In today's digital world the Internet is often the primary connection between businesses and the marketplace. Therefore, it's only natural that establishing an online presence seems like a logical first step for most entrepreneurs.
When you start a new business you will inevitably be judged by your cover; and more often than not, the first “cover” customers will see is your website. Never underestimate the power of design. If you fail to look the part, you could cause irreversible damage to your brand.
While a good website designer will explain the complexities of the design process in layman's terms, that won't always stop technical jargon from creeping through, and possibly even influencing your decision. This could not only lead to unnecessary costs, but could also cause major problems in the future.
So, if you don't have a background website design, and want to ensure you get it right from the start, these five questions will help you set off on the right track.
Can I buy my own domain name?
Always make sure you own the full rights to your own domain (website address). Register it yourself under your own company name. If you run into problems down the line and want to change website designer, having full ownership of the domain name will ensure they won't hold it over your head, squeezing you for a “release fee” or any other additional charge.
Your chosen domain name is also an extremely important element of search engine optimization (SEO). Therefore, if you've already started the off-page SEO process, your efforts will be wasted if you end up having to re-brand due to ownership issues.
Could you provide references and recent work samples?
Ask to view some recent samples – note the word “recent.” The web design industry is constantly advancing and old design techniques can become outdated very quickly. For example, due to the rise of mobile Internet, flash is no longer recommended as few mobile devices support it. In addition, websites can also look different depending what browser the viewer is using. Again, check recent samples to ensure the pages, alignment, text, etc., are seamless throughout.
It's also a good idea to contact two or three previous clients and ask about their experiences. Steer clear of any company that doesn't have a good rapport with their past customers, especially with regards to after service. The last thing you need is a company that will leave you in the lurch or hit you with extortionate fees if your website goes down.
What are the ongoing costs?
When you buy a website remember to assess the ongoing costs: domain name renewal, hosting costs, search engine optimization, etc. Make sure you will actually need and use what's included in the quote. For example, some website designers will include SEO with their services, but if you have previous experience optimising websites, this might be something you could handle yourself.
In addition, shop around for external suppliers for these ongoing costs. There are hundreds of domain and hosting packages on the market. While your chosen website designer may prefer a specific service, this should always be your choice. Fundamentally, it's always best to get the back-end sorted before any development begins as it will save hassle with data transfers if you want to change supplier further down the line.
Do you provide fixed-rate or long-term contracts?
As a general rule of thumb, if the contract seems too good to be true, then it probably is. If you're offered a fixed-rate, make sure all of the features you've requested are guaranteed, and that there are no hidden contingency clauses designed to justify non-delivery.
Most small web design companies will offer long-term contracts instead of a fixed rate. If taking this route, make sure everything is fully costed, and that upgrades have been taken into account. Many companies will reel you in, only to hit you with up-sells that will drive the final price so high a fixed-rate would have been more cost effective in the long run.
What content management system will you implement?
A content management system (CMS) is essentially the “admin area” of your website. It will allow you to upload, remove and adapt content in a clear and simple manner. With most systems you won't need any “technical” knowledge beyond standard word processing.
There are two main types of CMS: open-source and proprietary systems. Open-source systems, such as Wordpress, are free to download and use. While they're simple to get the hang of, you should question the capabilities of a website designer who can't create a CMS from scratch. Proprietary systems offer greater security and are testament to the abilities of the designer. The only downside is that if you want to move your website over to a new host in the future, you might run into issues.
A good website designer will know that an open line of communication is often the key to success, so take the time to think about your decision and don't be afraid to ask questions, no matter elementary they may seem – for more basic information check out the following guide: 7 great questions to ask a website designer. After all, as a paying customer, you deserve to have full control over the end result. If you don't, the repercussions could be extremely damaging for your business.