For many companies – particularly small businesses and start-ups – the web is going to be their major and in some cases only marketing tool, so when you choose a web design company you may literally be putting the future of your business in their hands. It is not a decision to be taken lightly, nor is it an area where saving a few pounds should be your primary concern. You really need to take an in depth look at a web design company before you give them your work. It is easy to put up a glossy front, but is there any substance behind it?
The web design business is an amateur’s paradise. Start-up costs are very low, obsolete versions of poor software are given away by magazines and anyone can call themselves a web designer. Furthermore, there is a perception that ‘anyone can do it’ and that it is just a question of learning to use a new programme. The results are out there for all to see – ugly, poorly designed and hard to navigate sites that break in some browsers, that do not get any visitors and that do not show up in Google. Unless you are very certain of their capabilities you are doing your business no favours if you employ an amateur
The other option is to do it yourself. Web design is not your business however. Did you build your own computers? Do you deliver your own mail? No, of course you don’t – so why tie up valuable resources and time designing and publishing your own web site only to be disappointed with the result. Your time is more valuable than that.
So – you have decided to use a professsional website design company. There are thousands, so how do you choose? Here are some questions to ask:
How long have they been around? Businesses that have been around for ten years or more will have seen a lot of changes in the way the web works and have obviously adapted successfully. New businesses may not still be around when you need some changes made to your site. Your site could vanish, and you could lose control of your domain.
Have a look at their portfolio. Look for at least twenty websites, preferably more – if they only have a handful then they are either new starts or just playing at it. Do you like the sites? Do they work? Try some Google queries – do the sites show up for sensible search terms? Are the sites easy to use? Good navigation is essential – do you always know exactly where you are on the site, can you find the information you want?
Does the company seem interested in your business? When you ask them for a quotation do they give you a generic flat-rate quote or try to sell you things you don’t want, or do they talk with you at length to find out more about your business, how it works and what you hope to get from the website? Do they baffle you with jargon or explain things in easy to understand terms?
Check the small print. Are there extra set-up fees? If there are staged payments, what do you get at every stage? What sort of hosting do they offer? Will your site be able to expand with the business? How will it be updated? Are there any ongoing charges? Most importantly, make sure that you will own the copyright to all the material on the site including design and layout. We sugggest that you ask your web designer for a copy of all the files once the site is live and paid for.
What sort of support can you expect? We hear stories of ‘unavailable’ web design companies all the time. Make sure you have a phone number, not just an email address – and make sure it is not a premium rate number. Ask them what the turnaround time for an email reply is, and how long it will take to make a simple text change to the site. Remember, in many cases the same company will be looking after your business email account – you need to be sure they are there when you need them.
Lastly but not least, for genuine testimonials. The best recommendation any business can have is a testimonial from a happy customer. Have a look on their website – are there any testimonials? If not, why not? You can also ask the company if they are happy to provide references, and if you are still not sure you might even want to contact one or two of their existing clients and ask them if they would recommend the company.