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In this post, I’ll try to get you prepared for your initial meeting with your potential web designer. I see a lot of clients getting duped by people calling themselves web designers, but also a lot of un-informed clients.

Preliminary work

In this case, I assume you found a web designer (or agency) through Google or any other search engine.
First things first: Check out their website, browse the portfolio and check for clients you may know. It never hurts to call or email a designer’s client, and ask about the experience they’ve had with them.
Do they have upfront pricing? This is considered a bad thing. Having an upfront price (usually an incredibly low price too) means the designer will give you a cookie cutter website with no options. Be wary.
Do they have a (local) phone number?

Initial contact

Whether this is through email, phone or face to face, here are a few things you should ask the designer to get confident you’re in good hands.

  • How long have you been designing?
    Fresh out of college doesn’t mean someone is a bad designer, but it can impact the way he or she deals with difficult situations, such as miscommunication.
  • Is there a contract?
    Not having a contract is a recipe for trouble. It’s essential to the clarity of the project, what you can expect from your designer and the designer from you. “I never said that” should NOT be acceptable.
  • Where are you located?
    If this is not clear on the website, it could raise a red flag. Countries like India or Vietnam are notorious for building cheap, bad websites. Be careful, and try to get a designer at least on the same continent, even if just to minimize the time difference.
  • Is this your full time job?
    If someone is working as a part time designer, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do business with them. It just means that part time could mean the designer is only available during the evening and weekend; are you?
  • Small talk. Get to know the designer. Make sure you’re comfortable with the person you’ll be paying.

Next: Talk about the project

A good designer listens more than he says. The more information about the project you can give the designer, the more likely he/she will do a good job at designing a website that fits your needs. If the designer goes on and on about his/her skills and going into complicated techie jibber jabber that you don’t understand, it may not be a good idea to go with this person. What if you have a simple question? Will you get a simple answer, or will you just be left with more questions? However, you should give him/her a chance. If you don’t let them know you have no idea what they’re saying, they’ll just keep talking gibberish.

Be prepared for the following questions

I can’t count how many times people were not prepared for some of the questions I had for them, so please, for any designer’s sake, make sure you can answer these questions:

  • How many pages of content?
    This can have an effect on the global design of the website. A 3 page website will be easier to design than a site with 75 pages.
    Do the designer a favor and have this content ready as soon as you agree to an estimate. There’s nothing more frustrating to a designer than having the website finished but having to wait for content to go on the site.
  • Do you have a logo?
    This should be part of your branding. No matter why you’re getting a website, people will need something to recognize the site and your products. If you don’t have a logo, consider having one professionally made (do NOT use some clipart if you take your business seriously).
  • Who will update the site?
    If you update the website yourself, the initial cost of the website will likely be a little higher, because the designer will have to build on a CMS (Content Management System, which lets you update your website like you were writing an email or update a Facebook status), which usually involves a little more work than a basic site.
    If you want to send updates to the designer to have them update for an hourly fee, the initial cost is usually lower, but if you have lots of updates over the course of the year, it might be cheaper to invest your time in learning to update your site and doing it yourself.
  • How often will the site be updated?
    This goes hand in hand with the above. If you’re updating your website a lot, it might be beneficial to you to update your own site.
  • Who is your target audience?
    If you don’t know who your customers are, the designer will not know who to design for. A website for heavy duty mechanics will be designed different than a website who’s target audience is race horse breeders.
  • Are there any special design considerations?
    Continuing the target audience question: Will the designer need to design a high-contrast website with a bigger font for a visually challenged audience? Again, a website for opticians will be designed different than one for musicians.
  • What is your budget?
    This is not a “how much money can we take from this client” question, unless you mis-judged your designer in earlier stages.
    This question is used to see if your wishes and your budget line up. If you have a budget of $500, you can not expect the designer to build an Amazon.com-like website. An honest web designer will tell you if your budget exceeds the work needed.

Conclusion

During the process of the build, the designer should be in touch with you, a lot. Whether it’s requesting input, more information or just an update on what stage the project is in. Haven’t heard from him/her in a while? Don’t hesitate to pick up the phone. Perhaps there was a miscommunication along the way.

If you do your homework, come prepared and select the right designer for your project, it should be the start of a great relationship, and good things will happen.