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.
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 on so they’re empowered 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 MUST register it yourself. It’s very easy to do, and doesn’t require any technical skills — and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
Pro tip: 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 and you want to be sure you get the renewal notices.
2. Make sure you have a plan to update your website that is independent of any one designer
This means you want to have a CMS (such as WordPress or Squarespace) powering your website that allows you to make simple site changes yourself. These days it’s so affordable there’s absolutely no reason not to. If you don’t want to make site updates yourself that’s fine, but it’s best if your site is built with a platform that’s so commonly used it will be easy for any web professional or virtual assistant to hop on board and help you out.
The bottom line? You want to be able to easily fire your web designer. I say this to my clients and they chuckle… but for real, yo.
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. 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.
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.
Templates will be used.
There’s nothing wrong with a low-budget website that gets you up and running quickly, but template solutions are just a starting point. Consider it a “minimum value product” and you’re expectations will be better aligned with what you’re buying.
Know too that effective websites are never a one-time cost. They should never be something you “set and forget”. You’ll want to make sure you’re paying close attention to what’s working and what’s not so you can optimize and adapt as your business evolves. A lot of people make the mistake of putting up a website and get to work driving traffic to it, without ever checking back in to see if the website is doing its job and closing the sale.
One final caution — if you’re not using a strategy or a scalable solution, 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 from my intake questionnaire:
- What business problem do you wish to solve with your website?
- In 12 months from now, how will we know your website is successful?
- 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? Are they clear to your customer?
If a designer you’re considering hiring doesn’t ask you questions like these, then you’re not buying a solution customized to meet your unique goals.
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 the client is highly engaged.