So you’ve shortlisted one or more website designers to build your new website. What do you really need to know before you hire them?
In this post I’m giving a list of 12 questions you want to answers to, before you hire them. You’ll find the answers to some of these on their website (or you should do), but you’ll need to ask others directly.
I always recommend having a conversation with any website designer you’re thinking of working with – either in person, by phone or on zoom – before you employ them. As well as getting your questions answered, a call will allow you to decide whether they are someone you can work with.
So what questions should you be asking before hiring your website designer?
1. What experience do you have that is relevant to my project?
Your website is not the place for someone to train in building websites (or a website like yours).
Your website is a hugely important marketing asset and therefore you want someone who understands how to market a business like yours. That’s how you will get the best return on your investment.
You also want someone who knows what they are doing technically.
I have taken over websites which have been built by inexperienced website designers/developers. I’ve also lost business to cheaper, inexperienced designers/developers and been horrified when I have seen what they have built for clients. Designs that just don’t work from an aesthetic or customer journey point of view.
I’m certainly not suggesting I’m the best website designer out there. But those of us who have been around awhile understand what works (and what doesn’t) for the kind of websites we build (so that’s not all websites). Whilst I don’t really think building a website can be compared to surgery, if you need a heart operation you want someone who operates on hearts every week – not someone who does knees one week, hips another and the occasional heart…
That is what you are paying for. The expertise/experience to know what works and what doesn’t. You’re not just paying for someone’s time.
Unless you go to a large agency, website designers will have their specialist areas (or their “sweet spot”). Mine is websites for small business owners running service based businesses (coaches, consultants, designers, therapists etc). I don’t have the experience or expertise in e-commerce websites or building websites for large corporates. And if you ask me to build one of those I will say no.
So make sure you ask about their experience and expertise. Do they build websites for businesses like yours? How much experience do they have? Can they show you examples of these kind of websites?
2. What is your process for building a website?
You should ask about a website designer’s process for working on a project like yours.
A website should be a collaborative process. You understand your clients and your business better than your website designer. But your website designer should be better at translating that into a design that works for your clients/potential clients.
I have heard stories where a website designer will get the initial information from a client and then squirrel away and present a final website to the client. With the “job done” attitude.
I couldn’t do that. I don’t have the arrogance to think I know best for a start. And I would worry that my client was going to hate something I had spent so much time on!
You need to give your input. And you should be able to give feedback as you go through the website build process.
Different designers will do that in different ways. You need to be comfortable that you have an appropriate amount of input (without micromanaging of course!)
3. What happens if I don’t like it?
Design is a very personal matter. And us website designers don’t always get it right first time. By getting it right I mean getting a design that you love. And it is important that you love your website. If you don’t love your website you won’t promote it and the investment will be wasted.
So how do you get a website you love?
The better the brief the more likely your designer will provide something you love, or that is close to it, first time. But you also need to be able to say if you don’t like it and there needs to be a process for getting to a design you don’t just like, but love!
It’s one reason why you need to be involved in the design process and approve the design. If a website designer suggests you don’t need to then I’d recommend running a mile!
You want to understand the process for taking on board your feedback. I always provide at least 2 design concepts initially.
I ask for feedback on the designs I provide – which they prefer, what they prefer from the other design, anything else they don’t like (and what they would prefer instead). In the rare event a client doesn’t like any of them it is usually because I have misunderstood the brief. I get on a call and we talk about the brief and go through the designs so I can understand better what you want. If I don’t get it right first time I want to be 98% of the way there on the second (and 100% on the third)…
I don’t build out a website until I have sign off on the design.
Your website designer may do it differently, but you need to know that if you don’t like the design it will be changed (without costing you more).
4. Who do I deal with and How will we communicate?
If you are working with a solopreneur then it is obvious who you is going to be your point of contact for the project. If you’re working with an agency you want a single point of contact who is going to ensure the website gets built both to your satisfaction and in a cohesive way.
You shouldn’t be responsible for in team communication. There’s nothing worse than briefing someone and that not being passed to the person doing the work, with the result that you feel like banging your head against a brick wall! I think we have all been in situations like that.
Also ask about how you will communicate throughout the project. I use email. Some might use a channel like slack. I’m not a fan of briefing via phone/voice notes because it is clearer for all if it is in written form. However, we might organise a zoom call because it can be quicker to discuss things like images this way.
5. How long will it take?
We know you want your website yesterday (at least most of my clients do!) but website design and builds do take time.
The best designers tend to be busy and may not be able to start straight away. If that’s the case you want to know when they’re likely to be able to start. You don’t want to be hanging around for months!
I give a start date for all projects, as well as a schedule and a launch date. Yes I’ll try and do it quicker, but the time it takes will also depend heavily on you giving feedback and other content.
6. What do I need to provide you with and when?
The main reason for website delays is clients not providing the information/content needed at the right time.
If you don’t provide the content or information your website designer needs at the right time they are likely to be busy on other projects when you do.
So ask before you start what they need from you to get started and what else they’ll need and when. That way you can be prepared. They can’t build a website in a vacuum – you understand your business and your clients better than they do.
