So you’re thinking about employing a professional to design and build you a new website? You’ve decided it’s time to take your business to the next level and you know this means you need a website that looks “the business”, sets you apart from your competition and attracts new clients.
There are a lot of website designers out there and not all of them are created equal. How do you choose the right one for you and your business? The one that is going to bring your vision to life? Or maybe help you with that vision. It can feel overwhelming…
Choosing the wrong designer can lead to a frustrating and costly experience.
I’ve seen and heard some shocking stories. Stories which give website designers a bad name (and make me cross!). We’re not all the same!
- Designers who have built something inappropriate – which doesn’t meet the needs of that client;
- Others whose designs have been shocking – often because they’ve been built by someone without any marketing knowledge (your website should be a marketing asset, not a piece of IT);
- Website designers that have gone AWOL (during or after the project) causing frustration and delays. That one is more common than you might think;
- Examples of poor communication;
- And of course website designers who charge a lot for what they deliver. I’ve lost business to a few of the last ones – clients who are impressed by shiny offices and think they get what they pay for, when they end up with the junior designer and not much supervision…
I have my own experience from a previous business I ran. I employed a well known local agency to build an e-commerce website to sell online (before I trained in website design). They built my website in Prestashop, added in so much bespoke code that they were the only people who could update it (and of course that meant they could quote me £££), didn’t listen to my instructions (I never liked it) and at the last minute realised it didn’t work so it ended up being 2 months late. They worked with bigger businesses than mine and I just wasn’t important to them. We weren’t the right fit.
So I understand just how important it is to make the right choice.
I’ll add it should be a two way process. Your website designer should say no if they don’t think they’re the right designer for you. I have turned away many potential clients where I don’t think I can build the website they need. It’s not worth my reputation and I can’t, in all honesty, bring myself to say I can design and build a website when I know others would be a better choice.
So sit back, grab a cup of tea, coffee (or wine, I don’t judge), and let’s dive in.
1. Understanding what you want
- First of all, you need to think about what you want from your business and your website. Your website should reflect the business you want to have, so it’s important to have a clear understanding of this before you start your search for the perfect website designer for your business. It’s the first step in finding a website designer who can make it happen.
- Then it’s important to think about your target audience. Who are the people you want to reach with your website? Knowing this will help you find a website designer who can create a website that resonates with them and encourages them to take that action.
- It’s also important to consider the specific features and functionality you need for your website and what further help you may need. Do you need an online store to sell your products or services? Do you want to make edits to the website yourself? Do you want someone who will be able to help you on an ongoing basis (eg hosting and maintaining the website for you)? Some website designers just design/build and then move onto the next project. Others (like me) will offer to host and maintain the site for you.
- Don’t forget about your budget and timeline. Knowing how much you’re willing to spend and when you want your website up and running sets the boundaries for your website designer search. You want to find someone who can create a website that meets your needs and fits within your budget and timeline.
But be realistic. Most people want a website yesterday and to pay as little as possible. We’re all human!
How long would you be prepared to wait to get the designer you really want? The best website designers tend to be booked up (if they can start straight away you might want to be concerned – it’s been about a year since I was last able to start within 2 weeks).
Similarly you might be tempted to go for the cheapest website designer you can get, but what would a really good website be worth to you? What’s the maximum you could afford to pay for the person who ticked all the boxes? That should be your maximum budget (albeit price may then be a factor in the final decision). So set a realistic budget of what you can afford and look at all options within that budget.
2. Where to Find Someone
So where do you find a website designer that can deliver this? Or at least a few that you can check out?
I suggest starting by asking people you know. Do be careful who you ask – you want people who have similar businesses to you. Ask your neighbour or best friend and you might end up feeling you have no choice but to employ their son who is doing A-Level Computer Science or risk falling out with them…
Asking around is really helpful because they will also tell you who to avoid! They should tell you who they used (if they used anyone) and who else they have seen or heard good things about. As well as asking people you know you can ask in relevant Facebook groups and places like LinkedIn. At this stage you’re looking to collect names.
I’d avoid online platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr for website design. I’m currently rebuilding a website for a client who found their previous website designer on Fiverr. The initial design was fine but let’s just say the execution was poor and we’re rebuilding the site. It may have been cheap but it is not proving to be a good investment. It’s not the worst story I’ve heard about these sites (you don’t want to run the risk that someone overseas where you have no recourse builds you a website they can then hack).
Local networking events are a good chance to meet website designers as well as other business owners you can ask. If you do meet any website designers at these it is a great opportunity to have an informal chat with them, get a feel for their personality and see if you click. I have a lot of clients I have met through networking events.
You can also use search engines. Simply google “website designer in [wherever].” Search engines tend to favour website designers who specialise in website design (rather than generalist VAs), are more established, have PR/awards and who have lots of reviews. It isn’t just expensive agencies you’ll find on there. Google “Website designer in Sevenoaks” and you should find us on page 1. You can also search on social media – a few clients have found me via an Instagram search.
And look at other websites you love. They will often credit the website designer in the footer so you can see who has built it for them. Don’t restrict yourself to your own industry, but do look at websites from similar budget businesses. You may love whoever did John Lewis’s website but they probably worked with someone who is best suited to the big brands.
