Hiring a Web Designer | What to Know

December 23, 2015
Scott Van Zandt

When it comes to finding and hiring a trustworthy designer, developer, marketing consultant or team the task alone can feel... overwhelming. Let's break it down and take a strategic look at hiring a web designer or agency.

When it comes to finding and hiring a trustworthy designer, developer, or marketing consultant the task alone can feel... overwhelming.

Too many of them are horrible at communicating, or simply get so caught up in the process of designing they forget about what their clients actually care about, a data-driven return on investment.

So after being asked “why isn’t your website responsive” or “do you sell products online” a million times, you finally decided to pull the trigger. You’re investing in a redesign of your current website or a entirely new website. You are even looking into forms of digital marketing, SEO, content marketing, and perhaps PPC.

So… What’s the first step? How do you face the somewhat daunting task of overhauling your website and/or marketing strategy?

You’ve already quickly discovered that you don’t want to take this on yourself, you’re no web designer or SEO expert, and you definitely don’t want to go the wysiwyg web builder route. “Most people feel the same... 54% of small businesses outsource website and graphic design, according to the WASP Barcode 2016 State of Small Business Report.”

Now you’re probably thinking through some obvious questions and concerns, such as: What should my budget be? How do I know which consultant or agency to trust? How long is it suppose to take?

First and foremost let’s start with your Project Scope, the #1 thing you should figure out. (In other words, what are your objectives and goals? If your project is complex, do you have a technical spec? What do you need?)

  • When it comes to Digital Marketing and SEO part of figuring out your Project Scope may involve consulting a freelancer to help you perform a SEO &  website audit in order to reveal opportunities and set realistic goals to obtain a certain result.
  • When it comes to app development, PHP bespoke websites (what Facebook is built with) , or any large undertaking you may need to hire a freelancer to help you organize and write a technical spec in order to properly estimate the time that will go into creating your platform, app, or product.
  • For your typical 5-6 page website your project scope can be fairly simple and with the right strategy you can communicate your ideas easily to your consultant.

In either case the more defined your Project Scope is, the easier it’ll be to define a budget.  It’s also critical for choosing which person or team to hire. For instance, if you’re an online Shopify store and you want to go about raising your conversion rate, you wouldn’t want to hire someone who is advertising themselves as just a web designer. You would want someone who understands marketing and data as well as web design, perhaps even a Shopify ecommerce specialist.  

As part of your project scope for building your new website you’re going to want to build out a rough site map and organize your content. You’ll also need to decide if you’d want to write your own website copy or if you’d like to have your consultant help you.

Next focus on what types of pages you will want your website to include:  blog, forum, a savings Calculator, a plane old contact page, etc…)  this will help your web designer or consultant identify all of the moving pieces within your scope and more accurately quote your project.

Let’s say you are a small Ecommerce website selling bracelets. Your online store might only be 5 pages. Which may work great for you!

  • Homepage
  • About Us
  • Contact Us
  • Bracelets (20 product Shop)
  • Blog
  • Content Management System Integration
  • (Add / Edit Content & Products)

It’s definitely on the lighter side of most ecommerce sites, but as a start-up with a limited budget, it’s a great first step.

Or perhaps you’ve already gone and built a basic site like that, but it’s simply not converting or driving any traffic. Maybe it’s even outdated or not responsive on mobile devices. So, you think it’s time to redesign it, add some pages, work on the SEO and come up with a plan to make it successful.

Whatever your situation is, take a step back and jot down all of your ideas. Define what you want your site to be and where you need your marketing efforts to improve. Write it all down.

Sleep on it. Tweak it. Repeat.

Share your thoughts with as many of your employees as you can and get feedback.

Perhaps get some feedback from customers by using a tool like HotJar.com and figure out what they think of your website.

Take all of your combined ideas and organize your thoughts. I would recommend using a tool similar to Wunderlist.com (A List Building/Task Organizing Tool) but a simple Google Doc will do.

Build out a detail oriented list of to do’s and ideas you need to include in your project. Be as specific as possible.

Do some competitor research.

