there are no shortage of individuals and companies that can create a website for you – the trick is finding the best one for you and your project. so how do you do that when you might not know what to look for or how websites technically work?
here are some key factors to consider when looking into hiring someone to design and develop your website. there’s also no universal right answer to any of the following, there are just right answers for you specifically and the project you’re specifically looking to take on.
ask for references and actually contact them the best way to figure out if an individual or company is going to provide you with a website that you’re going to be happy with is to talk to their previous clients. you don’t even need to ask for references, just look at their portfolio and get in touch with some of their past clients. are they happy? was the website delivered on time and on budget? what was the process like? would they hire them again?
review their portfolio material some designers have a specific style – which isn’t a bad thing, and some are chameleons, capable of any style. does the creative vision of their previous work seem in line with what you’re looking for? if their portfolio doesn’t seem like a creative fit, you might not want to chance hiring them to do something completely outside of what they’ve done in the past. another thing to consider with their portfolio is: does the scope of their past projects (in terms of features/functions the sites have) match or exceed what you’re looking for? for example, if their past work is only small websites, they might not be the best fit if you’re looking to build a complex e-commerce store or custom application.
talk to them (not just via email) even though this is business, and nothing personal, personality and their ability to understand you does play into the process. a web person is responsible for taking what you tell or write them and turning it into a visual and functional website. that takes some interpretation skills – so do they seem capable of that, after you talk to them on the phone? do they seem willing to work with you throughout the process and take your ideas and them into something great? do they seem easy to work with?
experience over education the web design and development fields move quickly. that means schooling and diplomas aren’t a great way to tell if someone has the skill to do what you hire them to do. all you need to do for most web schools is give that school money, attend classes, and you’ll get accreditation at the end. this doesn’t mean schooling is useless, but it shouldn’t be a huge factor in your decision on who is right to do your web project. previous work (portfolio) and references (from existing clients) should have far more weight.
who does the work if you’re hiring an individual – you might want to ask if they do all the work (design and development), or if they sub-contract it out to someone else. if they do, you might want to look into that person too – and ask similar questions. if you’re hiring a company – is the work done in-house or outsourced? if it’s outsourced, who is it outsourced too? sub-contracting and outsourcing can be a slippery slope, but not always, if the other people involved are as trusted and reliable as the initial contact person. a lot of individual web people have a trusted group of similar individuals who can take on aspects of a project that might be outside the normal scope of projects (i.e. flash animations, video, SEO campaigns, server-administration, etc).
how do they work ask about the process – how does a project work with them from start to finish? do they use existing templates, or do all their work from scratch?
how long have they been in business and do they do this full-time? there are a lot of people that do web design on the side (i.e. they have full-time jobs doing something else). this isn’t always a negative, but it might be if you need to talk them during business hours (when they might be at their other job), or if you need your project done quickly. if they do have another job, does it take priority? can it result in extra and unexpected work that could impact your project?
money, money, money it shouldn’t be difficult to get at least a general sense of how much a web person or web company charges for “typical” projects. it’s not a bad idea to get a rough ballpark/estimate right out of the gate – just to see if their pricing fits with your project. obviously cheaper doesn’t mean better – so it’s up to find the most fitting person/company (using the points above) that fits within your budget. if you can’t find anyone, you might need to rethink your budget, as it just might not possible to hire the calibre of talent you want for the money you’ve got (so revise features/functions, scale back scope or save up more). it’s also a good idea to talk how their pricing works – is it hourly? set? could there be extra charges? how do they charge for out-of-scope requests? how do they charge for maintenance/updates after launch?
unfortunately there are a lot of web designers/web companies that don’t do a great job at meeting expectations or even finishing projects (i know because i get hired unfortunately often to fix or redo projects there were failures by the past web designer). hopefully the tips above will help you avoid that happening to you. there are amazing people out there that can create a kick-ass realization of your vision.