Whether you just want to get up and running on the Internet fast, or you’re in the process of building a business empire that needs a bold and flexible website to match your brand, the point is that you will need a great freelance web developer who can deliver. But today’s marketplace is flooded with web designers and developers.
How do you find a knowledgeable and reliable pro you can work with who knows what they’re doing and won’t break the bank in the process? You conduct a careful and thorough search, that’s how.
First things first: what exactly are you trying to do?
Before you begin your search, you must decide on your ultimate goal. Are you simply trying to get online so that you have a web presence? For example, is your goal to acquire a modest one-page site that displays your personal philosophy or that offers access to your custom-made product (i.e., a book or a custom-made quilt, etc.), and nothing more?
Or, is your ultimate goal to have more than just a web presence? Are you in the process of building a strong brand for your business and feel that you need a sleek, multi-functional, user-friendly website where your visitors can browse, compare prices, compose wish lists and make orders?
Once you determine what it is you are trying to do, you’ll know how and where to begin your search for a dependable web designer you can work with.
How and Where to Begin Your Search
Your search for great web design would begin the same way it would begin for any other product or service you might you need or desire. For example, let’s say that you are having car trouble and you need a good mechanic. If you don’t typically take your car to your dealer for tune-ups and repairs, you would probably begin your search for a mechanic by thinking of friends or family members who own cars. You would call them to chat about your needs and ask if they know of a reliable mechanic with good results and reasonable prices.
If no one can give you a reference, you might pick up a telephone book, thumb to the yellow pages and begin searching page-by-page through the “car repairs” section. Of course, if you’re so young that you’ve never actually used a telephone book and aren’t too excited about trying it out, you could always open your laptop and run a search in your favorite search engine.
Among other things, the search engine might bring up referral sites like Angie’s List or YELP, which you could use to tweak your search for local mechanics and any clients who have left reviews about the services they received. From there, you could call the mechanic or the company he works for and chat about your needs, his workload, the prices, and when he can begin the work. You would make your decision based on the answers you receive and the visual evidence of the types of cars and vehicles he has repaired in the past.
Customizing your search
When you decide that it is time for a new website, you would follow a similar search order as the one outlined in the previous section. Again the question is: what is it you’re trying to do? If you’re simply trying to get online so that you can say you have a web presence and your visitors/customers can find you, place an order for your products, or send you an email every now and then, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you want to do this yourself?
Are you thinking of designing your own website using pre-designed website templates? We cover this exact topic in our article tentatively entitled “Using Pre-Designed WordPress Thenes.” Please watch for it in the coming weeks.
- Do you want a professional to design it?
If you don’t want to tackle laying out a website via a pre-designed theme yourself, you can always begin your search for a website designer by thinking of any friends or acquaintances who might have websites. Visit those sites and jot down which features you like, what elements you would change if you could, and what features you would like to add. For example, maybe you want a “booking” feature on your site. Or maybe you want an “events” feature so that your visitors will know everything you have planned for the community.
Once you have decided on your features, ask your friends or acquaintances for the name of their website designer. But don’t stop there; ask what type of experience they had working with the designer, whether he or she communicated well, and whether he or she got it right the first time or after many, many tries.
What about overseas developers?
While you are searching for website designers, the question of whether to scout for talent overseas is bound to come up. Why? Because America isn’t cheap, that’s why. It never has been. With that in mind, an American website designer may (and probably does) charge much more than an overseas designer. For this reason, many Americans flock to sites like Guru.com, Odesk.com and Upwork.com to find developers who promise to create spectacular sites for pennies on the dollar.
Just keep in mind that while it’s okay to want to save money by finding the cheapest labor possible, you still “get what you pay for.” Many buyers have been deeply disappointed to receive websites with documentation that is riddled with typos and sites that are teeming with malicious code.
One prime example is a company (which shall remain nameless) that develops website “clones.” People have sought out this company of developers to provide websites like Fiverr and Amazon for a fraction of the price. Design-wise, the software looks amazing, but after it is purchased, buyers have complained that it is full of bugs, glitches and malware.
Because the company is overseas, it is difficult to force the designer(s) to correct the problems—and even if they do, they often want more money to do so. Better Business Bureau (BBB.org) and RipoffReport.com websites are full-to-bursting with complaints about this company’s defective software, poor service, and scam schemes.
This is not to imply that all overseas developers are shady or unprofessional. It just means that you should use extra caution before you send money for a website. You should make sure that your instructions are fully understood, and you should know down to the last word in the very last sentence what you will be getting for your hard-earned money.
Dissecting the “best” sites
One great move you can make is to search “best websites of 2016” (or whatever year is valid) to get links to the best websites out there. Read what the reviewer has to say about what makes these websites so great and how they ended up on the “best” list in the first place. Take notes so you’ll know some of the questions you should ask when you finally get to sit down and chat with a web developer.
