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How to Hire A Web Design Firm

How to Hire A Web Design Firm

    How many times have you heard stories of people who hired web firms to design and develop their web sites and either got substandard sites or the developer ran off with their money? Or what about the entrepreneur who “hired” his nephew/friend/daughter to design the site for free, and the results were disasterous and this small business owner didn’t feel comfortable offering much constructive criticism on a job done for free?

    As a small business consultant, I’ve heard these stories so many times. And I go back and forth between feeling heartbroken and really angry on behalf of my clients, for what they endured before finally seeking help. That is why I decided to write this series of four articles on web sites for small business. Today, in the third article in this series, I’ll share with you my best tips for hiring a web design firm.

    When you hire a web firm, your job as a savvy consumer is to make sure your web firm has the right components as well as the answers to several questions before you give them your hard-earned money. Here are some things to look for and questions to ask, as well as a few red flags to watch out for:

    Look For This: A Real Business

    Your web design firm should be a real business. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they need a big office and overhead. What it does mean, however, is that you should probably avoid hiring your family members, friends, and “that guy you know from church” as your web developer. You need a business relationship with your web team for many reasons, including so that you can feel comfortable negotiating, providing honest and critical feedback, and being straightforward if there’s ever a time when you aren’t happy with your firm’s work.

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    Don’t be afraid to ask for references. You should be able to get a couple of client names and phone numbers so you can talk to real people and get a solid feel for what it’s like to work with this team.

    Look For This: A Web Site

    Your web firm should have a web site — a good one. It doesn’t have to be designed in a style that you like, but generally speaking, it should have the components I talked about in my last article. Don’t let any web firm tell you that they’ve been so busy working on clients’ projects that they haven’t designed their own site. If they don’t know that a strong web site is the calling card for their business, they probably shouldn’t be designing a web site for your business.

    Further, you need to see a portfolio of their previous work and it should be easy to find on their web site. Most of the porfolio sites should still be live. However, if you come across some sites have changed or that are no longer live, don’t necessarily hold that against the developer. In this economy, companies are going out of business right and left. Plus, companies often re-design their sites and may or may not use the same team to do it.

    Question to Ask: What are the components that my web site should include?

    If your web firm starts to answer this question without asking about your business, consider that a pretty big red flag and run the other way. There are some general components that most business web sites should have (print out my last article for easy reference), however when you’re working with a web firm, they shouldn’t answer this question unless they know more about what you do, what industry you’re in, and what you want your web site to accomplish for your business.

    Question to Ask: Will you design my site from scratch or use templates?

    A strong web design firm will design an original site for you. They won’t send you a site design that looks generic, or that is based on a pre-fab template. Price can be a good indicator for whether your team is using templates or original designs. If the estimate for your site is under $1,000, it’s more likely that you’re not getting an original design. However, I’ve seen several firms charge what I consider a ridiculous amount of money to provide a pre-fab template site.

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    Why is a template bad? You want your web site to stand out as original and distinct. Your site should be designed to carefully reflect your brand. How much can a template design represent your brand, if others around the world have the exact same web site that you have? What distinguishes you from them? Smart investing in your business makes sense, and for most businesses, investing in a solid web site that incorporates at least the elements I recommend, as well as embodies your branding, makes for a strong ROI.

    Question to Ask: How will you incorporate search engine optimization principles into my site?

    When you ask this question, if all they do is talk about meta tags and keywords, that’s a big red flag. If a web firm is serious about their business, they should know and understand principles of SEO and how these principles apply to the code, the copy, and all of the content of your site.

    If they talk to you about using Flash for your site, ask them if that will cause any problems getting your site content indexed. Take note of how they answer this question. The actual answer is murky and complex and they shouldn’t just say, “Flash isn’t a problem for Google.”

    Question to Ask: Do you work with or have a business relationship with any small business consultants?

    The best web firms often have business consultants on staff or have a relationship with small business consultants who can work with clients on developing business concepts that may not have been addressed previously. For example, if a client wants a web site that reflects his/her brand, but that brand hasn’t been fully developed, it helps the web team create a better site if a small business consultant is involved.

    But beware: the wrong consultant can muddy the waters, while the right consultant, one who understands both sound business principles as well as technical jargon and web lingo can often bridge the gap between developer and client, making the communication smoother and providing key contributions that make the end product much stronger.

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    In fact, you may want to look for a small business consultant first, before you hire the web team. A good consultant should have a relationship with designers and developers s/he’s worked with before. This is a great way to get the benefit of working with someone your consultant has already vetted, and your consultant can get better pricing than you’d get on your own. Plus, if you choose the right consultant, you can have him or her working with you and your web team as an intermediary, and s/he can head off any potential disasters, keep your team accountable, and manage the project for you so you can focus on your business.

