Hiring a website designer and developer can be daunting. A website is one of the most important investments for every business, especially small to mid-sized businesses. It is the main digital interface of your organization to your customers, competitors, partners, employees, and investors. When evaluating a website contractor, there are some key factors to keep in mind:
1) Have a vision and articulate it clearly
Website contractors and clients often run into issues when either, or both, parties don’t thoroughly understand the client’s needs and expectations. Clients who document their website goals and how the site will support their organizational objectives help ensure the designer and developer can help achieve the vision.
Know your target audience, the tone, and calls-to-action (CTAs) you want your website visitors to complete when they visit your site. Some agencies may offer assistance with defining the vision, audience, goals, and CTAs and prefer to be involved during the conceptualization phase as well.
For help in defining your site needs, try our Website Planning Guide.
2) Get recommendations from trusted sources
Talk to your friends, relatives, neighbors, and business associates to obtain recommendations. Review existing websites to identify sites that are similar in scope and functionality to the site you’d like to build. Ask the referrer questions about their experience working with the designer/developer:
- Was the project completed on-schedule?
- Was the website completed on-budget?
- Was the process explained clearly?
- Did they build a website that you could easily update on your own? (see more on this below)
- Would they work with the designer/developer in the future?
3) Ask for a detailed written bid or estimate
You should receive a detailed estimate or bid based on your specifications that details the scope of the project and sets expectations about what is, and is not, included in the bid. Be sure to understand what is expected from you as the client, such as providing content, images, and videos. Will you be responsible for entering the content into the site or will the agency? Who will ensure the images and video are the correct size and resolution for quality and speed? What is the payment schedule and, if it is not a flat-bid, how will progress be tracked and reported to ensure the schedule and budget are not grossly underestimated?
4) Don’t let your website developer control the hosting account
We recommend always obtaining and maintaining the website hosting account for your site(s). In the event that your web developer goes out of business or you decide to discontinue working with them, you don’t want to have to fight them for control of your website. Some developers will put their clients on a cut-rate shared server, greatly reducing the speed and possibly the functionality of your site. They often up-charge for hosting as many clients don’t realize that they can get a great hosting account for less than $10 per month.
Note: When managing your own hosting account, be vigilant in ensuring your contact information and payment method are up-to-date with the hosting company. Non-payment can lead to a site being taken down and all of the files deleted from the server.
5) Do they have a plan for maintenance?
Discuss maintenance plans with the developer and understand what changes and updates you can perform on your end versus what you’ll need a professional to do. Your developer should define the official end of the project, after which you will be responsible to pay for additional changes or updates. Ask about their rate and general turnaround time for maintenance requests. Some developers offer monthly maintenance plans at a reduced monthly rate for organizations with regular update needs.