You may need to provide copy (ie words), images, logos, fonts, colours, logins etc.
Ask who is responsible for copy. Are they responsible for the website copy? If you’re responsible then what help do they give? I provide a website homepage guide for example to explain what you should have on your website homepage. I’ll also guide content for other pages (or at least let clients know if I think they’ve gone off piste).
Similarly who is responsible for images? I’m a big believer in you getting your own branding photos taken. If you’re using stock photos who is responsible for those? When should images be provided and in what format?
What about logos, fonts and colours?
If you need help with branding, copywriting or photography can the website designer recommend anyone? I certainly do. A perk of being a customer is access to my “little black book” of other businesses that I trust to help my clients.
7. What do you use to build your websites?
Different website designers will build websites on different platforms.
Some still hand code websites from scratch. This is not ideal as these are difficult for non-techies to edit. Tbh they’re difficult for techies who didn’t build it to edit too!!
Otherwise they will use a platform like WordPress, SquareSpace, Wix or Showit. Your existing website is likely to be built on one of these. You may not want to change platforms (especially if you have a lot of content on your existing website that you don’t want to change) so you need to make sure that your designer can build in your platform of choice.
I build exclusively in WordPress (you can find out why in Why I build my websites in WordPress). But I often build for clients whose existing website is on another platform. You don’t have to stay with the same platform.
You need to ensure the platform your website is built on can do what you need it to do, both now and in the future.
8. Do you follow SEO best practice when building your websites?
Website design and SEO (Search Engine Optimisation – that’s getting found on search engines like Google) are two separate things.
Just having a website (even a professionally designed one) is not enough to rank on Google or other search engines.
To properly “do” SEO for a website takes a lot of time, effort and specialist knowledge. Amongst other things you need to research keywords, plan out the content, write it for those keywords, optimise and tag images, do a lot of technical refinements to maximise speed of loading, have a backlink strategy and implement it.
Most website designers do not do all of that as standard (I don’t). That is because we would need to include the time that takes and significantly increase the cost of our websites. And many clients do not get a return on that. It’s just not worth it.
However, you want to ensure your website is built in a way that it can be found and indexed by Google. It should follow SEO best practice. Then you can add more SEO as appropriate.
While I’m not an SEO expert, I do invest time and money in learning about SEO and follow basic best practice in the websites I build. And that is what you want at a minimum.
9. Will you show me how to edit my own website and what ongoing support will you provide?
I’m a firm believer in clients being able to make edits to their own website post launch. At the very least you should be able to update pricing, testimonials and images.
You might already know how to do that, but most clients benefit from having their website designer walk through their website showing them how to make changes. Does your website designer do that and is it included or an extra charge?
I always have a zoom call post launch where I take clients through their website. I use zoom as I can record it for clients to refer to later. And I also include a month of free support because questions invariably come up and it gives clients the confidence to “play” with their website.
If you use a platform like wordpress ask whether your website designer is able to host and maintain the website for you (and what they charge). That takes worrying about your website off your to do list in the future too!
10. Who owns the website?
Very few clients ask this question, but it is an important one.
If you use a website builder like SquareSpace or Wix you own the content but don’t own the website. That means you need to keep paying SquareSpace, Wix etc to keep the website running. If you don’t pay, you lose your website…
Some wordpress designers maintain ownership of the website which means you need to continue to pay them to keep the website running too. This is often the case if you pay a smaller amount upfront.
Ideally you should own the website and be able to do what you want with it post launch.
My clients own the websites I build once they have been paid for in full. So if they want to move them to say another website designer, tech VA or host they can do so.
There are parts of your website which you may not own, but have a licence to use eg any themes or plugins used on your site. You may have to pay to keep these updated.
11. What will it cost?
This is a question most people do remember to ask!
You want to know exactly what your website is going to cost before contracting with the website designer to build it for you.
Like any project, you will need to have a good idea of what you want before you start to ensure your website does not cost any more than expected.
You want to ensure you have a contract setting out the website specification and cost before you pay a deposit. That way it is very clear for everyone.
12. Are there any additional fees/charges that might arise?
As your website designer starts to build your website you may decide there are other things you want to add. You may need extra pages, or want to add something like an online course. These will cost extra.
The best way to avoid additional costs is to be specific upfront about what you want. If you think you may want something else I recommend having a price for this upfront too.
The best way to have a successful website project is to choose a website designer who has the experience and expertise that is needed.
Then you should be clear about what they are doing (and what they’re not).
These twelve questions are designed to help you do just that. These are the questions you need to ask (or have answered) before you hire your website designer:
- What experience do you have that is relevant to my project?
- What is your process for building a website?
- What happens if I don’t like it?
- Who do I deal with and How will we communicate?
- How long will it take?
- What do I need to provide you with and when?
- What do you use to build your websites?
- Do you follow SEO best practice when building your websites?
- Will you show me how to edit my own website and what ongoing support will you provide?
- Who owns the website?
- What will it cost?
- Are there any additional fees/charges that might arise?