    Look For This: Pricing

    Just like any other industry, there are those who will overcharge and those who try to undercut the competition. Your challenge is to find the pricing balance. If you pay too little in terms of the dollar amount for your web site, you may pay more in other ways.

    Several experts suggest that you can outsource your web design to overseas developers to get a fabulous web site for a very, very low price. While there are cases where this strategy can work, you must be cautious. There are many unseen costs associated with this kind of overseas outsourcing.

    First, if you don’t know how to find a reliable, high quality team overseas, you risk giving your money and/or sensitive personal information to unscrupulous vendors.

    Second, when you work with overseas vendors, you may experience language barriers that are difficult to overcome. This can result in disaster for your web site. Don’t get me wrong — there are some phenomenal web firms around the world, and you can get a good price, but road to finding these firms is littered with firms that will provide shoddy work or worse.

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    [Note: I’m frequently asked if Upwork is a good place to find a web design firm. On the whole, there are both phenomenal and terrible designers on eLance. You’ll find freelancers who are excellent at what they do, folks who are just average, unscrupulous people who will do poor work and run away with your money, and people who are just starting out and using eLance as a means to providing low-cost web sites in order to build their portfolio. Like eBay, you can check ratings and reviews from former clients, but in my experience, these reviews aren’t always accurate indicators of future performance. Can you get a fantastic price working through eLance? Sure. But you’re taking a gamble: you may ultimately pay a higher price if you don’t get what you want and can’t get your money back, then have to pay another designer to fix things. My best advice for working via eLance is to use the Escrow system. Don’t pay more than half upfront, and don’t pay for the completed design until everything is done.]

    The best solution is to work with a reputable firm with references that will take your budget into account and find high quality solutions that fit what you can afford.

    Question to Ask: Can you develop my site in a content management system?

    If you want to manage your site yourself without learning HTML or Dreamweaver, ask your web team if they can develop your site using a content management system. Within this framework, you should be able to manage your site, including editing, adding pages, deleting pages, and more, from virtually anywhere in the world that you can access the web via a browser.

    The Most Important Thing You Should Know:

    Your contact at your web firm should be able to talk to you in your language, but also be able to easily converse with the programmers. You need someone who can explain things that you don’t understand without being condescending, and make web principles you should know accessible. Customer service is paramount in the web industry, and you want someone who will return your e-mails and phone calls in a timely manner.

    Keep in mind that while the design responsibilities fall squarely on the shoulders of your web design firm, you have some responsibilities as well. Next week, in the last article in this four-part series, I’ll talk about how you can help your web design firm create a phenomenal web site for your business.

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    Last Updated on August 12, 2019

    How To Start a Conversation with Anyone

    How To Start a Conversation with Anyone

    The hardest part of socializing, for many people, is how to start a conversation. However, it is a big mistake to go about life not making the first move and waiting for someone else to do it [in conversation or anything].

    This isn’t to say you must always be the first in everything or initiate a conversation with everyone you see. What should be said, though, is once you get good at starting conversations, a lot of other things will progress in the way you want; such as networking and your love life.

    Benefits of Initiating a Conversation

    First thing is you should acknowledge why it is a good thing to be able to initiate conversations with strangers or people who you don’t know well:

    • You’re not a loner with nothing to do.
    • You look more approachable if you are comfortable approaching others.
    • Meeting new people means developing a network of friends or peers which leads to more knowledge and experiences.

    You can only learn so much alone, and I’m sure you’re aware of the benefits of learning from others. Being able to distinguish the ‘good from bad’ amongst a group of people will help in building a suitable network, or making a fun night.

    All people are good in their own way. Being able to have a good time with anybody is a worthy trait and something to discuss another time. However, if you have a specific purpose while in social situations, you may want to stick with people who are suitable.

    This means distinguishing between people who might suit you and your ‘purpose’ from those who probably won’t. This can require some people-judging, which I am generally very opposed to. However, this does make approaching people all the more easier.

    It helps to motivate the conversation if you really want to know this person. Also, you’ll find your circle of friends and peers grows to something you really like and enjoy.

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    The Rules

    I don’t have many rules in this life, for conversation or anything; but when it comes to approaching strangers, there are a few I’d like used.

    1. Be polite. Within context, don’t be a creepy, arrogant loudmouth or anything. Acknowledge that you are in the company of strangers and don’t make anyone feel uncomfortable. First impressions mean something.
    2. Keep it light. Don’t launch into a heartfelt rant or a story of tragedy. We’re out to have fun.
    3. Don’t be a prude. This just means relax. This isn’t a science and conversation isn’t a fine art. Talk to people like you’re already friends.
    4. Be honest. Be yourself. People can tell.

    Who To Talk To?

    I’m of the ilk that likes to talk to everyone and anyone. Everyone has a story and good personalities. Some are harder to get to than others, but if you’re on a people-finding excursion, like I usually am, then everyone is pretty much fair game.

