Atlanta Ad-based Website Roundtable - Dec 2009


Choosing a web designer doesn’t have to be difficult, but many times it is because of how many web designers there are to choose from, the difficulty in validating them, and choosing just one.

The reason it is so difficult is because everyone “knows” a web designer. They are everywhere. If you ask around enough with friends and family, you’ll get things such as, “My cousin’s best friend is a web designer.”, “My neighbor fixes computers and builds websites.”, or “My daughter built a website before.”.

The problem with asking friends and family is, it is highly likely that they know someone that is very close to them whom they believe is qualified, and because of this, you will feel obligated to give them the opportunity to build your website. Most of the time this is a very bad idea.

The goal of this article is to help you find web designers, select the best one, and help you get your website finished with as little friction as possible.

There are 3 major ways to find a web designer.

1. Word Of Mouth

Asking friends or family can be a great way to location potential web designers. Someone who has already had a great experience with a web designer can be a great resource. Sending an email asking for referrals is also a great way to find candidates.

2. Local Search

Google’s local search is pretty powerful. To conduct a local search, type in “web designer in YOUR CITY, YOUR STATE”. An easier way is to go to Google Maps and perform a search near your location. To do so, type in your city and state, then click search. Then you will see a “Search nearby” link that you can click.

This is still a relatively new way of searching, so many businesses are not properly represented in the searches above. Your newspaper or local yellow pages are still a great resource to find web designers.

3. Remote Search

Sites such as oDesk and Elance are great tools for finding web designers. I must warn you though, they are filled with foreign companies that will claim to do the work at rock bottom prices. Stay away from those types of companies.

There is only one great way to validate a web designer; Their credentials.

By now you have probably realized it is relatively easy to find a web designer. The hard part is knowing if they are qualified. Fortunately you can find that out relatively quickly by asking to see the websites they have worked on over the past 2 years.

It is absolutely critical that you only consider work they have done in the last 2 years because website development changes so often that something they did 3 years ago is most likely less relevant than something done just one year ago.

Of the websites they have worked on in the past year, if they are popular, high-trafficked websites, the web designer is almost always qualified. I would have no hesitation hiring a web designer who has done major work for a popular website.

To determine if the site is “popular”, you can check the Alexa rank of the website or the traffic stats. If the site they gave you has an Alexa score of 100,000 or less, or a rank of 100,000 or less, the website can be considered popular and high-trafficked.

All you have to do at this point is validate that they did in fact work on this website within the last 2 years. The best way to do that is to speak to that client in particular with the permission of the web designer. They should be able to provide you with the proper contact information.

Why does a highly-trafficked website matter?

A highly-trafficked website usually means that it generates an amount of revenue that someone cares about. Which means they are likely to have a thorough review process for any web designer they hire. So if someone has worked on a highly-trafficked website, they most likely passed the test for that website. And as you can imagine, the larger the site, the more impressive the web designer is. As the revenue of the website increases, so does the difficulty in contracting for that website.

The 80/20 Rule

When you are looking to have a website developed, there is a critical rule that you need to be aware of. That is the 80/20 rule. What this means is, the first 80% of your project is going to go smoothly (for the most part), and the last 20% is going to be difficult.

I have heard many stories in the past where things went very smooth for most of the project but getting through the finish line is where problems arose.

The reason for this is because the last 20% is usually the mundane things that most web designers hate to do, but it is necessary to complete the project.

There are two great ways to avoid this. The first is to speak with previous clients of the web designer to make sure they did not miss deadlines. The second way is to structure the deal so that payment is weighted towards the end of the project.

For example, if the project is for $3,000 USD, you could provide an upfront payment of $500, two more payments of $500, each tied to a specific milestone, and the remaining $1,500 upon completion of the project. This puts heavy motivation on completion of the project. You can even reduce the cost of the project anytime they miss a deadline. For example, if you set a deadline for the entire project, you could say for every day past the deadline, I will subtract $25 per day. This usually sets a bad precedent and can cause additional problems. Personally, I wouldn’t ever sign a contrat with terms such as this. Things happen and in my experience, a lot of missed deadlines are caused by the customer rather than the web designer.

Web Design IS Subjective

As a web designer myself, I have personally had clients ruin an entire project because they wanted the web design to reflect their own tastes. Sometimes it is just slight modifications, other times it is major modifications that completely ruin the website. One particular example was a client who wanted to use contrasting red, black, and white that made it almost impossible to read the website. Furthermore, if you spent more than a couple minutes on the website, you got a headache from the constant contrasting colors across the entire website. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this individual ended up going out of business years later, but the point is, web design is subjective.

It may be hard, but you should trust the expertise of your web designer. It is OK to have your influence and opinion incorporated into the website, but let the web designer translate it for you.

What should you expect to pay?

Generally you can get a decent 10 page website for between $2,500 and $5,000.

If they quote you less than $2,000, they probably are not worth your time.

If they quote you above $5,000, you’re probably dealing with an agency. Most of the time this is not a bad thing, it just means you will get more deliverables and more attention. Agencies usually provide much more frequent updates, they provide access to project management software such as Basecamp where you can get a real-time overview of your project and view all past communications between team members involved in your project. But they do have overhead which you will be paying for in their quote.

Tips Before You Find A Web Designer

Go out and find websites that exist on the Internet with a design that you like. Pay attention to the colors, the location of items, and the overall first impression that you get when you visit the website. Most designers will ask for you to provide them with links to websites that you like and will most likely ask what things you like about that website.

Not only will it be a good¬†exercise¬†to help you figure out what you want out of your website, but it will help the designer create something that he or she knows will be along the lines of what you’re looking for.

Tips After You Find A Web Designer

Never allow the web designer to purchase your domain and/or website hosting. I cannot stress this enough. It is OK to allow them to buy it for you, but you should make sure both of these items are in your name and that you have confirmed administrative access to them. If you can’t revoke their access and continue on without them, than you do not have the access you need.

Ask yourself this, what happens if this web designer disappears tomorrow and I never speak to them again? You may be inclined to trust them initially with this because you trust them and it makes it easier for you. But let me tell you, this is like playing with fire. If you have a falling out, they can use this against you in many ways. The risk is too high no matter how you slice it.