Website designer woes

If I were the type of person who named my weeks, this past one would have been declared “Web Designer Week.” I’ve been juggling the redesign of my own website, working with a web designer on the creation of a client’s new small business website, and engaging in an ongoing debate with another client about the effectiveness (or lack thereof, in my humble opinion) of their web developer’s abilities.  In short, I’ve been up to my neck considering the importance of how small businesses use web workers.

For most small businesses, outsourcing web design work is a necessity. The bottom line is that unless you are that rare creature who possesses an extremely good sense of design combined with a highly evolved programming prowess — you should not be creating your own website.

Which leaves you having to locate, hire and manage an independent web designer. The questions that race through the small-business-frenzied brain can include: Where do I find a website developer? How much will it cost to develop my site? How can I make sure they’ll do a good job? And so on.

This is where things can get sticky. I can’t count the number of clients who have come to me crying (occasionally with real tears), claiming they spent X amount of time and dollars on a website and still don’t have what they want and need. Given the tight budgets most small businesses operate on, getting it right the first time is critical. To save you some pain, here are just a few things to consider:

Don’t

Base your decision on budget alone
It’s a classic mistake I’ve seen over and over again. The small business decides how much they want to pay, then finds the web designer who fits the finances. While you can get value for money, in many cases, web work falls into the category of “you get what you pay for.” Consider the fact that if it’s not done right the first time, you will be spending more in the long run to fix it.

Try managing the web development process without the time or desire to do so
In order to save money, I’ve seen far too many CEOs of small businesses take on the management of the web designer themselves. This almost never works since the small business owner is usually so busy with the day-to-day running of the business that they can’t really commit the time or attention necessary to make getting the website built a priority. Alternatively, assign someone in the company to head the project or hire an outside marketing consultant to oversee it.

Short the marketing aspects for design
Way too many small businesses fall head over heels in love with a design, but don’t stop to consider its overall marketing implications. There are literally dozens of considerations that go into making a website a functioning lead-generation, lead-nurturing and conversion machine. Design is critical, but so is marketing competence, so make sure someone in your company incorporates Internet marketing best practices in the design process.

Do:

Check out technical competence
In today’s continually changing online environment, technical competence requires constant updating. Inquire as to how the web developer stays on top of the latest technological bells and whistles in website development. Some common technological issues to look for on websites include:

  • Technical competence 
  • Clear and clean site navigation
  • Innovative visual storytelling
  • Integration of social media
  • Appropriate mix of audio and video media
  • Expert knowledge and experience in the platform you are going to create your website in (ie WordPress)

Study their creative style
Do you find the websites that this developer has created to be visually appealing in terms of overall look and feel? Does something about their style resonate with your personal taste or desired brand? If not, chances are they won’t be able to magically create a look that works and you will have incompatible design ideas. No matter how highly recommended they are, or how desperate you are to get the project moving, pick another developer.

Consider their communication skills and ongoing capabilities
One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients about working with web developers is that, after the website is up and running, getting the developer to respond promptly to changes that need to be made is difficult. Many developers spend the majority of their time honing their technical expertise, so in some cases, interpersonal communication skills may have gotten short shift. Always call references and ask:

  • How easy is the developer to do business with?
  • Did she/he take a collaborative approach?
  • How was her/his follow-through on what they promised?
  • Did she/he get work done on time?

Lastly, for the protection of all parties, always get a contract in writing prior to the beginning of the web work. A clear contract that defines the scope of the project, estimated timelines and delineated deliverables goes a long way to prevent weeping over web work down the road.

We’d love to hear what you’ve done to make working with a web developer more effective. Or if you’re a web developer what can the small business owner do to make the process a smooth one?

Karen Leland is a freelance journalist, best-selling author and president of Sterling Marketing Group, where she helps businesses negotiate the wired world of today’s media landscape — social and otherwise.

11 Comments

Simon Garlick
September 14, 2011 at 5:29 pm

I recently experienced – from the website creator’s point of view – the second “don’t”, and the project fell apart as a result. It was painful and neither I nor the client came away happy. In the article above the thing that stands out to me is “always get a contract in writing”.

If you as a small business owner wish to hire someone to create a website for you, here are some things that you must have and be able to provide to the designer:

– Your current website hosting details – server hostnames, usernames, passwords, and administrative login details to any Content Management System (CMS) you may be using.

