Last updated: May 8, 2019
Originally published: January 3, 2008
Read time: 8 minutes, 39 seconds
There are a few different ways to create a website for your organization.
One option is to do it yourself. There are certainly a lot of DIY website solutions available. Technology has gotten to the point where a drag and drop interface is available on most content management systems including WordPress, Wix, Squarespace.
These platforms allow you to easily edit your website and keep your content up-to-date. The easier it is to edit content, the more likely it is to get done. And fresh content is good marketing and helps with search engine optimization.
The drawback of building your own website, however, is it leaves you open to creating a website based on what you can figure out and not based on your marketing goals. So while homemade is great for cookies, it’s not so great for website development.
Homemade Is Great For Cookies, But Not For Websites.
Benefits of working with a web design professional
A web designer professional or an agency provides the expertise that will help to avoid common missteps. Think of it as having a sherpa to guide you on your journey to a more impactful website for your organization.
If you are going to be redesigning your website and want to make the most of your investment of time and money, working with a professional will go a long way towards that end. Following these ten tips will help even more.
Ten Tips for working with a web designer
1. Find the Right Fit
There are many big – and expensive – design and marketing firms you could hire. There are also freelancers you could work with. And everything in between.
Look for a designer or agency that reflects the size of your business as a starting point. A small business working with a big firm could end up being a small, filler project. A smaller agency or team of designers might see the same project as a marquee client.
Consider looking for a partner that will be able to help you hone your marketing message as well as provide a polished website design.
Ultimately, what makes it a right fit is going to be a combination of style, experience, personality, and pricing.
2. Set your priorities
There is an old saying that essential goes “Fast, good or cheap. Pick two.”
Your project can be done inexpensively and well – but it won’t be done quickly.
Your project turnaround can be done quickly and inexpensively – but you may not get all the features you were hoping for.
Your project might include all the features you want and completed on a tight deadline – but it will not be cheap.
Understanding how these three elements intersect will help you establish priorities for your project.
An upcoming trade show, for example, might require the website to be up-to-date with your latest products or services. And having an online lead capture form allows your sales team to work more efficiently. The timeline then, dictated by the trade show, might push the timeline ahead of budget. In this case, you may ask to have the project fast-tracked.
Where you have a long list of features you’d like to include, no particular launch date in mind, but a very specific budget, how might you prioritize differently?
In this case you may opt to take a phased approach. Good and Cheap (relatively speaking) trump timeline. Each of the features will be included so you are getting the quality you need. The cost is kept down by focusing on specific features rather than all of them. As a result the timeline gets extended.
3. Be honest about your budget
When we ask prospective clients about their budget, the answer is almost always the same: “I don’t know.”
Prospects default to this answer for one of two reasons: 1) they don’t know how much it should cost or 2) they are afraid if they give a number that’s too high, that will become the budget.
Establishing a budget requires an honest and open conversation. Most firms will be able to work with you on pricing if you can be flexible with timing and or features. Sometimes that means moving some of the work to future phases, as in the example above. Other times, it means adding features in creative ways you might not have considered.
4. Include visuals and copy in the budget
If you can, include money in the budget for visuals and copywriting. This includes things like custom video, photography, and graphic design.
It’s tempting to write your own copy. After all, who knows your business better than you? Who is more passionate about your mission? There may be an inclination to use the text from a recent brochure. Resist those impulses.
Working with a copywriter offers a couple of key benefits. A professional writer will help you create a marketing message. They will keep the text focused on your readers’ point of view. They also keep the project moving along by relieving you of the need to write the copy yourself.
Custom visual, created for your website, add a level of professionalism. Videos and photos, of your staff, in your location, reinforce your brand in a way that is hard to do with stock photos. And there is nothing worse than seeing the same images used by your competitors!
If you don’t have the budget for custom all is not lost. There are other options available.
If you don’t have the budget to have all the pages written by a copywriter consider using a copy editor. An editor can take your text and correct grammatical mistakes and add a bit of polish.
Stock photography and stock video can bring professional photographs within reach. The key is selecting the right stock images that look less “stocky”.
5. Share your wish list
When you’re talking to a prospective designer put everything on the table. Discuss the must-have features that are non-negotiable. Ask about options that you would like to include but may seem outside your budget now.
Thinking beyond the bare minimum can help your designer build your site with next phase features in mind. Think of it as if you’re building a house. You have the budget for the house now but in few years you know you’ll be adding a porch. So you don’t want to plant a tree where your porch is going to go!
6. Manage your expectations
Every designer is different and will have a process that is unique to the way they work. It’s important therefore to discuss what you can expect and when. Your contract should clearly spell out the work that will be completed and identify key milestones and dates.
Don’t expect that you will be able to hand off the project to the designer either. A successful project will be a collaboration and will require your involvement throughout the process.
When you are provided initial concepts don’t expect a shiny finished product. It’s a process and you’ve only just started. Each milestone provides an opportunity for you and your designer to check in and make sure the project is moving in the right direction.
7. Avoid the perils of scope creep
Scope creep is the bane of many projects. Scope creep is when a project veers off course by adding features or doing work outside of the original parameters of the project. It can wreak havoc with your timeline and your budget.
There will be revisions along the way. That’s a given. Your agreement should specify how many rounds of edits are included in the project scope. It should also outline the process for submitting those changes.
Revisions beyond that number will be considered change orders and incur an additional expense. Change orders can quickly mire down progress and it’s reasonable to expect to pay for repeated “tweaks” to a project.
Indecision is a major contributor to scope creep. Having your designer “try” different layouts, different photos, different copy all require time to execute. Focus on the big picture.
8. Understand the terms of payment
Fees and payment terms will vary. Expect to pay a deposit of some kind when you sign the contract. Payment installments coinciding with the completion of various phases of the project is standard. The specifics should be clearly explained prior to beginning the project. You should also be clear about what happens if a project is canceled.
9. Own your assets
There are assets for your website that you absolutely, positively must own.
- Your domain
- Your Google Analytics account.
Registering the domain yourself is the best way to ensure you own it. If the domain is registered in your designer’s name and the relationship goes sideways you will lose access to the domain. You will have no recourse to get it back. Any domain-based email, such as firstname.lastname@example.org, would also be lost.
Google Analytics should also be set up in the name of the business. User credentials can then be given to the developer. The risk when you are added to a developer account is the same as with your domain. If anything happens with the developer, you can lose years worth of data that is irretrievable.
10. Don’t ask for spec work
This still comes up on occasion so we’ll include it here.
Spec work is when a client asks a bunch of designers to put together a “sample” of what they would do with a project. The client then decides which sample he likes and pays that designer for the work. The other designers are out of luck. Spec work is considered a major no-no. You wouldn’t ask a plumber to work on your leaky faucet to see if you liked his work before paying him, would you?
Instead, take a look at the designer’s portfolio to get a sense of their style and how they’ve handled projects in the past. And don’t be afraid to ask for samples of what they’ve done in the past on projects like yours.
Want More Info?
Here are some great articles with more information about working with web designers and ensuring your project goes smoothly.
- Good/Cheap/Fast — pick two (and how NGOs can play the triangle like a pro), by John Dunford at The Developer Society via Medium
- Top five causes of scope creep … and what to do about them, by Richard Larson | Elizabeth Larson at Project Management Institute
- What Does My Web Hosting Company Do For My Business?, by Jann Mirchandani of Westchester Marketing Cafe
- Why is Fiverr Bad?, by Marina at This Design Girl