Practical Ecommerce

Tips To Hire The Right Website Designer

Websites don’t just build themselves. The conundrum for the small business owner is that there is a host of choices as you establish an online presence. The decisions are important: They’ll determine the online business activity that comes with the new sales channel and, of course, the additional profit from the online endeavor.

Choices abound. A few of the critical early questions a business owner needs to settle include: “What kind of website do I want for my business?” “Do I need outside help building my site?” “If I need help, how do I go about selecting a website developer?”

We’ve provided four steps to help you through the process.

Step 1: Before taking the first step toward creating a website, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Does my website need to have a one-of-a-kind design, or would a neat, clean, pre-made template work just as well?
    Novices can locate various templates available for purchase on the Internet that allow a person to create a well-designed site without knowing how to create HTML pages. Sites like Templatemonster.com, Perfectory.com and others allow merchants to purchase predesigned pages. Some technical knowledge is required in order to set up the pages, to add content in a way that meets your aesthetic needs and to maintain the site on a regular basis.

    There are many other options that don’t require a designer. In recent years, all-in-one solutions (often referred to as “hosted solutions”) have made it easy for ecommerce novices to quickly launch a website without detailed knowledge of ecommerce or the aid of a website developer. An all-in-one solution charges a monthly fee for everything you’ll need to operate a site, including various design templates — you don’t have to assemble and integrate all the pieces to make the online store work.

    “The whole power of hosted software solutions is that you don’t have to be an IT (information technology) expert,” said Julian Green, director of all-in-one solution ProStores. “You just basically have to be able to use a browser. You basically outsource the IT expertise to the hosted solution provider. At the simplest level, if you can do your email or browse the Internet, you can do a store online. It’s designed to be easy.”

    In addition, many hosting companies like Web.com, GoDaddy and others provide complete packages that also include design templates.

    How do you choose between investing in a templated, but possibly generic, design or spending more money for a custom look? Michelle Burton, president of CoreTech Web Solutions, a firm offering custom and templated options, says that decision is best made after evaluating present and future goals.

    “For those people who are just starting to sell or who have only one or two products, a templated option might be better because it is going to allow them to keep funds down initially and then grow with their business over time,” she said. “However, if somebody has something like an eBay store, they want to convert that over and they are already selling hundreds of products, it probably does not make a lot of sense for them to go into a templated option. It probably makes more sense for them to invest their funds up front for something more customizable that is going to be able to continue to grow with them over time.”

  2. How complex will my online business be? Is it merely a website to promote my company, serving as a marketing appendage to my brick-and-mortar business? Or, will my website need to have an online store or be integrated with third-party tools such as auctions or blogs?
  3. Do I have the technical capability to do any of this?

For most businesses, the answer to No. 3 trumps the preceding questions.

Step 2: Do your homework.

Small companies and larger corporations alike frequently look for guidance from staffing firms like Aquent, a company that matches proven, creative web talent with businesses needing help. Two of the company’s top recruiters offered pointers to help independent businesses choose a web developer.

First and foremost, says recruiter Eloise Priest, decide how in-depth the website will be.

Rich Baker, Aquent’s marketing IT recruiting manager, says business owners need to consider the following as they make that assessment:

Will information need to be stored in a database? If your business offers products and your website will be a means to sell and distribute these products, the answer is almost certainly “yes.”

How many pages will comprise your website?

What kind of functionality do you intend to feature on your website? In addition to an ecommerce store, a business could offer features like email newsletter sign-ups, product demos, blogs, calendars, product photo galleries, etc.

Priest suggests that once Baker’s questions are answered, the businessperson do some web surfing. Check out your competitors’ websites or other ecommerce sites featuring a design or functionality you like. Don’t hesitate to contact people at the company to ask questions about their experiences.

At some point, however, you’ll have to decide whether you’re up to creating this website by yourself.

“If the business has somebody on its team who is web savvy, the more likely they are to do it themselves,” Baker said.

If you don’t have a technophile within your reach, and if your site will be more complex than a couple pages of content, then hiring a web developer is probably in your future.

Priest recommends setting a budget upfront for the entire project so you’ll know how much you can allot for a developer’s time. Consider costs for hosting, SSL certificates, hosted or licensed shopping cart solutions, blogs and photo royalties.

Step 3: Begin the search for talent.

You can look locally for web developers, surf the online search engines or post a job description at an online resource like Guru.com or Getafreelancer.com for regional or national candidates.