– The site content – photographs, logos, icons, and text. The website creator cannot invent these things. They can only come from you.

– Decisiveness. If the website creator provides you with a mockup or concept for how the site will look and feel, you must be able to say “I like it” or “I don’t like it” promptly and with reasons why. The website creator needs to get inside your head to create something that will satisfy your requirements, and if you never actually say what you like or don’t like, the website creator will have no idea how to make you happy.

– Your attention. If the website creator asks for approval or comment on something, don’t leave her hanging. If you don’t reply for days or weeks, either you or the website creator will start losing money. And that leads to an unhappy relationship.

– A sense of the bigger picture. If the website creator presents a mockup or launch candidate of the site to you, don’t get hung up on tiny details. Assess the mockup or website on how its look and functionality meet your business requirements. Put it this way – the last thing the website creator wants to hear is “can you make the purple background slightly less purple, we can go over the draft again next month once that change is made”.

– An up-to-date browser for testing. Few things are as frustrating to a website creator as the client rejecting a site launch candidate because the client is viewing it an old version of Internet Explorer that Microsoft stopped supporting 5 years ago.

These and others are the sorts of things that should be formalised in a contract before commencement of work.

Kelly
September 14, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I just had my website done and which went live yesterday http://www.e-accountant.net.au by http://etraction.co.nz these guys were great, they have a specialty with building websites for accountants & bookkeepers and more importantly know and understand xero and how I needed to communicate this. I had no problems everything went to plan.

Another thing that needs to be considered when picking a web designer is how easily can their website be updated in the future. You don’t want to go and have to spend thousands of dollars again for them to make a few changes to your page and wait for them to do it, make sure that you are able to make the updates yourself.

Stevie G
September 15, 2011 at 2:34 am

Also, understand that there is a world of difference between a website *developer* and a website *designer*. Interchanging these two words its a sure sign of making a mistake.

Blair Hughson
September 15, 2011 at 10:10 am

@Simon – as a developer myself I couldn’t agree more! However, it is our job to ensure the client is helped along to the best outcome for everyone. Having a clear contract that contains the expectations on both sides is definitely important, and something I insist on for any projects of a decent size.

Simon Garlick
September 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm

@Blair – couldn’t agree more. It really is our responsibility to assist the client as much as possible, ensuring the client is “helped along” as you put it. That’s why it’s vitally important that the client is available to be helped, as in Karen’s second “don’t” above. If the client is too busy to talk to the website creator or to respond to emails, there’s no communication channel by which the helping along can take place. This eventuality does need to be anticipated in a contract.

Karen Leland
September 16, 2011 at 11:11 am

To all;

I love and appreciate all the specifics you are sharing on the comments! This is such an area of confusion for most businesses, I really appreciate all your input.

Peter Venero
September 16, 2011 at 9:54 pm

I would also add in here that it is so important to choose the right Content Management System (CMS) to drive your site. If you’re not sure what a CMS is, definitely do some exploring. You would be best off choosing one that is cloud-based, which means it’s online software like Xero – so you’re always using the latest and greatest version. I work with small businesses everyday and would be more than happy to offer some free advice.

Plypox
September 20, 2011 at 7:35 pm

Ah well, to be fair as a Designer, Web developers who lack the social skills have egos that breaks at a simple comments that they think would mar their works.

And really, the article couldn’t be more articulate and detailed advice.

Alex Procter
September 21, 2011 at 10:45 am

@Kelly Thanks for shouting good feedback about us (etraction) to the world!

I just wanted to add that practicepl.us is our website for accountants and bookkeepers. Check out our blog to see a few of our latest launches, or learn more about online marketing..

Alain
September 22, 2011 at 2:44 am

Having a contract should be something you do by default for ALL engagements, no matter whether they are large or small. For one thing any engagement carries risk of some form, and the liability for that risk needs to be managed – in most countries, if you dont have a contract then your liability is infinite – a ‘simple’ $1000 job could end up costing you your business.

I would strongly urge you not to take my word for this, but to take professional advice and get yourself a set of ‘standard’ agreements drawn up which can tame the level of risk & liability that you are taking on.

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October 4, 2011 at 12:57 pm

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