So you own a business. Maybe it’s brand new or maybe it’s a decade old. Either way, you know you need a website but you’re not sure where to start. You can search online and find lots of agencies, designers, developers, and even lists like this one from DesignRush: Top Kansas Web Design Companies. How do you know the good from the bad? How do you spot the bad ones, the incompetent ones, the scammers?
Working in the web design industry, we’ve seen tons of horror stories like the one we discussed here: Domains for Business: A Cautionary Tale. To keep this from happening to you, please check out this list of tips and tricks we’ve put together to help you find a good web design agency.
Know what you are talking about
We’ll start with the most difficult one: research. Imagine you are buying a car. You walk on to the lot and are immediately set upon by a salesman. This guy is a smooth talking, car selling expert who will say anything to get you in that new car today. How do you know what he’s saying is true? And how do you know when he’s stretching the truth or even flat out lying to you? To start, it would help if you knew a little bit about cars in general. You don’t have to be an expert to at least know when he’s made up a part that doesn’t exist. Having a baseline understanding helps you to avoid some of the most common scams and will allow you to be a much more powerful negotiator throughout the exchange.
When it comes to websites, and digital marketing in general, you don’t have to become a developer yourself but doing enough research to give yourself basic technical literacy will empower you to communicate clearly, avoid scams, and ultimately know what you are buying.
If at any point the agency, designer, or developer clearly tries to talk over your head, uses tons of technical jargon, or says something like “oh, you wouldn’t understand” in order to justify something, this should be a red flag. A developer who knows what they are talking about should be able to explain most things in plain english or in some way be able to communicate to you what they are doing. On a side note here, don’t be afraid to ask questions! If the designer/developer you are talking to says something you didn’t understand or uses a word that you are unfamiliar with, just ask. If they aren’t full of it, they will gladly explain as well as they can. They should be an advocate for you and shouldn’t want you going through a discussion with them without fully understanding what they are saying.
Set expectations and be clear
This one isn’t really for bad agencies but applies across the board. Regardless of who you are working with, you should put in a little time and effort upfront to set clear expectations for the project. A good digital agency will guide you through this process because it’s beneficial for everyone involved. This way, they know what they’re supposed to be doing and you know what you are supposed to be doing. This will help the whole project move along smoothly, keep out unwanted surprises, and ensure that you get a final result that you are happy with.
Don’t work with agencies with bad websites
This seems pretty self explanatory: if an agency has a bad website themselves, why would you trust them to design yours?
Though it’s not always the case, a web designer with a bad website is usually a poor choice. Sometimes a designer or developer just gets too busy working on client projects and neglects their own web presence but I’ve found that this is usually an easy to spot early indicator of trouble to be had. Either they are not good at designing websites or they manage their business poorly and one of these issues is resulting in a crap website. Either way, you don’t want them messing with your business.
Make sure they give you access to your website
Your website is your virtual storefront. It’s a part of your business and an important one! Why wouldn’t you have complete access to it?
Sometimes developers have proprietary technology that they won’t grant access to, but outside of that, they shouldn’t be withholding anything from you. You are buying it after all, aren’t you?
Even if you don’t know what to do on the backend of a website or if you know you will never touch it, make sure you have the ability to access it. This ensures that you actually own your website and will help to weed out some of the unsavory designers who try to keep things from you. If they refuse to allow you access, you may want to reconsider working with them or at least do a bit more digging.
ALSO, buy your own domain! Don’t let a designer or an agency buy your domain for you or “in your name”. Your domain is the address for your website. It’s everywhere across your branding and it is the single access point to your website so you don’t want to use it. Countless times we have seen domains held hostage by bad actors resulting in huge bills, lawsuits, and endless frustration. They can advise you on domain purchasing and even be granted managerial access to it but make sure it’s you who actually owns the thing.
For more on this, read this article on domains.
Don’t work with anyone that won’t show their face
In 2021, everyone is used to virtual meetings and all forms of teleconferencing. If you are considering working with a designer, have a meeting with them! At least have a phone call but, if you can, have a real meeting (virtual or in person) to make sure they are a real person and they are who they say they are. Asking for a face to face meeting will typically scare off bad actors and it gives you a chance to really get to know who you are working with.
Look for reviews, testimonials, a portfolio
As with any business, you can always turn to reviews. You can find reviews for most agencies on Google, Facebook, and other review sites. While no one is perfect, a good average (4+stars) is a decent indicator of a good company. If a company has no reviews or you cannot find it listed anywhere, this may be a sign that they are not what they say they are or that they are trying to hide something.
Independent developers or freelancers may be a bit different in that they often don’t have official business listings or reviews. Here you should look for testimonials, find others that have worked with this person, and/or review their portfolio. If these things are not readily available or you find them insufficient, just ask the individual to provide relevant portfolio pieces or professional references. They should be happy to provide this information and if they don’t, you probably shouldn’t work with them.
There should always be a CNA (Customer Needs Analysis)
A good website designer should be building something specifically for YOU! In order to do this, they will have to get to know you and understand your business. If they skip this step, they are not worth your time.
Some agencies just sell the same thing to everyone so they don’t need to know who they are selling to. They just take their prebuilt product, slap your name on it, and deliver it to you along with an oversized bill. Make sure that they express some form of true curiosity in your business before sending you a proposal or giving you a quote. A designer that doesn’t ask questions, doesn’t research your business, doesn’t understand your industry will not be able to represent you online and won’t be able to deliver something worthwhile. They can only sell you the package of the day. Remember, one size fits all really just means one size doesn’t fit anyone quite right.
Just like every other part of your business’s marketing bridge, your website should be tailored to you and built to fit your needs. Look out for agencies who don’t care about this or don’t know about this. Performing a CNA is absolutely necessary for developing a high quality web presence for your business.