From time to time a potential client comes to me after having a bad experience working with another web designer. I mean, I’ve really heard some horror stories y’all: money flushed down the drain; a website they’ve paid for but isn’t serving them; domain names held hostage after the relationship turns south. It’s a big ol’ mess.
I always wish they’d spoken to me first, whether they decided to hire me or not, because there are some things I always educate potential clients about so they’re empowered and pointed in the right direction from the get-go. Here are a few of those things:
1. Never allow a web designer to register a domain name for you
While it’s totally understandable and much easier for you to just let your designer “handle all the technical things” for you, your domain name is a valuable brand asset and you don’t want somebody else being in control of it. It’s very easy to register your own domain and worth the teeny-tiny hassle, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
Pro tip + a huge caution: Be sure you register your domain with a “forever” email account that you’ll always check; domain names are purchased annually so you’ll need to renew them. You want to be sure you get the renewal notices, and to be notified when your credit card expires. I’ve had people come to me so many times in a panic because their domain registration had lapsed because they didn’t get the email and they didn’t pay attention. In one case, it cost a former client $5,000 to buy his domain name back from a poacher. You’ve been not-so-gently warned. 🙂
2. Make sure you have a way to update your website that doesn’t depend on your designer
This means you want to have a CMS (such as WordPress or Squarespace) powering your website so you can make simple site changes yourself, and ideally you’ll be provided some training on how to do that. Ask, “How will I make changes to my site once it’s launched?” If their answer is, “You’ll have to contact me to do it for you” … run.
It’s totally fine to engage with a designer post-launch and long-term who will do site updates for you, I do them for a few busy clients myself. But, my maintenance fees aren’t cheap. I make sure that 1) my clients have training resources so they can do it themselves if they’d rather and 2) they can easily hand the keys to their website over to a cheaper service provider if they want to. In short, I make it possible for clients to replace me. And they should be able to because once they pay their bill and the site launches, it’s their website.
That means that the tools I use are common to the industry; it’s best if your site is built with a platform that’s used by a large community so it will be easy for any web professional or virtual assistant to hop on board and help you out. (Here are some tools that I recommend.) Be sure to ask anybody you interview what tools they use and how easy it will be for you to hire someone else to manage updates if you need to.
Know that not everybody approaches their web design business the way I do, and for some, their income depends on being in control and keeping you dependent on them for maintenance. Detangling yourself from a web designer who has set up your website in a way that holds you hostage, unable to make necessary changes without their help as your business evolves, is so 2002. Make it clear you want full ownership and access to all your site files when the project has finished.
3. Understand that their preferred platform may not be the right option for you
A lot of web designers work most often with one particular platform — whether it’s WordPress, Expression Engine, Squarespace, Drupal or Shopify. There’s nothing wrong with that, I work that way as well — it allows for faster development through familiarity.
But everybody’s website needs are different. I primarily work with WordPress, but sometimes the right option is Shopify or Expression Engine or Squarespace. It’s up to me, as a web professional, to understand more than one available option and what platforms are best suited to the client’s needs, and to recommend the right option whether that happens to be something I sell or not.
A professional designer with your best interests in mind can actually save you time and money by putting you into the appropriate solution, not just the one they happen to sell.
4. If you’re looking for a cheap website, understand the hidden costs
When you’re on a super tight budget and just starting out, it’s important to understand what you can expect when you opt for a free or cheap website solution — just because you’re not paying in dollars doesn’t mean you won’t be paying in other ways.
If you want a fabulous website that will help you make money and grow your business but you don’t have a lot of money, be prepared to make up the difference in time and effort.
While you can very easily find a web designer who will design a site for you for few hundred dollars — no judgment whatsoever, I get it — just know that there’s quite a lot of time and skill involved in creating a strategic website designed to meet your business objectives. With a small budget I can assure you:
Things will be skipped. Lots of them.
There’s nothing wrong with a low-budget website that gets you up and running quickly, but understand that you can’t expect it to perform miracles for your business.
Know too that effective websites are never a one-time cost. A website that works to attract clients and close the sale for you is something you do, not something you have. “Set it and forget it” websites do next to nothing, competition for attention is just too fierce these days. If what you expect from your website is to have a nice digital business card so people can find your phone number, that’s fine. A low-budget site is all you need. If you want to use it for marketing, it’s going to take a heckova lot more effort than that.
One final caution — if you’re not using a strategy or tools that will allow you to scale, a redesign may be needed sooner than you expect. Cheap websites without a plan are a false economy.
5. The more you’re involved in the process, the better the results
Designers are not magicians — they can’t solve your business problems without your input. Sure, they can create a beautiful website you’ll be pleased with, but will your customers? Will your bottom line?
Taking the time to answer some big questions about your business before you consider hiring a web designer will help you make sure you get the very best results. This takes some time, contemplation, planning, and careful consideration on your part. Most professional web designers will guide you through the process of answering what you need to in order to grow your business online. These are just a few of the things you’ll need:
- What business problem do you wish to solve with your website?
- Who is your ideal customer?
- How do you plan to reach them once the site launches?
- What is your unique value proposition?
- How are you currently positioned in the market (is this where you want to be)?
- What are the primary actions your visitor should take when they visit your website?
- What are the brand’s mission, vision, and values?
If a designer you’re considering hiring doesn’t ask you questions like these, then you’re not buying a solution designed to meet your unique goals, they’re just doing the “tech set up” and not much more.
While these questions take more than a minute to answer, the more effort you put into thinking things through, getting clear about your business plan and goals — the more likely you’re going to get a return on your web design investment.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can hand over some cash to a web designer and sit back and wait to see a pretty and effective result. The very best websites happen when you’re highly engaged.