Use some of your time to research competitor websites in your industry and build a list. What do your competitor websites look like? Do you see something that stands out to you? What element(s) of their site makes it effective? If you keep track of all this information in an organized manner, you’ll be able to jump start the design process when you begin working with a web designer or digital marketing consultant and even save some money on your project.

How much should this all cost?

The hourly rate for a web designer can vary by a lot  - from as little as $15 per hour to over $125 per hour for a la cart services. Somewhere between $50 and $85 per hour is about average depending on what you’re doing (software development and programming is on the high end). Most web designers & consultants also do flat rate pricing for complete projects or retainer pricing for ongoing marketing services.

This should help give you an idea of what to expect but it doesn’t tell you exactly how much you’re going to spend. So, how do know if your project is going take just a few hours or a few hundred?

Just to give you the roughest of rough estimates… having someone design and build that custom simple six-page website ecommerce shop would probably cost a minimum of $2250. Why that number? It’s $75 per hour, times three hours per page, times six pages. Except the ecommerce page and development / integration takes 4 extra hours. The Blog takes 2 extra hours. The CMS (Content Management System) development takes another 6 hours. That’s a super super rough estimate of 30 Hours total of work.

Remember, that’s pretty much as rough of an estimate as you can get.

A designer could also legitimately add another $500 to $600 to that, just for developing the CMS and integrating it with the ecommerce platform plus time spent coordinating with you.

It’s obvious to some small business owners that this simply isn’t in their budget. They want to build something for next to nothing at $500 or less, and it is easy to do. So why not? The problem is the quality of what you get matches the price you paid, and usually you end up with something you can’t really monetize or control, leaving you at the same place you left off.

Another con of going the cheap route is, most of the time those designers will nickle and dime for every change or additional feature you will soon find you need for your website.

An alternative to hiring a designer is to do your website yourself,  perhaps with one of the many website builder tools like Squarespace, Wix, Cloudpress.

Or even learning a professional tool such as Webflow.com.

However for most business owners reading this I would not recommend taking this path even if you have a significant amount of free time. Which I assume if you are an entrepreneur reading this, you probably are a very busy individual. Even if you just have a small or medium sized business the opportunity cost of having an industry leading website vs. a just good enough website could be a difference that amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. Hire an expert, and if you're dead set on building your own website/strategy make sure you become an expert.

So how do you go about reaching out to the “right” web designer?

Pull out that list of your favorite websites and get ready to build a new list of potential consultants and web designers.

Reach out to the owner or direct contact of those websites. Find out who designed their website & who does their marketing, ask them if they would refer this person to you. Reach out to as many contacts as you can build a list. Ask each vendor or self-employed consultant  for their portfolio and possibly a few references.

I would also recommend doing some research online through design communities such as https://forum.webflow.com/ , the people over at Webflow have some serious design chops. Reddit also has some great web design/freelance communities.

By learning who the main figures in these online communities are and viewing their portfolio you should be able to find a very trustworthy and talented individual with great communication skills. Look for a name that stands out and seems to have worked with a continuous stream of happy clients.

Perhaps ask around in some business groups you are associated with for contacts as well.

Once you have your list of designers & consultants narrow it down to your top three to five. Contact them with your organized ideas and objectives that you organized on Wunderlist or simplify them in a bullet list via email.

Ask them if:

  1. They’re available to do the work.
  2. They’re price is in line with your budget (or if they suggest a budget)
  3. They can provide 1-2  recent work references.
  4. They can set your site up so you can easily make minor edits after they’re done.
  5. If they focus on SEO/Digital Marketing or just Web design?
  6. They have a payment structure and deadlines / milestones for the project.

I recommend a payment structure of 50/50 or 30/30/30. This is typical in the Web Design world. Expect to pay a certain amount upfront and the rest when the project is completely done or at certain milestones throughout the project.

Once you get some responses and you see the emails roll in it’s just a matter of finding your match.  Ideally you’ve also gained a business partner who can assess your business goals and help you define a direction to take when it comes to digital marketing and SEO.

What do you think?

What problems have you had with hiring a website designer in the past? What advice could you share with a fellow entrepreneur or small business owner looking to hire a consultant? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Thanks for reading everyone!


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