* This is an abbreviated post for those short on time that summarizes our in-depth guide which can be found here.
I’d like to say that finding a reliable company to build your website is easy; a quick web search and you’re done. But anyone that has hired a website design company knows that is not the truth.
Maybe you’ve heard the horror stories about so-called companies never finishing projects, taking the deposit and running, nightmarish revisions, or not returning phone calls?
If you find yourself in this struggle, this post is for you.
Let’s dig in!
Step One: Organize
Get out a piece of paper and answer a few questions:
Why do you want a website?
Do you want to increase sales/exposure/leads/attract employees? Do you want to update your existing website to reflect your new branding? Do you want a website that sells your product?
What pages do you think you’ll need?
I say “think” because these are just your original ideas. The web design company will dig deeper and find out the underlying reasons why you need these pages and may develop other ideas to accomplish those goals.
What is your budget?
Yes, that’s right. Being open and upfront with your web company about your budget is the start to a smooth project.
Let the company know your budget upfront and they’ll tailor a plan to fit within your budget. If your budget is lower than what they offer, they’ll let you know right then and there if this will be a fit and move forward or refer you to a lower priced option. It’s that easy. You just saved yourself a week or two of time.
When do you need this completed?
Deadline. Do you have a deadline coming up that you need to have your website live by? Have this expectation written down and discussed from the start.
Why has this become a priority?
This question will help dig to the root cause of your sudden need. Because let’s face it, two weeks ago you may have wanted to call up a web company, but you didn’t and only now are you serious about it. Why now? What changed?
Step Two: Searching Online
The first place to start is with a local search on Google.
It’s always best to find a company locally so that if you do need to meet personally, it’s a possibility. It’s by no means critical, (99% of our clients are nationwide) but it can be helpful and plus, you get to flow money back into your local economy.
Search Google for: “Website design, Your City, ST”
In our city, a search like that would look like: “Website design Longview WA”
Since you’re doing a local search, you’ll see Google’s local business results, which helps tremendously.
If you’re in a small town, use a larger city that’s closer as a substitute. For example, Longview is near Portland, OR so I would change my search to Portland if I wasn’t happy with these results.
Things to pay attention to:
- The top results will have the most reviews. Generally, these will be your best bet. Of course, you’ll need to read the actual reviews to get a good feel for the company.
- Obviously, they should have a website. If they haven’t listed it in their local business listing, it’s a bad sign.
- They should have uploaded photos of their work, business, staff, anything more than just a street view.
- They should have uploaded photos of their work, business, staff, anything more than just a street view.
Create a list
Put together a list of 3-5 companies that hit every mark above in a spreadsheet.
Step Three: Analyzing Company Websites
Next, we’re going to do the obvious: visit their websites. Now, in other industries, it may be OK to ignore an old website design or one that doesn’t look as updated as it could. But with the web industry, it’s our jobs to stay up to date and pay attention to the details. It’s the primary service we’re offering, so if we can’t get our own website right, what makes you think we can do any better with yours?
When you land on one of these websites, how does it look? How does it sit with you? Is it nicely designed and organized? If you don’t like how the page is designed, if it’s poorly organized, hard to use or find information, move on. Again, if this company can’t properly organize and design their own website, you’ll get nothing better.
Read the content on the homepage. What is the company talking about? Are they writing a lot of fluff and buzz words with no sustenance? For example, are they stating that they “deliver innovative solutions in a remarkably creative manner for many years”? Is there any real meat to their writing? Or are they just puffing their chest?
A good example is one where the company speaks to the audience with real value and a real offer: We’ve helped over 205 companies in the Northwest develop websites that not only look great but provide a return on their investment.
Are there any testimonials listed on their website?
These are key. If a company doesn’t list testimonials, it means they’re either (1) just starting out, (2) don’t have any satisfied clients, or possibly (3) lazy in asking for testimonials.
With testimonials, the more the better. 10+ testimonials.
The big one!
The primary thing to look for here is design and style that you like. If they have slightly okay work, then expect slightly okay work in return. Odds are, this is their best work, otherwise they wouldn’t showcase it. And if their best isn’t something that impresses you, then well, I think you get my drift.
Their portfolio should be extensive. You want to see that they are established, they’ve been doing this for more than a couple of years. You don’t want to be a guinea pig, your specific needs should be familiar to them do their depth of experience.
The about page should be descriptive and personal to the company. It shouldn’t be loaded with generic terms and have a picture of some random skyscraper (unless you’re looking at a major web design company—which are few and far between). There should be a picture of at least one team member. If there are no pictures, no mention of team members, then personally, I’d move on. There is a reason they haven’t mentioned anyone and are hiding behind a veil of “we’re a global web design conglomerate.” Even the big dogs have pictures of their executive team. Don’t be fooled.
