Choosing a Web Design Company: A guide
Over the years, we have had many people coming through our office doors with tales of woe, in relation to their existing website. "The person who designed our website no longer does web design", or "The guy who designed our website has moved/emigrated/gone out of business". It is imperative to ensure that you, the customer, select your web designer carefully.
From the outset, many small businesses do not put much emphasis on their website, so long as they have some form of web presence. Whilst tight budgets for new and small businesses will always be an important factor, choosing the 'cheapest' and most affordable can, and most probably will, have its downsides in a relatively short period of time.
The process of selecting someone, or some business, to design and print your business cards is simple. Can they deliver on time, and within budget? Am I happy with the finished product? You receive your completed business cards, pay for them, and walk away. Simple and straightforward.
This approach should NEVER be adopted when selecting a web design agency.
Your website is, and will be an integral part of your sales and marketing, both now and in the future. It is not a static thing. It will require updating at regular intervals. It will require technical improvements over time, as web technologies change. It may require specialised and unique web development at some point in the future. It will require SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), both now, and in the future. It will require security updates on a regular basis, to prevent outside attacks.
You need to ask yourself the following. Would I trust anyone to deliver ALL of the above?
Never, ever choose a web designer based on price alone. This is usually a recipe for disaster.
We network heavily with many other web designers and web design agencies, throughout Europe, and attend numerous conventions, giving us an opportunity to meet with other studios, designers, and developers. I can assure you of one thing that we hear time and time again. It is extremely challenging to set up a web design agency and make a living out of it. We are fortunate in having invested heavily in building a highly skilled team and a strong and solid portfolio of clients throughout Ireland, the UK and other European countries.
However, there are many 'fly by night' designers, that are 'part timers' (we call them "spare bedroom web designers) who, have a very impressive website of their own, promising superb services and impressive prices for design services, but they are not actual businesses. Think about it - a web designer looking to drum up business will inflate their ego and acumen by having a very impressive website of their own. But, are they a real business?
Don't get me wrong - there are many single owner-operated designers who work tirelessly and are very good at what they do, whilst making a living out of it. But on the flipside, there are a vast amount of other 'spare bedroom designers' that are not actually working full time at web design or SEO.
Avoid the "one-man bands". They cannot provide the assurance of 7 day a week web support. If they become ill, your website will, too.
I know of 3 of these 'spare bedroom designers' in my local area. I see them standing in line once a month outside the local social welfare offices. Is this the sort of person you want to manage the most important facet of your online business?
In order to give you confidence in your choice of web design agency, and to alleviate any fears/worries or concerns you have, here are a few tips worth implementing, before deciding on your web designer:
- Are they a 'real' business? There are numerous business/due diligence websites, providing up to the minute company and director information. Use these tools to do some background research before engaging with them. If they are not registered as a Limited Company (www.duedil.com is a good place to check for this), ensure they have (at minimum), a Registered Business Name (www.solocheck.ie will provide this). If they have neither, it would therefore imply they are not a business. In simple terms, avoid web "designers" whose web address is their name (eg joebloggs.ie).
- Visit their offices. Absolutely imperative. If they don't have an office, be very, very sceptical. If visiting their offices is not possible, owing to your location, do some background checking. Likewise, many 'spare bedroom' designers never have a contact address listed on their own website. Nor do they have a fixed landline number listed. These are 2 points worth noting.
- Avoid "web design" businesses whose website address is their name (eg joebloggs.com, johnsmith.ie ) - the majority of these are not registered businesses and can vanish as quickly as they appear.
- Get references from their clients. Any web design agency will always be able to provide at least 10-15 reference clients. Ask for them, and check them out.
- In addition to the above, ask for a list of the most 5 recent projects they have completed, together with completion dates for same. This will give you an indication of the amount of work they are actually doing. If, for example, the 5 most recent projects are, at maximum, 4-5 page brochure websites, and these were completed over a 12 month period, you can be assured that they a) do not provide web design services full time, and/or b) they are certainly not making a living out of it!
- On the flipside, avoid web "designers" that claim something along the lines of "We have designed over 200 websites since September 2016". A website takes at minimum, 3 days to build (for a very basic 4-5 page website, including basic SEO). There are approximately 22 working days per month. 200 websites would take a designer over 9 months to complete, assuming they are doing nothing else whatsoever! Additionally, this line of self-promotion is actually saying, "we spend little or no time designing websites - we throw them together, and move on to the next job".
- What is the team behind the web design business? To ensure your website will be maintained securely, going forward, avoid "one person web agencies". Single owner-operated web agencies are fine for delivering simple, brochure websites, but if you have complex requirements, E Commerce, Online Bookings, Scheduling systems, 3rd party integrations, you need to ensure there will be a Web Agency employing a team of specialists, providing backup and support.
- What sort of Website Support/Web Maintenance and Backup support services are included? Professional web development agencies will offer a dedicated Helpdesk, manned 7 days a week. If "email support" is offered, by a one-man-band, think of the risks involved.....What happens when the one-man-band goes on holidays, or worse still, what happens should they become ill? You always need to ensure there is a professional support service provided, manned by a team of web specialists.
A bit of research and due diligence can make all the difference!