Whether you’re looking for a temporary freelance developer or a full-time resource person to join your staff, don’t trust your online business to the words on a candidate’s resume. Chuck Bankoff, director of web services for design consultant WSIeworks.com, says there are three main things to consider when evaluating potential designers for your ebusiness:

Visit the developers’ sites. Do they look good? Do they load properly in multiple browser types? Do they function in a way you’d expect your website to function? “Ecommerce, in particular, can require a high degree of technical knowledge and experience to set it up and, in some cases, to maintain it,” he said. “A good programmer can go a long way towards simplifying the process for the end user.”

How long have they been in business? “This is the type of the industry where underperformers gets sorted out very quickly,” Bankoff said. “The longer a design firm has been in business, the more likely that they have a track record of satisfied clients.”

Check references. It seems like an obvious hiring step, however, the best predictor of a developer’s success for your business is past success. “I would, of course, want to know about the overall satisfaction, but I would also want to know if the designers merely took orders, or if they made suggestions and explained how the process works,” he said.

Step 4: Learn from the mistakes of other businesses.

Because Aquent specializes in matching web professionals with businesses, they have heard some horror stories. Those tales from web development hell can work to your benefit.

For example, Baker says opting to hire the lowest project bidder merely because he/she is the least expensive is possibly the most serious selection faux pas possible.

“You really get what you pay for,” he said.

Presuming you’ve budgeted for a developer, consider these rules-of-thumb:

  • Knowing what functionality you want from your site up front will help you get a more accurate quote from a web designer. Bankoff said to be skeptical if a designer has a set price for site design. “I would be wary about anyone who had a preestablished price for anything because that means they do not necessarily know what your needs are,” he said.
  • Establish project milestones and deadlines with reasonable bonuses for compliance. One of the common risks in hiring even the most talented developer is that he or she doesn’t have the time to dedicate to your work. Choosing a developer with demonstrated project management experience can help to alleviate that concern. “Otherwise,” Burton said, “You will find your web project can drag on and on forever.”
  • You can work with someone who does not live in your town, state or country, but it’s important that there is clear, constant communication. “This is a medium that lends itself to long-range relationships,” Bankoff said. “Ultimately, the fruit of the relationship will be seen online.”
  • Look for a long-term partner because it’s likely you’ll need tweaks to your site or tech support. “I would want to know that the designer will be around later if I have questions or problems, or if I need to upgrade my web solution at a later date,” Bankoff said. “There are just too many variables to contend with if you are left on your own.”

Choosing a web developer to build your ecommerce presence is equivalent to taking on a partner. If you make sure the bullet points on a candidate’s resume actually convert to real-world ability, you’ve taken a key step in making your hiring decision a smart one.

Practical Ecommerce

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Comments ( 21 )

  1. Legacy User March 6, 2007 Reply

    Another option is:
    http://www.RentACoder.com

    One other important point…require the designer to place an Expert Guarantee deposit to ensure they will complete the work succesfully. That way they have "skin in the game"…just like you do.

    Rod

    — *Rod Smith*

  2. Legacy User March 7, 2007 Reply

    I'm am very disappointed in my Internet service provider (ISP). After going over budget and missing deadline after deadline, know I'm converting to a new provider. This will be very expensive, and my initial ISP is charging for every call and bit of information that we need to convert.

    What a mess… but I'm glad to be moving on.

    My advice… Do your homework and make sure they have worked in your line of business. Make them prove they know your specific needs.

    — *Judi Campbell*

  3. Legacy User March 5, 2007 Reply

    Amen! I have wasted hundreds of dollars on website templates, flash work, logo work… you name it! A lot of these people were very difficult to get to understand what I wanted. I felt like I wasn't speaking English properly. The good ones are expensive, but I wish I had paid for the best first, so I could have a unique web/product identity and a terrific looking site with functionality. I would have ended up spending the same amount in the long run anyway.

    — *Stefanie Blaine*

  4. Legacy User March 8, 2007 Reply

    In reference to Rod's comment:

    >>"One other important point…require the designer to place an Expert Guarantee deposit to ensure they will complete the work succesfully. That way they have "skin in the game"…just like you do."

    — *Pamela Hazelton*

  5. Legacy User March 8, 2007 Reply

    I would add this as well: "Expect to do your part."

