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Engaging a web designer to create website and a provider in an area where you might not have deep experience is always challenging. It can be very hard to know what to ask for and even harder to know if a proposed solution or price is fair or appropriate. For many small business operators, web design and development is one of these areas that is difficult to navigate. Here’s a few basic things you can do to give yourself a fighting chance.

Referral

Working with a provider who has been recommended by a colleague you trust is a very strong start – but is no guarantee of trouble free engagement. Ask referrers more specifically about the project type and size, strengths and weaknesses and anything they’d do differently next time with a specific provider. What works for them may not necessarily work for you (and vice versa).

‘Giving birth to the baby’

Creating a website is only part of the journey, however its often the sole focus of conversation when small businesses are engaging a web designer. Equally important as the initial creation activity is what happens once your site is live. How do you update it, track it, fix it if it something breaks? Some web designers will only want to assist with the creation phase, whereas others can put a plan together to help you with looking after your new baby. When evaluating web designers think about both the ‘creation’ and the ‘maintenance’ phases. Having this conversation late in the piece can be expensive and painful.

What’s in, what’s out?

Invest time in scoping your project in detail. If you’re working to a fixed price quote for a website the ‘scope’ – what’s included, is absolutely essential. Work with a web designer/developer to detail your expectations as deeply as you’re practically able. Some elements you may want to specify in a scoping document for a website project include:

  • Visual identity  creation and updates to your overall branding
  • Imagery / video   will you buy stock images, commission a photographer or videographer, or do you already have the content you need
  • Number of templates and number of pages required
  • Is the design responsive? (a single design that ‘breaks’ elegantly on different screen sizes   like mobile phone, iPad, desktop, to ensure it can be displayed appropriately on a range of different common devices.
  • Copy   who will write copy? This effort is often underestimated
  • User testing   have you allowed some time and budget to recruit test users to ensure your design works?
  • Measurement and tracking   How is your new site performing? Which tool will you use to measure it? Defining what you want to measure
  • Hosting   Who will host the site, what support does this offer you if the site goes down?
  • Content management System (CMS)   will you be able to edit the site content via a CMS or does every change require you to update the code?

A good web designer/developer may be able to provide you with example scoping documents from similar projects or seek one out from colleagues to use as a pro forma.

Insist on a warranty

Typically a web designer/developer will provide a warranty on their work. This covers a period of time after an event (such as going live) where any bugs or errors that were part of the original code base identified within 2-3 weeks are to be fixed by the creator in a timely fashion at now extra cost. Be careful, the warranty does not cover new features or functions that were not in the original scope and only applies to code that is ‘exactly’ as it was provided. If you or another vendor has edited code it will no longer be covered under warranty. Ensure you have a clearly defined warranty that commences at go live and is valid for at least 2 weeks.

Trust & intuition

The bottom line on engaging any provider is the quality of your working relationship, trust and rapport. All the scoping documents, warranties and maintenance planning in the world won’t help you if the trust isn’t there. Take the time to meet a potential provider   either in person if that’s possible or at least virtually (eg. Skype). Make a judgment on how well you connect and communicate. Get a feel for how responsive they are and how they are able to adapt to your specific needs and challenges. While this can be the most ‘intangible’ part of engaging a web designer/developer it arguable them most important. Good luck out there.

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