Choosing a web designer can be a daunting task for a small business. With so many options and alternatives, it's difficult to know if you're making the right decisions. I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's extremely difficult for non-technical SMBs to hire good technical help.
I cringe when I see some of the choices that are made for small business owners or marketers by individuals who have no business advising anybody on their technology, marketing, or anything else for that matter.
When you choose a web developer, you're doing a lot more than picking somebody that will show you a nice website design. You're picking somebody that will have a massive influence on some of the primary drivers of success in today's business landscape. Search engine optimization (SEO), performance, branding, scalability, flexibility, social media optimization (SMO - yes, this is a thing), security, testability ... and the list only goes on - all of these factors can mean the difference between sustained growth, stagnation, or the death of your business or venture.
1. Don't Work with a "Web Designer"
Let me explain. Far too many "web designers" these days have simply figured out a quick and dirty way to publish a website that looks nice. But if you read my intro, you should know that this isn't even half the battle. It doesn't take much knowledge or technical ability to set up a WordPress website, buy a cheap template for $50 or less (this is what that website designer is doing on your behalf, btw), input some content, change a logo, and deploy it a cheap, unreliable shared hosting environment.
On the other hand, it takes a lot of technical knowledge and business sense to evaluate your needs in order to design, recommend, and build a web solution that works best for your business. Make sure you're working with someone that has the ability to work with a variety of platforms and has software engineering talent in-house (this is a very different skill-set and personality than web design). This way you can hopefully be sure that your web developer is presenting you with the option that works best for you and not the other way around.
2. Check their Portfolio
A web designer should have a portfolio they can show you. Yes, everyone needs to get their start somewhere, but when that was me, I built websites for myself and on spec just so I had something I could show to potential clients because I knew they shouldn't choose me without having any idea what we could do. If you're thinking about spending your hard-earned money on a new website, you should know what to expect.
When you look at the portfolio, pay special attention to more than just the picture they show you. Make sure you visit the site itself. Check the footer and see if that company is still doing the company's website work (most designers and developers include a link to their site and a credit in the footer). If you know somebody who's tech-savvy, have them look at the markup and check for quality (if you don't, contact me and I'll take a look for you). Pay attention to how fast the pages load. Check out how the sites look on your phone and your desktop. Is the layout simple and uncomplicated? If you were a potential customer of that business, are you able to quickly understand what it is they do and find the information you need in one or two clicks?
3. Digital Marketers are a Dime-a-Dozen
Calling yourself a digital marketer is en vogue these days. Just about anybody graduating from college that doesn't want to get a "real" job and enjoys spending all day on Facebook will call themselves a digital marketer and try to start their own business selling those services to SMBs that aren't very tech-savvy. This doesn't mean there aren't good ones out there, it just means you have to work harder to find them.
Promising to post to social media on your behalf every day is the antithesis of quality digital marketing. Social media is the single greatest connection with your customers that has ever existed on this planet, hands down. Someone who tries to sell you on outsourcing that either has their own interest at heart or simply doesn't know enough to know how poor a choice it is. Either way, that's not someone you want to work with.
Digital marketing is a crucial aspect of a larger, comprehensive marketing strategy for your business. Your website designer should understand that your website is the hub that connects all of your marketing spokes (not just the digital ones). They should have a strong understanding of everything you're doing to market yourself and they should provide recommendations and solutions that tie all of those efforts to your website.
4. Make Sure They'll Be Here for You in 5 Years
This is the most common problem I hear from new clients. They went to someone that was cheap, someone they knew, and/or a family member of a friend that was trying to make some cash on the side at the time. Maybe they even tried outsourcing it overseas to get a deal. Either way, it's a year later and they can't get in touch with the developer and have no access to anything they paid for. Do yourself a favor and work with an established, financially-stable company that wants to build a lasting, long-term relationship with your business.
5. Find Somebody You Actually Like!
This one isn't just limited to your web designer. These days far too little emphasis is put on working with quality individuals that you mesh well with. We do too much price shopping and too little relationship building. Don't get me wrong, price matters, but focusing only on price has a lot of unintended consequences (as I'm writing this, it's inspired my next article so make sure you read that too!). I can tell you that I learn more about my clients and how I can best serve them from a day on the golf course or through a casual conversation over lunch or at a networking event than I do during the course of the normal work week.
Working with people you like encourages those types of interactions and gives each person better understanding of the other. Building a quality relationship also makes that person much more likely to help you when you need help (and I have yet to meet a customer that doesn't need a favor every once in a while). There's no downside to building positive relationships with both your clients and vendors and enjoying your interactions with them.
We spend almost as many waking hours at work as we do at home. Do you really want to work with people you don't like?
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