A great website is an investment in your business and most likely a substantial one. The fee for that fresh new site can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on what you need and specific technologies or functions that need to be addressed.
But hiring the right designer for your needs can be a complicated undertaking. It’s all too easy to miss a warning sign and wind up hiring a designer who can’t deliver what you need or worse, flakes out on you altogether and leaves you high and dry, with no site at all. Even a huge corporation like Hertz can be vulnerable to a bad web design experience.
As professional developers and designers, we’ve heard lots of horror stories from clients about their prior experiences with fly-by-night firms and freelancers. We’ve even had to clean up after a few by fixing flawed code, redesigning awkward layouts and finishing what was left undone.
How can you tell if your web designer isn’t up to the task of building out your business website? Look for these seven warning signs.
1. They have no portfolio.
Would you hire a contractor to build your home if they couldn’t prove they’d ever built a house before? Probably not. Your business website isn’t the place to give Cousin Joey’s kid, fresh from high school, his first professional development experience.
You want someone who has some experience building the kind of site you need, and one of the primary ways you check that experience is through a portfolio. If your chosen developer can’t show you samples of their prior work, move on to the next name on your list.
2. They aren’t willing to share references.
In much the same vein, a developer or freelancer who doesn’t want you to talk to their past clients may be throwing up some bright red warning flags. Whether they don’t have any past clients, or don’t have any satisfied past clients, that’s a problem for you. You can look at finished websites all day long but that won’t tell you a thing about what it’s like to work with this person as their client. Insist on references.
3. They can’t or won’t answer your questions.
Many web design firms and freelancers compete based on price. They put up minimal sites very quickly and hope to make their profit with a volume business. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, assuming you’re amenable to the end result.
However, it can often result in an overcrowded schedule with no time left for niceties such as client communication. If your developer is being brusque with you in your telephone conversations or dodging your emailed questions, it could be a sign they don’t have time to talk to you, which is a problem in and of itself. However, it could also mean they don’t know the answers to your questions, which is a much bigger problem.
4. They don’t ask you any questions.
Any developer you hire to create your business website should be full of questions for you.
- What kind of business do you have?
- Who are you trying to reach?
- What’s your “business personality”?
- What do you want users to be able to do on your site?
The answers to these and other questions help good developers create the site the client really wants and needs. If your developer isn’t asking you any questions at all, how can you be sure they really understand your needs?
5. They demand full payment upfront.
Certainly, some design firms have struggled with collecting fees from clients in the past, and that might motivate a few to get creative with invoicing and collections. However, any firm that wants most or all of their fee upfront before they begin work is probably not a firm you can trust. At the very least, it creates an uneven status that doesn’t lead to a constructive working relationship.
That’s not to say that tying payments to milestones is a bad thing (it isn’t) or that you should never give a developer any money at all until the site’s completely done. Asking for a portion of the total fee before work begins as a deposit is fine; demanding payment in full is not.
6. They’re the cheapest option you find.
There’s nothing wrong with trying to save some money. After all, a fully functional website can represent a significant investment in your business. However, choosing a web designer based solely on price means you’re risking a shoddy product with invalid code that might break on the first update.
Instead, check qualifications and consider price as merely one of your evaluating criteria.
7. They’re not listening to you.
You were very clear about your expectations. You knew precisely what you did and didn’t want. And yet, each time you discuss the project’s status with your developer, they keep rolling right over your clearly-stated desires. Are they ignoring you? Or are they simply not listening in the first place?
It doesn’t matter. If your designer isn’t listening to you, move on to one who does.
Find the best developer for your needs by asking the right questions and insisting on references as well as work samples. Make your expectations and needs (including budget) clear from the start. Insist on good communication. These are all crucial elements to a great website development project.
And if you notice any of these red flags, don’t throw good money after bad. Move on and find a better developer for your business website.