How to Find a Reliable Web Design Company

How to find a reliable web design company - 7 steps to success

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’s hired a website design company knows that’s 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.

The barrier to entry in this industry is extremely low, both in effort and money. Anyone with a laptop, and internet connection, $20 and a few hours of time can put a website online for the world to see.

To become a world-class web design company is an entirely different story. You need years of experience and the systems in place to really shine. You are looking for a company to take what you have and create a website that looks great and functions well to bring a return on your original investment.

And is it too much to ask that your project be an enjoyable experience?

Not at all!

The goal of this post is to be a step-by-step guide on finding and hiring a reliable website company to take on your new web project or take your existing website to the next level.

Ready?

Let’s dig in!

Step One: Organize

Knowing the details of what you want in a website is step one. I know, not exactly a first step you were looking for, and seemingly obvious, but hear me out.

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 that sells your product?

Now, you don’t need to know every specific requirement but you should have a good idea of what you want and also have the flexibility and trust in a company to steer each one of these features and decisions in the right way. After all, that’s why you’re looking for a professional, to help you make the best decision and provide the best product for you.

Start a list of what your website will need to be able to do.

For example:

  • Collect payments online from our donors
  • Allow visitors to join our email newsletter list
  • Customer management portal to share resources (PDFs, images) with our customers
  • Blog with commenting ability
  • Search function to allow customers to use to navigate our products
  • Contact page with an easy to use contact form allowing customers to communicate with us
  • An interactive map showing all of our locations in the United States
  • Ability for us to edit the content (text/images) on the website

As you can see above, we’re talking about the features that need to be included. Again, these are items you’ll be speaking with web companies about and these items may change depending on yours and the web company’s ideas.

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.

If you have an idea for each specific page, include those as well.

Below is a list of page ideas that are common across websites:

  • Home
  • About
  • Services
  • Contact
  • Blog
  • Store
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Photo Gallery
  • Projects / Case Studies
  • Team / Staff
  • Testimonials
  • Media
  • Resources
  • Customer Portal
  • Locations / Map
  • History
  • Employment
  • Request a Quote
  • Partners
  • Apply
  • Videos
  • Newsletters
  • Calendar
  • Sign In
  • Profile Page
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use

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. For some reason, this always seems to be a point of contention with less experienced business people. It’s as if letting someone know your budget is giving away your soul and the web company will just use that number as your budget regardless.

Let’s put this in different terms.

Do you go to a car dealership without a budget in mind? When the salesperson asks what you’re looking for and then talks about options and budget, do you reply with “I don’t know?” Maybe you are one of those people, but eventually, the budget will come out when the salesperson takes you to a vehicle that’s outside your “unknown budget.”

To help save a lot of time for everyone involved, write this number down and let the web company know it.

Let’s say you don’t, because you want to play hardball. The web company comes up with a plan that has a budget of 5x your actual budget. Now, how does that help you or the company? The company wasted everyone’s time spending hours putting together a budget that you can’t afford.

Think long and hard about your budget. Develop a range and stick to it.

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. As you can see, you need to have everything communicated from the outset. This will ensure you have a smoother project and will open up communication between everyone.

Everyone always has an expectation of a deadline. Even if you think you don’t have one, come up with one and let the company know that date. It may realistic or it may be too far out, but in either case, the deadline is now out in the open and expectations are set.

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?

And do you remember that game you’d play when a child and continue to ask “why?” Continue doing that to your answers to the above question until you’re satisfied that you’ve dug deep enough.

For example: I need a website now because sales are slow. Why are sales slow? One of the reasons is that customers don’t know we exist when they search online. Those customers instead find our competitors who have a great website and choose to do business with them.

This type of information is very important for not only you to understand, but also the web company. Again, it’ll uncover a lot of expectations.

You are prepared

Now, having the answers to these questions will have you very well prepared to detail out your needs to a web company. Sure, there are more questions you could have answers to, but you’ll be able to discuss those with the web company when the time comes. For now, this will be more than enough to get the ball rolling and making sure you’ve got your stuff together.

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

Local Results

Since you’re doing a local search, you’ll see Google’s local business results, which helps tremendously.