    From the developer's side of view, everything said above is right on. However, it's also important to understand that since it is your business, you will have a responsibility to be involved, and to make decisions. Some clients expect to contact a developers days after commiting themselves to starting a business, simply say "I need a website for my company, here is an overview of what we will be doing", and then receive a working site in a few days. It's important to understand that it is a collaborative process, and that the developer acts as a bridge between what you want and what is feasible.

    All of the points above are great because not only do the help clients to find good developers and get their money's worth, but they also serve to connect motivated, well-prepared clients with developers. In my experience, I have had to require deposits from clients to ensure that they stay involved and that the project moves forward in a timely fashion. The opposite (of being required to put down a deposit myself) has never come up, and I suspect is something that needs to be considered when dealing with the "lowest bidder" types.

    Great article, Ryan!

    — *Brian Getting*

  6. Legacy User April 11, 2007 Reply

    Interesting… A good follow-up article would be helping web developers find the right clients. Take your points and turn them around to the developers point of view when interviewing potential clients.

    There are times where no amount of money is worth the time/aggravation of dealing with unprepared or over-zealous clients. Communication and managing expectations is 50 percent of our job and honest evaluation of one's skills and motivations should occur with each new client.

    — *eSearing*

  7. Legacy User May 29, 2007 Reply

    Brian & Ryan, I agree with you both. Years ago, when my IT skills were new and time was limited, I decided to hire a web company actually unaware of all the specifics needed BEFORE contacting the company. But, since they were the experts, BEFORE taking my deposit, maybe the company could have discussed my involvement and gave me a more accurate estimate of how long it would take for me to be up and running. Instead, I was told that it would take two weeks. I believed this because there was a team of them vs. just me developing.

    Without going further into that nightmare, let me tell this: a year passed before I erupted. Each time I called with my prepared content, I was faced with yet another developer and having to explain my concepts I expected to achieve through MY site. The employee turnaround was killing me since I had to reaquaint each rep each time because the other rep was "no longer with the company." This went on for a year! But, since my deposit was "non-refundable," I continued to work with them.

    This encouraged me to learn more about the field, to make sure that I treat my own customers with dignity and great ethics and morals, and to make sure that I can handle the job BEFORE I accept their money. I would rather keep the business but my main goal is to keep the good reputation as an ethical business.

    This encouraged me to become a reseller and eventually, with more money, time and skill sets, to develop my own company that builds websites. I'm developing customer surveys, questionnaires, and all sorts of info gathering techniques and tweaks that will aid and assist me in this development BEFORE I start accepting customers.

    Now that I will be faced with having NOT been in business long enough, but I have faith that my ethics and experience will eventually bring in the clientele that I want to work with and spread the word from there.

    — *Sheree Rabon*

  8. Legacy User July 10, 2007 Reply

    I own multiple ecommerce sites and have tried both expensive agencies and dirt cheap offshore labour from India and Eastern Europe. My advice would be to use a provider which balances good communication and design / programming skills with reasonable cost. The best I've found so far is ECommerce911.com

    — *Ryan Hollinger*

  9. Legacy User July 30, 2007 Reply

    I bought into ProStores, and I have not done anything with it yet. I'm just working my e-commerce store. But the problem I find is, yes, I want to build a website, but everyone I go to wants $3000.00 and up. Is there anyone out there that charges what we new people in the business can afford?
    Sometimes I feel excited and then I feel low, because I'm not a computer expert, but people know that and they have their hands in your pocket, depending on your lack of knowledge. Can you help with this problem?

    — *Lillian Hagar*

  10. Legacy User November 10, 2007 Reply

    Very good article. You may also want to hire a personal web designer so you could save more time and concentrate on promoting your site. I have hired web designers from the Philippines and I absolutely love their talent, service and dedication. And most importantly they help me save money because they charge more than half if I hire a local web designer. To all interested, http://devildesignstudios.com

    — *Chuck*

  11. Legacy User December 18, 2007 Reply

    Take five minutes to talk on the phone with the designer you're considering hiring. If you can't understand him, walk away. The reason third world software developers charge half as much as US developers is that they're only *worth* half as much. What your "savings" are getting you is communication problems, misunderstandings, rework and expensive "change orders" when your requirements weren't understood the first time around. Don't make your decision on per hour cost alone.

