In my ten years of designing and developing websites for clients, I can count on one hand how many I had a truly great experience working with. Being a web designer can be tough at times. Many people don’t take the profession seriously. We strive to maintain our creative/artistic side but long to be seen as professionals. It’s a battle that seems to have no end in site.
On top of all that, most people who don’t work in the industry have no idea what it requires of you to create a great website. In this article I intend to help clients understand how to hire the right web team, firm, designer or developer and how to keep them.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
You might find this funny but all too often I hear stories about talent firing clients. It’s a hard thing to do but it’s common. Here are a few articles on the subject:
Unfortunately the talent/client relationship is a delicate one and both have to be flexible and open to working with each other. Trust is the most important aspect of a good working relationship.
What Does it Take To Build A Website?
Personally, I started building websites in 1999. I created my first company while I was still in high school. I put my self through college working with web clients and many of my students do the same thing. I have a bachelors in Web Management & Internet Commerce from Johnson & Wales University and over 6 years of experience working for ad and web firms. I’m not gloating (maybe a little) I’m merely pointing out that it’s not as easy as just reading a “How To” book.
Not only do you need to know several different markup languages and programming languages, you must also be proficient in design and development tools most of which come from the Adobe Software collections. Purchasing these licenses are not cheap. $1,799 for the latest suite. Plus the need for a computer, internet connect, and a server.
An Atypical Project
Let’s walk through a project and keep a tally of what I need to know and how many hours I spend.
Today, I have a new client that wants a blog designed for them. We meet to discuss their needs, they give me an idea of what it is they are looking for (1 hour). I go back to the office, I spend a few hours looking at other sites, trends and ideas and come up with a design (4 hours). Count: 5 hours, Photoshop
After which I present it to the client with great anticipation that they will love it as much as I do and this is how the client responds:
“I like what you did but it’s not quite right, I don’t know what it is but something’s off.”
At this point I can either go back to the drawing board or make an attempt to modify the site until it’s right. Usually I don’t choose the ladder, I think it’s important to preserve the integrity of the design. Other wise you’re squeezing and forcing elements into places they don’t belong.
Let’s assume after another meeting with the client we discover what they want fixed and I modify the design. I present it to the client again and they are very happy this time. Count: 7 hours, Photoshop.
Soon after I start development on the project. I choose to use WordPress because it’s the best cms for this project and I start theme development. I can usually turn a Photoshop File into a working wordpress theme in just a few hours. Count: 12 hours, Photoshop, WordPress, PHP, MySQL, XHTML, CSS
After final client approval, the site goes live and we begin the maintenance and analytics period, where we watch the site for defects or problems.
Assuming I’m juggling several clients at once and the fact that the client usually takes days or weeks to respond to questions this process can last weeks or longer.
This is a brief look at what goes into a simple web project to help you better understand what goes on behind the scenes. Try to remember that web is not print and everything is inherently more difficult to change once the site is developed.
How Do I Know I’m Hiring the Right People?
It’s a hard question to answer, especially since it’s so easy to disguise bad work as good work. You’re going to have to do a little research, ask around a bit and see who friends, or other companies hired. A good idea is to put together an RFP describing everything you want and how you want it to function. A well written RFP can help you out greatly, it can protect you and hopefully weed out any talent that may be lacking. For more info on writing an RFP check out
Your main goal should be to hire as little people as possible. You want to make sure you have a good idea of the functionality so that you know whether you’re hiring someone to write server side or client side code, create flash apps or animations, etc…
Once you hire someone and attempt to add functionality later you may end up having to hire another person who’s able to complete the task. Soon you could be hiring a team of people instead of a single web designer.
I feel that it’s a bit easier to compare businesses who are willing to work hard for . Take a look at their portfolio, speak to their past clients and you’ll get a good idea of their work ethic and what they’re main goals. My company Neal Advertising strives to create lasting partnerships, we often say to our clients “your success is our success”. It’s a point we try to drive home frequently because it sums up our goals.
If you’re looking at freelancers their budget will probably speak more than anything else. Someone charging too little is probably someone who’s inexperienced or over worked. A low budget can mean they’re just getting started and they aren’t confident with their work or they’re taking on way too much work to make up the difference. I have many students who frequently take on work for very little money because they are trying to build their portfolio and gain experience. This is often a great partnership for a small business or individual who wouldn’t have much to spend anyway’s.
My freelance budgets tend to be very high because I don’t have a lot of time to work on side projects and it has to be worth it to me to sacrifice my time with my family or other personal activities.
Below are a few questions to ask, if the web designer doesn’t know how to answer or answers no to any of the following you may want to keep looking.
- Do you write all your code or do you rely on a WYSIWG editor to write the code for you? Do you write HTML or XHTML?
- Are you W3C standards compliant?
- Do you optimize your sites for Google and other search engines for easy crawling
- What experience do you have building dynamic or cms drive sites? What’s you’re favorite cms?
- Where do you host your sites, what control do you have or lack because of where you host?
- What techniques do you use for Cross Browser Compatibility?
- How do you secure server connections?
- What are your maintenance fees and how long are they good for? (you want to hire someone who’s planning to work with you as long as you need them)
Are you able to be honest and open with me? I don’t need a “yes man” I need to know what’s best for my site and my business
Try to avoid sites that promise a set for cheap, like PSD to Website for $199. These companies often use poor techniques to create the websites and you rarely end up with a product worth anything.
How do I be a Good Client
Some might skip over this section but it’s an important aspect to your success online. If you found a great designer or developer you want to keep them happy so you don’t have to work to find another one.
The first thing you must realize is that you hired them and you did it because you trust them (or at least you should). You’re relying on them to create a superior product for you. If you were a professional designer or developer you’d be doing the work yourself. Make sure to listen to their recommendations. You don’t want to hire someone who’s always agreeing with you, again you hired them because you need their expertise and knowledge.
If you trust your web designer to do good work, then rely on them to do a great job for you. Freedom to work will breed creativity and produce a great product for you. Smothering your designer and forcing them do things your way will only create a frustrating work experience and keep you from getting what you need.
The Oatmeal describes a much more typical web project then the one I described above. It’s funny but also very educational.
Tell me about your best or worst client/talent relationships. How do you deal with problems that have arisen? Do you have any recommendations on hiring good talent?