Once you decide you need a Web site, it’s time to decide who will build it. If you have the technical know-how or the money to hire a full-time Web staff, you can develop the site yourself. But if you’re like most small businesses, you’ll want to outsource the work.
Be careful who you hire, though. A poorly designed Web site can cost you money, drive away customers, and hurt your reputation. Follow a few basic steps to increase your odds of hiring a creative, technically savvy, and cost-effective design firm.
1. Assess your needs. You can hire contractors to create, implement and maintain your site. If your site will serve only as an online brochure, consider outsourcing the creation and implementation, while handling future maintenance — like fixing broken links — in-house. Be realistic about your own goals and growth plans so you know whether to hire a long-term or a short-term contractor.
2. Research each candidate’s work. It’s essential that you research a Web developer’s work so you can evaluate their potential. Once you’ve found a few developers you like — through recommendations, Web directories or competitors’ sites — evaluate their online portfolios and fees. A site doesn’t have to be flashy to do its job, but you must appreciate the developer’s design sense. Also, consider hiring a firm familiar with your particular industry.
3. Evaluate their services. Decide if the developer meets your needs. If you want to sell your products online, look for proven e-commerce experience. If you’re considering a one-person firm, does the developer have the skills necessary to create everything you need? On the other hand, will you get lost in the shuffle at a larger firm with lots of other clients? Determine what extras the firms offer, such as copywriting, marketing, and other services.
4. Meet face-to-face. Your Web design firm, whether a one-person shop or a multinational company, is going to present your Web persona to the world. You must be able to work collaboratively. Ask yourself these questions and rely on your gut reaction:
- Do they listen to my needs?
- Do they explain issues in ways I can understand?
- Do they know my industry?
- Do they share my vision for the site?
5. Check references. Browsing a company’s work is helpful, but you also want to know how they work. A Web design firm can be the most creative in the world, but if it never finishes your site, it won’t do you much good. Call past clients and ask if the design firm:
- Adhered to deadlines
- Met their requests
- Was responsive to suggestions and questions
- Fixed problems promptly
- Worked within the original budget
6. Think ahead. Over the past year, hundreds of Web design firms of all sizes have merged, cut back their operations, or simply closed. Although it’s impossible to know for sure whether or not a firm will be around in the future, you have a right to ask questions if you expect to build a long-term relationship. You should also ask whether a design firm will accept payment in stages or whether they’ll demand most of their payment up front. Firms that aren’t willing to link payment to their own ability to deliver might not be worth the risk you’ll take to deal with them.