    That said, if you’re out at a function and you want to build a network of people in your niche, you will want to distinguish those people from the others. Find the ‘leaders’ in a group of people or ask around for what you’re looking for.

    In a more general environment, like at a bar, you will want to do the same sort of thing. Acknowledge what you actually want and try to distinguish suitable people. Once you find someone, or a group of people, that you want to meet and talk to, hop to it.

    Think of a few things you might have in common. What did you notice about their dress sense?

    Building Confidence

    The most important part of initiating conversation is, arguably, having confidence. It should be obvious that without any amount of self-esteem you will struggle. Having confidence in yourself and who you are makes this job very easy.

    If you find yourself doubting your worth, or how interesting you are, make a few mental notes of why you are interesting and worth talking to. There is no question you are. You just have to realize that.

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    What do I do? What is interesting about it? What are my strong points and what are my weak ones? Confident people succeed because they play on their strengths.

    Across the Room Rapport

    This is rapport building without talking. It’s as simple as reciprocated eye contact and smiles etc. Acknowledging someone else’s presence before approaching them goes a long way to making introductions easier. You are instantly no longer just a random person.

    In my other article How Not To Suck At Socializing, there are things you can do to make yourself appear approachable. This doesn’t necessarily mean people are going to flock to you. You’ll still probably need to initiate conversations.

    People notice other people who are having a blast. If you’re that person, someone will acknowledge it and will make the ‘across the room rapport’ building a breeze. If you’re that person that is getting along great with their present company, others will want to talk to you. This will make your approach more comfortable for both parties.

    The Approach

    When it comes to being social, the less analytical and formulaic you are the better. Try not to map out your every move and plan too much. Although we are talking about how to initiate conversation, these are really only tips. When it comes to the approach, though, there are some things you should keep in mind.

    Different situations call for different approaches. Formal situations call for something more formal and relaxed ones should be relaxed.

    At a work function, for instance, be a little formal and introduce yourself. People will want to know who you are and what you do right away. This isn’t to say you should only talk about work, but an introduction and handshake is appropriate.

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    If you’re at a bar, then things are very different and you should be much more open to unstructured introductions. Personally, I don’t like the idea of walking directly to someone to talk to them. It’s too direct. I like the sense of randomness that comes with meeting new people.

    However, if there is rapport already established, go for it. If not, take a wander, buy a drink and be aware of where people are. If there is someone you would like to talk to, make yourself available and not sit all night etc.

    When someone is alone and looks bored, do them a favor and approach them. No matter how bad the conversation might get, they should at least appreciate the company and friendliness.

    Briefly, Approaching Groups

    When integrating with an established group conversation, there is really one thing to know. That is to establish the ‘leader’ and introduce yourself to them. I mentioned that before, but here is how and why.

    The why is the leader of a group conversation is probably the more social and outgoing. They will more readily accept your introduction and then introduce you to the rest of the group. This hierarchy in a group conversation is much more prevalent in formal situations where one person is leading the conversation.

    A group of friends out for the night is much more difficult to crack. This may even be another topic for discussion, but one thing I know that works is initiating conversation with a ‘stray’. It sounds predatorial, but it works.

    More often than not, this occurs without intention. But if you do really want to get into a group of friends, your best bet is approaching one of them while they are away from the group and being invited into the group.

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    It is possible, like everything, to approach a group outright and join them. However, this is almost an art and requires another specific post.

    Topics Of Conversation

    Other than confidence, the next thing people who have trouble initiating conversations lack is conversation! So here are a few tips to get the ball rolling:

    • Small talk sucks. It’s boring and a lot of people already begin to zone out when questions like, “What do you do?” or “What’s with this weather?” come up. Just skip it.
    • Everything is fair game. If you are in the company of someone and a thought strikes you, share it. “This drink is garbage! What are you drinking?” “Where did you get that outfit?”
    • Opinions matter. This is any easy way to hit the ground running in conversation. Everyone has one, and when you share yours, another will reveal itself. The great thing about this line of thought is that you are instantly learning about the other person and what they like, dislike etc.
    • Environment. The place you’re in is full of things to comment on. The DJ, band, fashions; start talking about what you see.
    • Current events. Unless it’s something accessible or light-hearted, forget it. Don’t launch into your opinion on the war or politics. If your town has recently hosted a festival, ask what they think about it.

    Exiting Conversation

    Although I’d like to write a full post on exiting strategies for conversations you don’t want to be in, here are some tips:

    • The first thing is don’t stay in a conversation you’re not interested in. It’ll show and will be no fun for anyone.
    • Be polite and excuse yourself. You’re probably out with friends, go back to them.  Or buy a drink. Most people will probably want to finish the conversation as much as you.

    Likewise, you could start another conversation.

    If you’d like to learn more tips about starting a conversation, this guide maybe useful for you: How to Talk to Strangers Without Feeling Awkward

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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