What to Look For When Hiring a Design Company

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Hiring a design company or freelancer can be tough.

If you’re like most people, you type in a quick Google search (or browse Craigslist) and are inundated with literally thousands of results to scour through. Some of  these results look promising and others just terrible. To make things worse, prices are all over the place, from $99 to $25,000 for a website.

What gives?

It’s actually pretty simple: you don’t understand what you’re hiring. That’s okay though, there’s a first time for everything and I’m here to help you make a little more sense of it.

Here are a few pointers and red flags to look for during your search. And no, these tips don’t require technical know how, most of it’s just plain common sense.

So keep reading. With the points below I’ll be able to help you make a more informed and confident decision when hiring someone for your next website or graphic design project.

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#1 – Make sure the company has actually done what you’re requiring

What did I tell you, common sense. Right?


I receive calls daily from prospective customers that inquire about an idea. The solution to this idea is something that we have little or no experience with, so I immediately let them know that we’re not the company for their project. If I have a company I can refer them to, I do. If I don’t, I give them my advice on continuing their search. Only at the end of the conversation, the person on the other end says something like “I’m sure you could figure it out, what do you think it would cost?” That’s just asking for trouble.

When you’re browsing through portfolios, make sure that the company has done the work you need performed. If they haven’t, keep looking for a company with the experience. Just going with the first company on a Google search because its easiest isn’t always wise.  It’s just plain lazy.

Hiring a company to “figure it out” isn’t the best use of that money. You want a company that’s been around the block, ran into the problems, worked through and learned from them. By the time you show up, they’re ready and you’ll get better product because of that.

#2 – Passion

When you call, meet, or email a company, you want to get a sense of passion from them. You want someone that loves what they do. You don’t want an order taker and you certainty don’t want someone doing it for a paycheck.

It’s easy to asses a person when you meet them in person, but it can be a little difficult through email. If you can’t meet with someone in person, make sure you’re at least able to speak with them over the phone. You can learn a lot from that conversation, something you can’t quite get out of an email.

That person should also be asking the right questions. Questions that you didn’t think of, questions that make you say “oh yeah, I didn’t think of that.”

You’re going to want a company that can think creatively and come up with a solution that fits your goals. Not a cookie cutter, straight off of the production line product. We are hiring a creative company, aren’t we?

#3 – You have got to hire a great communicator

During your project, you better believe there are going to be a lot of phone calls, many emails, and possibly some in person meetings. If the people you are speaking with aren’t able to communicate clearly, I can promise you’re going to be in a world of hurt if you hire them.

It doesn’t matter if the company you’re hiring has a top notch portfolio. If they can’t communicate effectively, it won’t work out well.

#4 – You need to hire a company that’s responsive

When you send out an email, you need a company that’s going to send an email back to you. Not in a week, but within a day or two. Especially if this is a web design company. These people (myself included) are online most of the day, so there’s really no excuse for a reply next week. The only caveat here is an amazingly talented, world renowned agency. In that case, it’ll be worth the wait. If it’s not, they should reply quickly. Otherwise, just move on. There are many, many alternatives out there, trust me.

Also: Do not send out a cookie cutter quote request email and expect a quick response (or a response at all). We’re flooded with these and if we responded to every “how much for a website” email, we’d be out of business. Put some effort into your hiring process, it’ll pay off.

#5 – You had better see some references (aka: testimonials)

If the company has even a decent portfolio, they should have testimonials from those projects. They don’t have to have hundreds, but they should have a good handful of them.

You should also make sure these testimonials are legitimate. Do the testimonials have names attached? Do they have a company name listed? Does the person speak in detail about their experience? Some clients may request to be anonymous, but certainly not all of them.

You can always ask for contact information from some of their previous clients. This is just the same as how you’d ask for references if you were hiring an employee. Anyone worth their salt will have a nice handful of clients that they can put you in touch with immediately.

On the same note: referrals are key in this business. If you know someone that had a website developed, ask them how it went. Would they hire the company again?

#6 – You get what you pay for

Like I said earlier, you’ve probably seen those $99 website ads, while at the same time your project was quoted at much larger price. Remember that cheap trinket you bought for a “bargain” last week? The one you wouldn’t buy again? The same idea goes here.

If you want something nice there’s going to be a higher price tag associated with it.

#7 – Hire a Teacher

Believe me, it’s not terribly difficult in the design or development world to talk with a client and have them not understand you. There’s a lot to what we do, and it takes years to grasp most of the concepts that we’ve learned. It takes an even greater effort to teach or communicate those concepts or skills to someone else.

If the company you’re considering hiring is using a lot of technical jargon, ask them to knock it off and explain themselves in an easy to understand manor.

You don’t need to be a graphic designer or web designer, but the company you hire should be willing to teach you a few things along the way. That way you can make accurate decisions throughout the project. Don’t get me wrong, you’re hiring someone that’s experienced in this area, but you also don’t want to blindly follow anyone without having a basic understanding of how things work.

Lastly: Use Your Gut

This is probably the most underused and important talent to utilize.

If something doesn’t sit right with you, don’t hire the company. Even if you don’t understand the concept fully, your gut should be your measurement of how things are going.

I’ve personally ignored my gut many times over the years, and every single time I did, I wished I’d listened. You don’t always have to explain away your reasoning behind a decision, if your gut is telling you something’s wrong, move on.

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I’ve been in business for over 5 years, so I’ve seen and heard quite a few nightmares. These nightmares are unfortunately common and have given prospective clients like yourself, a hesitance and caution when hiring a design company. And that’s okay, you should be cautious.

But I do want to let you know there are many reputable and trustworthy design companies out there, you just have to do some work to find them.

Good luck hunting and may the odds be ever in your favor!

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