How to choose a web designer

We discuss the factors to consider, and provide a step-by-step process to finding and choosing a web designer.

Buying a website - or more specifically, getting one made for your business or organisation - is a huge investment of time and money, so it’s important to choose the right person or agency to do it for you. And it’s not easy; there are so many things to consider, and you might not even know where to start!

That’s what this article is all about. This article has two parts; In part A, we’ll discuss the factors that should help you choose someone, then in part B, we’ll talk through a really thorough process for finding and selecting the right web designer for you.

Part A: The Factors

Their experience

This is how many sites they've worked on, as well as the skills they’ve developed through technical training. Ideally the person you choose should have worked on many sites before, for all sorts of clients, over several years. Also consider if they have real design experience (we’re talking colours, contrast, layout, etc.) as well as the ability to write code in a few key website languages like HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Their speciality

There are uncountable ways to build websites, ranging from building it completely from scratch with code, to using a powerful content management system (CMS), to making it with the drag-and-drop site builders like SquareSpace and Wix. No website developer can be skilled at them all of course, so they’ll have to pick a few to specialise in.

Conversely, be wary when a developer can build a website in just one way - say, using WordPress - because that means they’ll tell you it’s the right tool for the job even when it isn’t. Beyond being biased to that particular tool, it also means they probably aren’t truly aware of the particular pros and cons of the software compared to other alternatives.

Their availability

This is simply how much time they currently have to take on new website projects like yours. Everyone who makes websites has busy times and quieter times, so don’t simply take their word for it if they say “Sure, we can start next week”. Rather, ask them what other projects they’re currently working on, and when they’ll finish them.

Their price level

Prices of websites can range massively, and it’s often incredibly hard to know what’s a reasonable price for the type of website you need. We wrote a whole article on how much you should expect to pay for a website, so be sure to read that next. The gist is, if you have a small business in South Africa, you should expect to pay between R10 000 and R40 000 for a new website, but of course it can be even more or even less than that.

Their service

This one’s really subjective, because everyone gets along better with some people than others. But a professional website designer should act professionally and be friendly to everyone they work with for the weeks, months, or possibly even years you’ll be working with them.

The level of “customer service” they’ll be providing is also important, and includes details like how long they take to answer emails, how helpful they are in explaining things you don’t understand, and which additional services they’ll help you arrange.

When it comes to service, an individual might be much nicer to deal with - or much worse - than an agency, but an agency will be far more likely to provide better customer service, since they’ll have an employee dedicated to this.

Part B: The Process

Now that you know how you’ll choose a web designer, let’s discuss the process of finding one.

Use Google to find several options

The types of professionals you’re looking for might call themselves any of these:

  • Web designer
  • Website developer
  • Digital marketing agency

Try each to find a couple of good professionals. 

These days, it’s no longer required that you work with someone in your city, but it can be easier to work with someone local for several reasons, like cultural understanding, them speaking the same language as you, time zones, and even currency conversions for payments.

So you should try searches like: "Web designer in Cape Town"

Try not to be impressed by their own websites

Most web design professionals will have a website that looks great, which will only make it harder to choose. And some really excellent web designers might not have even spent much time on their own site. So even if it sounds counter-intuitive, try to treat their websites simply as a source of information about them, such as what type of sites they do, who’s on their team, who they’ve worked for in the past, and most importantly, what their past customers think of them.

Make a spreadsheet to compare them

To keep all the information about them in one place, and ultimately to compare them properly, it’s really valuable to put their information into a spreadsheet.

We’ve even made a website designer comparison template, so go ahead and just use that to save yourself the time!

Call them asking questions about the factors above

You’ll probably find dozens of individuals and agencies from your Google search, so the fastest way to cut that list down to a few great options is to give each a quick call. To keep the calls short, so that you can get through them all, prepare a list of a few specific questions you’ll ask each one like:

  1. What sort of websites do you build?
  2. How much do you typically charge?
  3. Do you work alone, or do you have a team?
  4. How busy are you currently with other client work?

Meet a few

When you’ve selected a couple of web designers that seem great based on their website and your calls, you need to meet them to choose one. These can be in-person or virtual meetings, but if they have an office, it might tell you a lot by meeting them there.

During the meetings, you should ask questions about the factors we discussed in the first section. Additionally, make sure to ask what type of website they would make for you, and why that specific type. This is critical, because it’ll be a huge waste of money if they build you a great site for a lot of money that’s just not the right kind for your needs. Be sceptical, asking them to justify why the way they would do it is better than all the other options.

Ask them to send you a proposal

While a lot of people simply ask for a quote, and most web designers simply send these, a proposal is a much better alternative. Proposals often include a plan for the work, scope, a timeline, and an outline of all the costs. This makes it much easier to choose.

Decide what suits you

After the meetings, but before you make your final decision of who to hire, it’s very valuable to decide for yourself what type of website is best for you and your organisation, how much work it’s going to take to design and build, and how long it’ll take from start to launch. That will also help you plan for how much it’s probably going to cost, and how much work you’re going to have to do during the process.

Call their past clients

The last thing you should always do before making your final decision is to call a few of the clients they’re recently built websites for - their references - and ask them what it was like to work with the web designer. Ask them if they stuck to the timeframe and budget, and if they’re happy with the result. Lastly, the single most important thing to ask is: “Would you hire them again?”

Even if you do nothing else in this process, make sure you call their references!

Choose the one with the best balance of the factors

After all that work, you should have everything you need to make the right decision. It’ll be worth it, because a website is a big investment that’ll help your business grow for years. Good luck!

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