If I were the type of person who named my weeks, this past one would have been declared "Web Designer Week." I've been juggling the redesign of my own website, working with a web designer on the creation of a client's new small business website, and engaging in an ongoing debate with another client about the effectiveness (or lack thereof, in my humble opinion) of their web developer's abilities. In short, I've been up to my neck considering the importance of how small businesses use web workers.
For most small businesses, outsourcing web design work is a necessity. The bottom line is that unless you are that rare creature who possesses an extremely good sense of design combined with a highly evolved programming prowess - you should not be creating your own website.
Which leaves you having to locate, hire and manage an independent web designer. The questions that race through the small-business-frenzied brain can include: Where do I find a website developer? How much will it cost to develop my site? How can I make sure they'll do a good job? And so on.
This is where things can get sticky. I can't count the number of clients who have come to me crying (occasionally with real tears), claiming they spent X amount of time and dollars on a website and still don't have what they want and need. Given the tight budgets most small businesses operate on, getting it right the first time is critical. To save you some pain, here are just a few things to consider:
Base your decision on budget alone
It's a classic mistake I've seen over and over again. The small business decides how much they want to pay, then finds the web designer who fits the finances. While you can get value for money, in many cases, web work falls into the category of "you get what you pay for." Consider the fact that if it's not done right the first time, you will be spending more in the long run to fix it.
Try managing the web development process without the time or desire to do so
In order to save money, I've seen far too many CEOs of small businesses take on the management of the web designer themselves. This almost never works since the small business owner is usually so busy with the day-to-day running of the business that they can't really commit the time or attention necessary to make getting the website built a priority. Alternatively, assign someone in the company to head the project or hire an outside marketing consultant to oversee it.
Short the marketing aspects for design
Way too many small businesses fall head over heels in love with a design, but don't stop to consider its overall marketing implications. There are literally dozens of considerations that go into making a website a functioning lead-generation, lead-nurturing and conversion machine. Design is critical, but so is marketing competence, so make sure someone in your company incorporates Internet marketing best practices in the design process.
Check out technical competence
In today's continually changing online environment, technical competence requires constant updating. Inquire as to how the web developer stays on top of the latest technological bells and whistles in website development. Some common technological issues to look for on websites include:
Study their creative style
Do you find the websites that this developer has created to be visually appealing in terms of overall look and feel? Does something about their style resonate with your personal taste or desired brand? If not, chances are they won't be able to magically create a look that works and you will have incompatible design ideas. No matter how highly recommended they are, or how desperate you are to get the project moving, pick another developer.
Consider their communication skills and ongoing capabilities
One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients about working with web developers is that, after the website is up and running, getting the developer to respond promptly to changes that need to be made is difficult. Many developers spend the majority of their time honing their technical expertise, so in some cases, interpersonal communication skills may have gotten short shift. Always call references and ask:
Lastly, for the protection of all parties, always get a contract in writing prior to the beginning of the web work. A clear contract that defines the scope of the project, estimated timelines and delineated deliverables goes a long way to prevent weeping over web work down the road.
We'd love to hear what you've done to make working with a web developer more effective. Or if you're a web developer what can the small business owner do to make the process a smooth one?
Karen Leland is a freelance journalist, best-selling author and president of Sterling Marketing Group where she helps businesses create killer content and negotiate the wired world of today's media landscape -- through modern marketing practices, business development, PR and social media. She writes a weekly small business feature column for Xero.com, online accounting software for small business. For questions or comments, please contact her at email@example.com.