You want to end up with a list of at least 5 – 6 website designers that you can investigate further.
3. Whittling them down to a shortlist
Once you have a long list you need to whittle them down to a short list to contact.
Start by looking at their own websites.
Many website designers have neglected their own websites. I know quite a few that don’t even have a working website (that “coming soon” page has been there a while). And whilst my own is long overdue a refresh, it does show what I do and the type of clients I work with. A website designer’s website will show you [some of] their past work and give you a sneak peek into their creative minds. It will also explain their process and pricing (or should do).
So what should you look for?
First of all their design style. Do you love the work they do (or most of it)? Does it make your heart skip a beat? Does it match your vision for your own website? Most designers have a “style”. I know I do. The websites I design and build tend to be pretty clean, uncluttered and contemporary in style. Of course I do build each website bespoke and sometimes my client’s style is a bit different – the website will always reflect their style too. But when you find a designer whose style you love, it’s like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!
Do they work with clients like you? You might think this doesn’t matter, but I can assure you it is one of the most important things to think about!
You want someone who “gets” you. Who is used to dealing with clients like you and understands what you need. One of the reasons I had such a poor experience as a website design client was because I was a smaller business than the clients they were used to dealing with (which meant I was the bottom of their priority list).
Good communication is key to a smooth website design process, so it’s important that you understand each other.
Before you get too excited, check what they usually charge. Are they within your budget? It’s why I suggest being clear on what you’re willing to pay upfront (not what you’d like to pay – the two are different!).
Of course the cost of your website is going to depend on the size and functionality you require. So a website with 30 pages is going to cost a lot more than one with 5. Similarly a website with a membership, online courses, shop etc is going to cost a lot more than one that doesn’t have any of these functions.
A lot of website designers don’t put pricing on their website so you may need to contact them to find out. They’ll say it is because each website is different. Whilst that is true, 80% of the websites I build come within 100 – 120% of the price of my standard package which I set out on my website (you can find it here). Putting pricing on my website saves the embarrassing situation of someone asking for a quote/having an initial call when their budget is well below my prices…
In any event, you want to shortlist website designers who are within the maximum budget you have set.
Experience really does matter. When I look at the early websites I built (for friends and family) they are not as good as the ones I build now.
In the 5 years I have been designing and building websites I’ve built almost 100 websites for paying clients.
I now understand what works for the kind of client whose websites I build.
And it is important your website designer has experience in the kind of website you are looking for. I no longer build e-commerce websites. Technically I am perfectly capable of doing these, but the customer journey is quite different and there are different requirements which I don’t understand. I don’t have the experience in these kind of websites. I also prefer building websites for service based businesses which I do understand.
You don’t want to pay to be the experiment. It might be cheaper to use someone with less experience. You may get lucky, or it may not prove to be a good investment. I’ve rebuilt several websites for clients who used someone inexperienced (eg that sixth form A Level Computer Science student…). You’re better off doing it yourself.
Finally, don’t forget to check out the feedback and testimonials from previous clients.
You can find reviews on their website, Google Business and social media (eg LinkedIn). They may also subscribe to somewhere like Trust Pilot.
What are they saying about their experience working with the designer? Were they over the moon with the final product? Was the designer a dream to work with?
Feedback and testimonials are like insider tips from people who have been there and done that, so make sure you read them before you make your final decision.
4. Choosing “the one”
That desktop research should allow you to narrow down the website designers considerably to 2 or 3. It may even give you one that you really want to work with.
I strongly recommend talking to them before making a final decision (if a website designer doesn’t offer a free “discovery” call then strike them off your list). Have a list of questions beforehand that you need them to answer. Ask about their process, how long it will take, how much input you will have (it’s your business so you need quite a bit, but you also need to trust their professional advice) and of course what it will cost.
Most importantly you need to know whether you can work with this person. What is your “gut feel”?
If you really can’t decide between a couple, then write out the pros and cons of each. If you’re still on the fence then go with the cheapest (but only if you’re still on the fence)!
A new website is a significant investment in your business and it is important that you find the perfect website designer for you and your business.
Before you start your search you need to think about what you need:
- What you want your business to be
- Your target audience
- What you need from your website – the functionality – and any further assistance you need
- Your budget and timeline
Then you want to collect a list of potential names to investigate further:
- Ask other small business owners like you for who they used, others they have heard are good and any to avoid
- Go to networking events where you may get to chat to website designers
- Do a Google search, ask in Facebook groups, LinkedIn and search on social media and
- See who built other websites you love
Whittle them down to a final one, two or three to contact. You want to check out:
- Their design style – is it “you”
- Whether they work with clients like you
- Whether their pricing is likely to be within your budget
- Are they experienced in the kind of website you want and finally
- Their testimonials/reviews. Do others find them easy to work with? Are they pleased with the result?
The final step is to contact one or more and see if you “click”. Can you see yourself working with this person/agency? Yes, ultimately it is a “gut feel”…
And if you are potentially looking for a website designer, we work with small business owners with service based businesses. You can check out some of the work we have done (with reviews) here and our process/pricing here. And you can book a call to talk about it at a time that is convenient for you here.