Do they have an active social media account?
You’ll be able to find these on their website with links and/or icons. It’s not a complete negative if they aren’t active on social media, but it can be telling if in combination with other bad attributes covered above.
Step Four: Contacting & Requesting a Quote
Now, you should have at least two web companies you will contact. You want to contact at least two, that way you can compare each and make a more informed decision.
Go to their website and visit their contact or quote request page. If they don’t have a form and they are directing you to call them, then call them. For this part, we’re going to assume you’ll be filling out a form.
The one mistake I see over and over again is a lack of information with the initial quote request. The form asks a handful of questions to be filled out or selected, and the prospect fills out a couple of questions and in the description of the project, they add “I need a website for my landscaping business.” Obviously.
If you’ve followed this guide, you already have all your information at the ready since you’ve gotten everything together. Now’s the time to utilize it.
Include your budget
Again, you wouldn’t go to a car dealership and have the salesman showing you the Mercedez S-Class if you can only afford a Honda Civic. It doesn’t make sense. You need to be clear on your budget. You’ll save everyone a lot of time.
Step Five: The Meeting
In the meeting, whether by phone or in person, did the representative show up on time?
This is important, especially in your first meeting. You can actually have an amazing company that you’ve found, but they are so busy, that unless your project is significantly large, you may lack importance in their eyes in conjunction with their overwhelm of business. It’s crucial to find a company that’s both great at what they do and also have the systems and processes in place to handle many customers.
Ask about their system/process
Do they have a process or system setup for web design projects? Ask them to walk you through it. Is there a clear start and finish to the process? Are they skipping over details? Are they being thorough in their explanation? Feel free to have them expand on any step.
Their website process should start with content since that’s the most critical aspect. If the company says that they first start designing and then later add content, you’re talking with the wrong company. Content is the bedrock of a website, everything builds off of and depends on it.
Ask about their project management tool
Ask them what they use for managing the project. Does it include access for you, the client?
If they work entirely out of email for the project, I’d pass on this company. Email is great for one-off communication, but for a project, it’s a nightmare (keeping up with hundreds of threads of revisions, updates, communications, forwards, credentials, he-said-she-said).
Phone call and email policy
Ask what their phone call and email policy is. Do they have a clear policy? Or is it something vague like “we usually get back within a day or two?” Again, this is a detail question, seeing how well their business processes are setup.
Ask if they have a list of 3 references you can call from their current and previous customers. This is for extra credit, but well worth it. If they have a list ready, you can be sure they are on top of it. Of course, you’ll want to call each to confirm, which we’ll do in step six.
Do they offer maintenance plans for your website after it’s complete?
You will need help with your website in the future, and you want a company that’s forward thinking, not just a one-off sale. Websites are fluid and will be changed dramatically in the coming years, so it’s important that the company you hire become a partner of sorts in your business.
Does the company speak in technical jargon and make things hard to understand?
If they are unable to communicate effectively over the phone or by email, don’t expect your website to communicate any better with your customers.
Payment, Milestones, and What’s Next
Ask about how the next steps will go if you choose to hire them.
Step Six: Calling References
Now that you have your 3+ references in front of you, it’s time to contact them.
Call up each reference and ask them these four questions:
- What was it like working with “web design company?”
- What was your favorite part about working with “web design company?”
- What would you change if you could do it all over again? OR What part of the project could have been improved from your point of view?
- Will you hire them again on future projects? OR Would they put their name behind the company and recommend that you hire them?
At this point, it’s all gut in your judgment.
Step Seven: Hiring
Now, you’ve made your decision and are ready to hire the company. At this point, you’ve already learned all about the next steps and have been communicating with them, so the next steps are obvious.
When your project is complete (and it went well, of course!) don’t forget to refer the company you’ve hired. You’ve done a lot of work to get to this point and your friends/family/coworkers will be grateful for the recommendation so they can save time when searching for a reliable web company.
Proposal Review or Website Analysis ($300 value) for Free
Now, that’s a lot to take in and we want to help. So, here’s our offer…
If you have a proposal from another company that you’d like us to look at, send it to us and we’ll see if you’re getting the right stuff or getting taken.
Or, if you already have a website, we’ll complete a free website analysis where we go through a handful of tests to see where your website is lacking or excelling.
To take advantage of either offer, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Free Proposal Review” or “Free Website Analysis”
We hope you’ll take us up on this offer.
Questions / Comments?
If you have any questions or comments about anything in this article, don’t hesitate to give us a call at (360) 450-3711.
We’d be glad to help you, and as you can see above, even if that means you’re hiring another web design company. We’ve picked up the pieces from countless projects that went sour with other providers and if we can prevent that from happening to you… that’s enough for us!