If you’re building a new site or redesigning an existing one, chances are good that you’ll be researching and interviewing web developers to create the right front-end design experience for your site. But good websites don’t come cheap. How can you make sure you’re not wasting your money? How can you choose the right web developer?
1. Do you already know what software you intend to use?
If so, start narrowing your search by looking for designers who have experience with the exact software you’re planning to use. Even if the firm doing the design is different from the people implementing the website, it’s still necessary to know the capabilities and limitations of shopping cart software you intend on using. Often, you may hire one company to do both design and development, and in this case it’s ESSENTIAL that they already have experience with your cart and other software.
Just because someone knows Volusion doesn’t mean they know Miva Merchant. Just because they know Magento, doesn’t mean they can work with X-Cart. The more experience the company has on your particular platform, the less you’ll end up paying for them to learn the package.
2. Know your requirements
Having a really good idea of what you want before you hire the designer is a HUGE necessity. I’ve worked on projects with customers who knew exactly what they wanted, almost down to the pixel. And I’ve worked with others who hadn’t a clue. In the latter case, the project was less successful than the first (except for customers who were incredibly flexible and really just wanted my input on the best design for their business). I can’t stress this point enough – there are so many factors you need to consider. Each one will have an effect on the budget of the project, and failing to consider one factor at the start of the project may mean it costs more down the road than it would have otherwise. Here are some things to think about:
- Do you want a fixed-width site, or a fluid one that changes as you make the browser window wider or narrower? It’s often easier to code a fixed-width site, but in either case it’s almost always expensive to change it after the design is completed.
- Do you need a new logo design? If so, do you want to do this as part of the website design, or prior to it? The design has to fit the logo, and vice versa.
- What colors do you want to use? Will the color scheme change among different sections of the website, or will one scheme suit the entire site?
- Surf around and see what other websites you like – and which ones you don’t. Try to identify exactly what you like about them. Colors, fonts, whitespace, graphics, video, and many other elements need to appeal to you but also work in conjunction with each other.
- Will your shopping cart need to integrate with other software – soft goods delivery (in other words, electronic downloads), Paypal, your merchant account and gateway, customer service software, order fulfillment software etc.
- Are you concerned about ranking well in search engines? Seems like an obvious “yes” but sites like wholesaler and member-only sites may not need to worry about SEO. If you do, make sure your designer and developer know this.
3. Talk to their current (and previous) customers
Ask your top choices to provide recommendations from previous customers, so that you can talk to them about what went right and, if applicable, what went wrong. Additionally, check their own website for a portfolio or client list, and cold-call a few other customers as well. (Of course they’re going to give good examples for references – see what a random sampling gives you, though.)
When you talk to other customers, ask about the following:
- Who did they work with at the design firm – by name? They may have had a wonderful designer who is no longer with the company – or a terrible experience with a designer who’s been let go since then. Was there one account manager that they could go to for status and discussion, so that there was consistency throughout the project? Did a team of people work on the site, or just one?
- How did they communicate with the firm? Is the design firm open to phone calls, or only emails?
- How well was project management handled? Did they use a PM system like Basecamp or Active Collab? Were deadlines met on time, deliverables made when promised?
- Above all…would they hire the firm again?
4. Think about communication.
During the pre-sales phase, communication should be timely, friendly, and above all it needs to convey the company’s competence. If you have to wait a long time for answers before you hire them, it probably won’t get better after they start work on your project. (Unless they are short-staffed in sales and well-staffed with designers!) They should be respectful and knowledgeable, especially if you ask for clarification or more details, or a clearer explanation about something they’ve said previously.
Also consider their location. Although it can be cheaper to outsource your website design to a company from another country, i can make a project take longer and push out your launch date. No matter where they are, you need to be able to easily communicate with your web developers. Even if you’re just in different timezones within the same country, it can make communication harder when you get to work three hours earlier, or leave three hours later, than they do. This shouldn’t be a barrier by any means, but you do need to consider how it might impact your schedule.
There’s no way to guarantee a successful project, but the more homework you do, the better your chances are. However, it’s not one-way street…make sure you know how to be a good customer, too!