    — *That Software Guy*

  12. Legacy User January 7, 2008 Reply

    I completely agree with That Software Guy. You really do get what you pay for. I have been a designer for over a decade and constantly have to (delicately) remind prospective clients about this. Additionally, I think it is a shame that everyone seems to feel the need to go overseas just to save a few dollars. We should be building our own economy by working with people in the U.S. There's a large pool of fantastic designers who are affordable, professional, and extremely talented… why not just spend the extra bit of time finding the right one, and being clear about contracts, timeline, etc.? It's much more worth it in the end.

    — *Jill*

  13. Legacy User January 8, 2008 Reply

    Yes- I am currently being burned and wish I had read this earlier!!
    Anyway, does anyone have any recommendations for good web designers? My current designers have been dragging their feet and although have done about 80% of the design already, they are just not consistent and the site lacks the touch of professionalism I desire. If you know anyone who can deliver quickly and reliably, familiar with PHP and XHTML, please email supersizedlife@gmail.com!
    Thanks for your help

    — *jia en teo*

  14. Legacy User February 14, 2008 Reply

    Indeed a good article. If want to hire a personal web designer so you could save time for promotion of your site. There are web designers who are affordable, professional and extremely talented. Interested? please visit http://www.vk-systems.com/hire-a-web-developer.html

    — *Kaps*

  15. Legacy User April 30, 2008 Reply

    I am a freelance web developer from India, here i am glad to say you have show down Great tips, love it very useful information & have scrutinize whole above deployed comments all their are very specific, i am glad & these sort of sounded good to me, to make web sites as user & search engine friendly.

    — *Web Developer India*

  16. Legacy User May 30, 2008 Reply

    Great article! Smooth and clear communication is the most important but often overlooked factor in the hectic search of the lowest price possible. I didn't search for the lowest price for my e-commerce bi-lingual site. As the matter of fact I am paying a lot and getting truly breathtaking and jaw-dropping very high-end design, BUT this project had been dragging for nearly 6 months, communication is almost non-existent, with me begging for updated links, for my comments' implementation, for changes, for EVERYTHING! Number of nervous breakdowns and threats rendered me two blissful days of polite responses and fast-track changes but then the nerve racking process had resumed. My developers from India do have tons of positive feedbacks, years of experience and dozens of beautiful sites to showcase. I've done my research, I am paying top backs but I am very unhappy client. Moreover, I will be looking for web-designer freelancer to work with me after the project had been completed for all on-going changes, tweaks and so on. Any recommendations where I can find creative, reliable and professional person. Thank you in advance.

    — *Julia ANgel-Phillips*

  17. mondographics December 15, 2009 Reply

    Excellent article. eCommerce websites are a great way of transforming your business online. However, these websites are more complex and technically challenging than simple user or organizational home pages.

    Performance, Security and User Experience are of paramount importance for an eCommerce website and no one knows it better than professional web designers. Once you’ve started searching for talent, look at the portfolios and skill sets of prospect web designers, shortlist the ones which look suitable and contact them to get a quote based on your requirements. This not only helps you to choose the most suitable professional web designer for your requirements but also gives you a good idea of how much it would cost you.

    As a customer, you should not be afraid to ask for a proposed website plan and a quick mock-up either. Most web designers can do that pretty quickly for genuine buyers. With the advent of Web 2.0 and eCommerce, choose a professional web designer with a showcased portfolio and vast knowledge of web technologies including xHTML, PHP, Javascript, JSP amongst others.

    I hope this helps.

    Dave
    mondographics.com

  18. jandrmarketing June 17, 2012 Reply

    Great article. I feel when businesses are comparing companies for their website design they should always look at the companies website, look at the clients and listen to how the company answers questions. As a designer at http://www.jandrmarketing.com I find many businesses just don’t know the basics. I always recommend that learning the basics of website design is the best thing to do before comparing website designers. It can make a huge difference to learn the basics.

  19. Sameer July 22, 2014 Reply

    I like your information,other things to Hire PHP programmers, ensure that you go with an organization who not only offers web developers on hire, but also takes same level of interests in your development project and execute it successfully.

  20. Lana Alice October 7, 2014 Reply

    A good place to hire a web designer based in USA, Australia or UK is http://www.citilance.com.

    This platform is worth trying. It solves the pain of work quality control found on other freelance platforms.Its free to join and post projects. Employer’s interests are always protected.

  21. Sofy Johnson April 10, 2015 Reply

    Excellent post, it is necessary to know all these tips before hiring a web design company because there are many companies’ promises to fulfill your all requirement at starting, but after sometime forget all these promises.