Local Business Results

This should yield tons of results. 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:

  • Reviews:
    • 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. Don’t let 1-star reviews scare you, unless they have a thorough story behind them. Often competitors will leave 1-star reviews to scare people away. It’s unlikely that they’ll fabricate an entire story behind it. It’ll usually look like: “These guys are terrible, worst business ever.” Read the good and the bad, and let your gut be the guide. Be sure to vet the good reviews, too. Make sure they sound legitimate and are coming from real people. If the accounts have headshots, that’s good. Also, pay attention to the owners replies to reviews. This can be very telling, especially when confronting bad reviews. You can get a sense of their overall professionalism.Local Business Results Reviews
  • Website:
    • Obviously, they should have a website. If they haven’t listed it in their local business listing, it’s a bad sign. They simply aren’t paying attention to the details and behind on the industry or are so busy with work they don’t have time.Local Business Results Website Link
  • Photos:
    • They should have uploaded photos of their work, business, staff, anything more than just a street view. Again, they should be actively managing their listing, it’s a good sign that they’re actively managing their business online and proactive in their approach. It shows that they are detail oriented, a skill that’s going to be needed in your project.1 - Click on Listing
      2 - Google photos

The reason I like to look at Google’s local business results is because it takes work to effectively manage a listing. The company needs to put in the work to make it informative and helpful. Plus, anyone can leave a review on any business so it’s less likely to be rigged. The company also can’t remove or alter reviews. Google is very clever in detecting fake reviews and they usually put a stop to it quickly. They’ll even allow spammers to leave reviews but won’t show them to the public.

Create a list

Put together a list of 3-5 companies that hit every mark above in a spreadsheet.

Extra credit: Once you have your list of 3-5 companies, cross-check the company on Yelp. Just go to Yelp.com and search for the company name.

Yelp Review

Do they have any reviews? Good, bad? If they don’t have their company on Yelp or don’t have any reviews, that’s OK. We’re just trying to see if they have good or bad reviews on their listing to support the decision.

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. Of course, there are exceptions to any rule, but I’d stick to this one. Don’t buy into the cobbler’s children* not having any shoes, a real professional will have a great website.

* A folktale about a cobbler who was so busy making shoes for his customers his own children went barefoot.

Pro Tip!

Here’s a quick tip, look at the copyright on the website. If a year is listed, make sure it’s the current year. It’s a small detail, but if the year is last years or years prior, then they aren’t paying attention to the details, plain and simple.

This is similar to Van Halen’s notorious rider in their contracts with venues to provide a bowl of M&M’s that have all the brown ones removed. The reasoning was, if the venue got this right, they paid attention to the details and odds are everything would go smoothly. Again, you’re looking for someone to pay attention to the details.

Copyright in footer

Content

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.

Whether or not the above is true, it at least passes the test of being specific and open in the amount of companies they’ve served (someone kept track of that?) and they are also focused on providing real value by being concerned with their customers ROI and not just on making “pretty websites.”

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, more rarely, (3) lazy in asking for testimonials. Scenarios 1 & 2 are the most common so I would assume that is the case. Even if number 3 is the answer, this lack of effort in obtaining testimonials will spill over into other areas of their business. You don’t want a lazy web company.

Testimonials are important, not only because these are satisfied customers but customers who were willing to write a review of the company and also list their information publicly. That says a lot.

Reading through testimonials, it’s important to note the story that is included in each. If all of the testimonials simply say “great job”, “best web company ever” or other generalities, I’d go ahead and ignore those and act as if they don’t exist. Testimonials like this are just too broad and don’t mean anything. What exactly makes them the “best web company ever”?

Look for testimonials which contain a story. A struggle and a favorable outcome. Look for a story to which you can relate. One that’s similar to your situation.

With testimonials, the more the better. 10+ testimonials.

Portfolio

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.

I know it can be tempting to say “well, it’s good enough” but that’s lazy, if you really want to find a reliable website design company, you need to put in the work in and filter out the wannabes from the rockstars. It may take you an hour now, but it’ll save you a lot of money and time down the road by hiring a company that can deliver what you need, the first time.

For websites listed in their portfolio, make sure they have a link to the actual live site. If they don’t, search Google and see if the website matches their portfolio. Navigate the website, does it feel well thought out and well put together? If it doesn’t, don’t expect anything better with your project. There is one caveat: Every customer has different goals and budgets set aside for their project. So it’s best to browse a few websites from the company’s portfolio to get an average of their work.

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. That way they have the processes/systems created that allow for a smooth project.

About

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.

Social Media

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.

Be thorough

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.

Be thorough in your request. Let them know about your project and the requirements you have at this point.

Any good web company will take a look at your requirements and discuss them with you. If the company is worth their salt, they’ll discuss these requirements openly with you and most likely develop alternative ideas to accomplish your goals.

It’s important to note, you’re hiring a professional company, not an intern for you to instruct them in every aspect. If you want to be a micro-manager or a hawk looking over their shoulder at all times, instructing them to do everything no matter what, you’re in for a bad experience. If that is the case, I’d stop reading this now, and just pick a web company at random because it’s not going to matter who you hire, it’s going to be a painful process.

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.

Maybe your taste is a bit too high for your budget and you need to go with a newer web company who is still learning the ropes and willing to grow with you. Either scenario is fine, but just know where you’re at so you can make a wise decision out of the gate.