Working With Your Web Designer
Let’s assume that you have narrowed your search down to a few potential candidates and are now ready to conduct some telephone interviews. Here is what you need to know in order to work successfully with your web designer:
- What exactly are you getting?
Is this person a freelancer who works completely on his own? Is he part of a team – and if he is, is it a big team or a small team? This makes a difference, because in a large team, he would have the benefit of consultation if some elements are beyond his skill. Also ask yourself whether he has had formal training in building websites, and if so, where?
All of these are important questions because the Internet has leveled the playing field and made it possible for anyone anywhere across the globe to portray themselves as a knowledgeable and talented provider when they may, in fact, be a self-taught designer living in their mother’s basement.
Not that there’s anything wrong with being self-taught, or even living in their mother’s basement; the bottom line is that you need to know whether you’re working with a pro web designer or someone who is a pro at making themselves look like a pro.
- Is he patient?
Assuming that the designer you choose has all the right skills, you still need to ask yourself whether he is patient enough for the job. You want someone who understands that he’s the developer, not you; that it’s his job to understand coding and design, not yours. Therefore, although he doesn’t have to give you a crash course in website design, he should be patient and understanding enough to answer any questions you have – even if they seem simple to him.
- Is he a good listener?
Is he hearing what you say about your business, your future plans and your design wish list? Or is he one of those people who thinks he knows what’s best for you, so no matter what you say, he’s going to do things his way? You need to figure this out before you sign the contract.
- Does he communicate well?
Ask your prospective website developer how often he feels the two of you should talk, and then agree on those times verbally and in writing. Why? Because you may be dealing with someone who feels he shouldn’t communicate unless there’s something to show you. You, on the other hand, may need an email or telephone call once or twice a week just to make sure everything’s on schedule. By the way, while you’re asking about set check-ins, also ask how long it takes for him to answer an email. This way, if you think of a question on a non-check-in day, you can at least expect a decent response time.
- Does he know what he’s doing?
There are specific elements that are required in “great” websites. According to Marc Schenker, author of “7 Skills Every Web Designer Must Master,” there are certain fundamentals all web designers must know: They should understand the importance of color and flow as well as balance and proportion. They should understand SEO and know how to design with UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) in mind. And among other things, they should design a site that complies with all the latest standards.
Mr. Schenker went on to say that a master designer should, in effect, be a lifelong learner who is always willingly learning about the latest trends in web development.
- Does he network with other professionals?
Is your prospective website designer up to date on the latest trend and tools? He should take every opportunity to talk to developers, marketers, SEO people, project managers and the like. He should talk to them about their role, about their design successes and failures, and about the latest trends.
- Is he willing to make things easier for you?
Ask your designer (and yourself) whether he is willing to make things easier for you. In other words, will you need to contact him – and pay – each time even the smallest change needs to be made? Or will he make it comfortable for you to make the small changes (if you desire) so that you can keep things up and running until a bigger job comes along?
The designer you choose should know that it’s best to design the website for your visitors, and not based on what he (or even you) like. He should design the site so that it is fairly easy to update and maintain so that you can upload new content without any undue stress, if you want. After all, if you can’t upload content without tearing your hair out you might as well not have a website in the first place.
But…will his services break the bank?
Let’s assume that you have finally found a great website designer with an impressive portfolio of sites. You’re ready to get down to the very serious of business of contracts and starting dates, but first you need to know what rate you should expect to pay for a good website. Then you can decide whether the rate your prospective designer charges is competitive, exorbitant, or completely outlandish.
Richard Parr of Executionists.com wrote that “freelancers, one-person shops and website brokers can [also]be more competitive on price but may have other challenges such as communication, reliability and quality.” He went on to say that “some web companies…may promote website costs in package prices such as $995 for website Package A, $1,950 for the Pro Package, etc.” Although this is an effective way to sell websites, Mr. Parr advised those seeking website designers to “scrutinize the fine print [because]in order to sell a package website and make a profit, the scope or limitations have to be very restrictive.”
Further, Mr. Parr said that a “simple, informational, business website with no E-commerce marketing focus would probably cost you $7,000 – $10,000; a midsize site with no E-commerce marketing focus would probably cost $11,000 – $20,000; and midsized ecommerce sites can cost as much as $40,000.”
Before you fall out of your chair, just remember that these costs can fluctuate, depending upon the site features, the amount of content (if any) that needs to be migrated, and the company that you choose to design the website. The final cost will be determined by how thorough you are in your search, how informed you are about available features and what they should cost, and whether you have content that must be migrated and integrated into the new database.
One other thing: Realize that employing a website designer is not just an activity, it’s an investment in your business and your ecommerce future. The entire process should be given the same serious regard that you give all your other investments because, after all, your goal is to obtain a satisfactory return.