an existing web site, or are you starting from scratch?  These are key factors in choosing a designer.  A redesign or refresh means looking for a designer that can work with your current platform, while a brand new site allows the designer to work with the platform they are most familiar with.  Knowing what you want and what you have to start with will save you time, money and potential headaches in the long run.

Technologic Needs:

Are you looking for a website that provides information about your business in a brochure type format, or are you looking for an interactive store front?  Knowing the functional needs of your site is imperative, as it will help you to find the right web designer for you.  As in most businesses, there are different specialties within the web design community; some people focus more on the front end of the design, known as pure-play designers.  These folks concentrate more on the feel of the site, the color palette and the user experience, all important factors in a good web design.  This is great for you if you need a brochure site, where people can go to get information on your business but won’t need a lot more than that.  If you need more meat on your digital sandwich, however, you will need someone who is capable of handling front-end web developing, which involves HTML /CSS and JavaScript .  This sort of designer will also be comfortable with “back-end” technologies.  A designer with back-end technology will be at ease working with databases, scripts and APIs, and will be able to make sure your site is compatible with the technology of anyone who will visit it.  The last two types will be best suited for you if:

  1. Your visitors need to work with your site at all – designing a product, purchasing, etc.
  2. You need to edit or manage your content as a regular part of your business
  3. You see your website growing in the future, and need it to be easily expandable
  4. You want it to be both desktop and mobile friendly design – a must in today’s fast moving society

Remember that us non-web peeps want to focus on how a site looks and feels, but there can be a great deal more going on behind the scenes.  Pick a designer that can see all the angles necessary and cover your web butt, now and for the future!

Design Needs:

This can be the fun part of the process for creative types, or a nightmare for you more concrete minded people!  Deciding what kind of vibe you want your website to give off is a key factor in having a successful site, and can help you narrow down your designer choices as well.  If your business already has a color scheme, a logo or a group of images that you regularly use you are ahead of the curve, but if you don’t yet, don’t worry!  Search the web for sites that draw your attention and that catch your eye, and keep a log of what you do and don’t like (knowing what you DON’T like can be more important than you think!) Work outside of the box and visit sites that aren’t necessarily in your genre; sometimes we get great inspiration from things that have no direct correlation to our business.  The most important thing at this stage?  Don’t be vague.  Even the best web design team will have a hard time producing positive results if the directions they are given are unclear.

Business Needs:

This category can, in some ways, piggyback on the technology needs, as they often go hand in hand, but giving these action items their own area is critical to the long term web health of your business.

  1. Start by defining what role you see your web site playing in your business. Is its main purpose to be informative, to draw new clients and therefore revenue, or to create greater convenience for existing clientele?  Knowing what you want it to do will help get your site off to a positive start.
  2. Will it need to assimilate with any other software or business processes, such as inventory or receiving orders on line? Be aware of what expanses and limitations you need it to cover as you are planning.
  3. What kind of expansion will you need in the future? While planning for now, always keep in mind where you see your business going, and how your web site will need to grow to keep up with it.
  4. Cost: think of your site as an investment, not a cost.  Know what your budget is, and be straightforward with any designers you meet.  They may encourage you to expand your horizons financially, but make sure their products and services are worth your investment.

What time is it?

Examine your time frame before you start seeking a web designer.  Be honest with yourself about your expectations of completion of the project; decide how flexible you can be.  If this is a brand new site you might be eager to get it up and running to improve business, but it may take longer than you expected to create something new.  Also, good web designers are busy – will you sacrifice quality for quickness, or are you willing to wait in line?  All things to consider before you go on the hunt.

Now that you have your goals outlined, have some examples of what you like and don’t like, know what you need your web site to do to benefit your business AND have a budget in mind, you are ready to go out and find the perfect web designer!  But wait – it’s not all about you!  A good business relationship with a designer is critical to the success of your site and your business.  Here are a few things to look for when you are seeking out designers:

Where do you find them?

Good web designers can be hard to find…because they’re designing, not advertising.  A few places to look:

    1. Go local: A lot of people prefer to work with someone geographically close to them, to have face to face conversations and a more hands on approach.  Seek out local web designers from businesses that have web sites that you admire, or print marketing that draws you.  If you must Google it, be city specific to your area to minimize the number of people you will have to go through to find the right designer.
    2. Think global: There are many great web designers available via the web itself, but how do you separate the good from the bad?  Again, it’s where you look.  For much of the design software out there (WordPress, SquareSpace, Weebly, Wix…the list goes on) there are service support forums and/or Experts Exchange areas that you can stalk to find prospective designers.  As each of these platforms have their own options, dig into the background of each platform to see which one will meet your needs the best as far as functionality, ease of use for the web owner (you), ease of use for the end user (your customers).  This knowledge alone may help you narrow down prospective designers.
    3. Look inside: Internal internet searches, that is.  As with many businesses, designers have development platforms where they can post a profile, portfolios and business information (kind of like LinkedIn for designers!).  ThemeForest, Fiverr, Github, DesignRush, and HackerNews are a few examples of places you could look.

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It’s all in the Approach:

Once  you have selected a few designers that you would like to approach, you need to put together a proposal.  This will be the easiest way for you to get your needs across, and gives everyone a level playing field.

    1. Put together a detailed description of what you are looking for in a web site, and include specifics about your particular type of business that might not be known by someone in a different field.
    2. Include a ballpark budget, so that you don’t come off as fishing – looking for information that you have no intention of following up on, or expecting big results from a little bit of bait.
    3. Ask how they see their involvement in the project helping to increase traffic, revenue, or other metrics that you use to measure your web success.
    4. Keep it simple: If they express an interest or send a follow up, simply ask if they are interested in the project and what further information they might need.
    5. Once you have generated some interest, you want to ask for references and examples from their portfolio. At this point you are using your requirements, details and plain old gut instinct to help the designers weed themselves out.  Be thorough, and the best option for you should become apparent. If there is more than one that really draws you, it might be worth a call to each designer to see whose personality you mesh with the most.

Contracts and Project Plans:

Keeping expectations and understandings crystal clear from beginning to end is a win-win for everyone.  We hope that at this point your choice of designer has become clear , and you are ready to move forward with the project.  Ask for a contract that will clearly state the designer’s “deliverables”, will outline the responsibilities of all parties, will explain the costs and cost benefits and will lay out adjudication expectations, in case there is ever a dispute between involved parties.  Make sure that your “after-project” plan is included – knowing how much support you will receive after the project is completed is valuable information.   It is also important to get a Project plan – a good designer should be happy to not only provide you one, but will involve you in the creation of the plan.  This will outline timelines, expectations of each party and basic responsibilities.  While a simple document, it can really help keep a project moving forward, as everyone stays informed throughout the process.

One last thought….

DIY!  As you have traveled down the rabbit hole of searching for a designer, you may have had the fleeting thought that “I could do this myself, it doesn’t look that hard!”  If this is the path you decide to follow, know that there are many companies that help businesses just like yours – with limited budgets and no real internet knowledge.  WordPress is one the most widely used platforms, and it gives you complete control of the design while having a lot of options.  There are also companies with pre-made web designs that may work for you; this gives you options for now, while providing you with perhaps more growth opportunities as your business grows in the future.  Just as you did with your designer search, research your options, know your expectations and limitations, budget and time availability…then go for it!

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