Let’s say you need a website, and fill out a form in an abbreviated manner as listed above and don’t list your budget. If the web company schedules a meeting with you, you might find out that what they deliver is well outside of your budget. If this was known from the outset, it would have saved you time in clearing your schedule and making time for the meeting.

Another possibility is that you have expectations of features that the web company cannot supply and is not experienced. Again, this won’t be found out until you’re speaking with the company (rather than them replying with an email in their original reply) and will lead to more wasted time.

In the end, be thorough in your quote request.

Step Five: The Meeting

Once, you’ve covered the bases above, let’s move onto the next step of separating the wheat from the chaff.

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.

You will find out the professionalism of this company and also their experience level fairly quickly. Any good company will love questions because they get a chance to show you why they are different and they get to talk about what they do all day long. If they rush through it, sound disinterested, or have two vague steps, I’d thank them for their time and end the call. If meeting in person, I’d speed up the meeting to end it.

Processes and systems are the most important aspect for the service provider and in return, you. Every great company will have an amazing system and process that separates them from their competition. Companies that are inexperienced and fly by night, do not have a system and haven’t put much thought into one. You’re bound to have a poor experience if you work with a company like that.

Pro Tip!

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).

They should use an easy to use project management tool that allows you to stay up to date on the progress of the project and easy discuss and organize informational revolving around it.

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.

References

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.

Maintenance Plans

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.

Here are a couple of questions to get you started:

  1. What type of maintenance will be needed in the future?
  2. Can I update the website myself?

Communication

Does the company speak in technical jargon and make things hard to understand?

A web designer will need to be a clear communicator since they’ll be taking complex ideas and turning them into simple, readable information.

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.

  1. Will there be a proposal?
  2. When will that proposal be delivered?
  3. Will there be an agreement to sign and date by both parties after the proposal is approved?
  4. Are there milestones setup for each stage of the project?
  5. Do they collect payments at each milestone? Do they require a deposit to get started?
  6. When is the last payment due?
  7. Will there be a written start and end date for the project?
    1. This is crucial because it means the company will need to think about each stage of your project. That will result in a much smoother project.
  8. Will there be email/phone updates during each milestone?
  9. When do you update us on progress?

Last Word of Advice

Do not worry about their office location being out of their home or garage. A lot of web companies have all of their employees working remotely.

I’ve had many meetings where a prospect was very concerned that our business didn’t have a physical office staffed with employees on site. That’s just not the nature of this industry. Sure, some do, but it’s not necessary.

The odds that you’ll find the best talent all in your local area and have them show up at your office every day is a challenge. You’re going to have to sacrifice quality for a person in a seat. Not only that, but there is much more overhead in having a physical office. Rent, electricity, etc. That’s all going to be added into your project cost. It also won’t include an ounce more of quality compared to an “office-less” business.

With all of that, the point here is to not be turned off by this situation, it’s very much the standard in this industry. It’s lean and it’s efficient.

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:

  1. What was it like working with “web design company?”
  2. What was your favorite part about working with “web design company?”
  3. 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?
  4. 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. These questions will make it clear whether or not this web company is worth hiring.

Step Seven: Hiring

At this stage, 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.

If there are any caveats about hiring, it’d be:

  • Do not pay 100% of the project up-front. You want the company to always have the proper motivation to complete your project. Plus, if something does end up going south, you’re only out 50%.
  • Read the agreement that the service provider delivers. This is another obvious point but also have your lawyer read it. There’s no harm in being cautious.

And enjoy the project! You don’t always have a chance to be involved in a web project, so enjoy yourself. It’s a lot of fun working with a well-established company because they’ll make the entire process smooth and fun.

Bonus: Referring

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 hello@graticle.com 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!

Last updated on August 31, 2016. Shawn is the President of Graticle, Inc. You can follow him at Google+

Want a Quote on Your Project? Answer a Few Questions »

Our web site update was just completed by Graticle Design and they did a terrific job. Our engineering company provides a unique service and Shawn captured the essence of our company. The way the site is set up I can add and modify the content at will, easily keeping the projects and offerings up to date myself. The tutorial he included is a great finish touch. Great job!

David Browning

Owner

Altman Browning and Co.

www.AltmanBrowning.com

Portland, Oregon

We recently hired Graticle to design our new website, which is optimized for content marketing. Shawn not only is a terrific digital design talent, he also has a wealth of knowledge about how to visually and verbally guide site visitors through a sales funnel. He carefully planned every design element to deliver a powerful call to action, and helped us edit our content to avoid leading users in the wrong direction. Shawn also is one of the most efficient, pleasant and professional designers we’ve ever worked with. He delivered everything in an orderly way, communicated frequently throughout the process, and rapidly adopted our project management system. He delivered great work on time and on budget. Graticle is truly one of the best web companies we’ve ever worked with. Highly recommended.

Maverick Institute

Maverick Institute

www.MaverickInstitute.com

Portland, Oregon