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Home | Buyers Guide to Hiring a Web Site Designer
Buyers Guide to Hiring a Web Site Designer
Author: Mollie Henry, Manager of Communications Technology
Katcher, Vaughn & Bailey Communications, Nashville, TN
Date of publication: August 2003

Considering creating a new Web site or renovating your old one? In the process of hiring a designer, there is a fair amount of work that you must perform for yourself or on behalf of your client, before you ever contact a designer. Assuming you already have a message platform and graphic standards in place, the following series of questions will help get you started on developing a concept for your site and hiring the appropriate designer to execute your ideas.

What Are Your Goals? Do you want to increase sales? Change a perception? Reinforce an image? Communicate with employees? The very first decision you must make is what you intend the Web site to do for your business. The answer to this question will make later decisions easier.

What Abilities Do You Need The Web Site To Have? Do you need to be able to update the site quickly and by someone with no Web skills? Do you need to capture information from the visitor? Are you planning to conduct e-commerce through the site? Determining the functionality is key to getting a useful bid from a designer. Designers often have specific skills, and if you need your site to work from a back-end database, for example, you want to be sure the designer you hire has the skills to accomplish this.

What Is Your Budget? It will relieve you of enormous hassle if you determine your budget before talking to an outside vendor. The cost of a Web site can range from a few hundred dollars to many thousands, and the quality offered by designers fills the spectrum as well.

Budget includes design and programming plus content development and project management. Rule of thumb formula = design and programming, content development, project management. If you can determine how much it will cost to develop content for the site, which includes site organization (navigation) as well as copy development for each page, then multiply that figure by four to get your budget.

If you are at a complete loss as to how to fix a budget for the project, start with a detailed site map showing every page and sub-page, and determine what kinds of functions you want the site to accomplish. The following are some additional elements that you should consider, as they will impact the cost:

  • Flash animation (either as an intro screen or used selectively in the site)
  • E-commerce
  • Streaming audio or video
  • Searchable databases or directories
  • Interactive forms that capture information and e-mail it, store it in a database, result in an action taking place, or a combination of all three
  • Administrative access to the site (ability to update the site through web forms without the need for technical skills)
Providing a vendor with a detailed site map and all desired functionality will speed up the bidding process. Otherwise it's like going to a used car dealership and saying to the dealer, "I would like to buy a car. How much does one cost?"

You must simultaneously consider your Web hosting company. If you have a current one, do they offer servers that can handle the functionality of the new site? If you don't have a hosting company, you will need to select one; however, some larger Web designers offer this service as well. If the designer doesn't host sites, he or she can indicate to you what type of server is required by the new site, which will allow you to select an appropriate hosting company.

Who Do You Choose? With a budget and/or detailed project description in hand, you are now ready to approach a set of designers/programmers for bids. You will first want to peruse a vendor's Web portfolio to determine if his or her style is in line with what you have in mind for yourself or your client. You will notice that some designers lean toward more formal, linear and buttoned up designs, while others tend toward more whimsical and lighthearted concepts. Pick three vendors that appear to be able to emulate your established style and show an obvious mastery of Web design.

If you have a budget, list your vendors in order of most preferred and check with each to see if the vendor can accomplish your goals within budget. If all you have is a detailed site map and description, request bids for the project based on those.

Keep in mind the following: Content development and project management are often the areas where you as the client or PR firm must be intimately involved. Designers typically prefer to have content delivered at the beginning of the project, and usually content development is not among their skill set. Additionally, your Web site content must be reflective of your overall marketing strategy, so it doesn't make sense to allow someone to develop content of your site outside of the context of your established message platform. Project management involves coordinating the client's goals with the actions of your chosen designer and possibly a separate Web hosting company, moving the project according to schedule and expressed goals. Without vigilant project management, a Web design project can easily derail, resulting in a site that is over budget, does not accomplish stated goals or fails to launch on time.

Expect the Web site designer to ask for a portion of the fee up front, typically half, with remainder due before launching.

Mollie Henry has directed web site development since 1995 and has produced multiple award-winning sites for clients. Katcher Vaughn & Bailey Communications is a full-service public relations firm specializing in media relations, corporate communications, public affairs and issues management.

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