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Finding The Right Web Designer

Whatever You Do Read This Before You Hire a Web Designer

I’m constantly reminded of the minefield that is presented when one is looking to have a website built for the public internet. Let me add at this point, though, I get most of these stories from new customers about a previous web design agency.

I might also add that I regard the term Web Designer to be a little inaccurate as it is only part of the process of producing a website. Web Developer is a more accurate term for this profession but Web Designer has fallen into common parlance with the general public at large.

I have over twenty-five years of web development experience as a contractor and have developed systems for large corporate customers, ranging from Engineering Companies to Merchant Banks. So why is it then that I find myself in competition with people who very often have absolutely no experience in the IT Industry and, in truth, are little more than hobbyists.

A Web Designer Round Every Corner

It always amazes me how, soon as anybody needs a website, people appear randomly out of the woodwork offering to build the most amazing website on the planet. Yet when you check out their own websites, if they even have their own website, they consist of a bland HTML page with a solitary but overpowering logo style image, often in colours that would be better suited to a computer game from the 1980s. Don’t even get me started on their portfolios of previous work.

Now don’t get me wrong, if a prospective website customer is happy for his mate’s nephew Johnny to knock up a few pages of HTML and host them with a mass market ISP, then that is his or her business. But the truth is, they should probably not expect too much in the way of business from a website that is built by an amateur.

I have been frankly shocked to have found just how bad a reputation Web Designers have in general at a local level. Indeed most of my clients lately have come to me with a tale of woe, having been provided with a completely inadequate website by an amateur web designer who has managed to burn off all or most of their budget.

When The Rains Come, So Emerge The Frogs

So it seems, when some website business comes wandering by, the amateur web designers appear, like frogs emerging from their mud burrows after a protracted drought.

So just who are these amateur, or hobbyist, web designers? I have built up three core profiles of these individuals from my dealings with unhappy customers. They are usually one of the following:-

  • College kids taking their first faltering steps in web development but claiming to be experienced professionals.
  • Adult computer hobbyists attempting to earn extra money outside of their day jobs but claiming to be, you guessed it, experienced professionals.
  • Local computer spares and repair businesses offering a web design service in amongst a plethora of general PC related services on their own, often inferior, websites.

And let’s not forget those mass market ISPs advertising on TV, who offer a DIY website solution, but that little can of worms is for another time and another blog post.

And so it transpires, in the above scenarios, that the trouble starts when there is a problem with the website. Johnny the student hides behind the father or uncle who recommended him in the first place. Frank the IT support worker is busy at work in his real job and he doesn’t really know how to fix the problem anyway. Blue Sky Systems, the local PC Repair Shop are too busy selling PC accessories and curing viruses to even attempt to recollect exactly how they built a website the last time around. Lastly, just try getting coherent telephone support from the mass market ISP who sold you that DIY website solution.

The truth is, none of the above types has an interest in growing a professional web design business with a good reputation. They are ‘one hit wonders’ and once they have your money, you are almost always on your own.

Giving The Industry A Bad Name

Are these amateurs a major problem to me? Well, not really as I generally have more work than I can easily handle, which is great for me. It’s just that I get to feeling a bit sorry for the people who use them first time round because they know no better and are vulnerable to individuals who claim to know more than they really do about website building. I am hoping that this article may save some of you who read it from a similar fate.

What really irks me about amateur/hobbyist web designers is that they have given the industry a really bad name. This has been contributed to by another problem type and that is the small Web Design agencies who promise the Earth, charge a fortune, supply a substandard website then run for the hills with the money when something goes wrong. Worse still I have come across examples of agencies refusing to hand over domain names and website source code when the customer becomes fed up with a bad service and wants to take their business elsewhere.

I am managing perfectly well to make a living out of professional web development. To be honest, though, not without some degree of self-sacrifice here and there and some gold old fashioned respect and care for my customers. Freelance Web Development can be demanding at the best of times. I am also to be found when things go wrong, ready to resolve any issues, often requiring that I work very long hours.

Professional vs. Amateur, What Is The Difference?

To many, it may appear that there is almost no truly professional marketplace for the small to medium sized business to go to get a website built. A website that will fully represent and service their business online. That, however, is not true at all. There are many small web design agencies offering a great service. It’s just that their marketing capability is sometimes not potent enough to get noticed over the numerous amateurs casually taking on business that seemingly falls into their laps on rare occasions through recommendation.

So, come the time to get your business online, remember that the first web developer you are recommended to by a friend is, by the laws of probability, highly unlikely to be the best you are able to find. As a professional with a track record, I am going to contrast what I offer with some of the customer experiences I have been made aware of in the daily course of my business. Don’t be fooled by a few bright graphics that conceal what lies beneath. This should enable you to tell the difference:-

Seaford Web Design Ltd

  • Professional Experience: 25 years in the IT Industry serving corporate clients.
  • Business Premises: Dedicated Studio.
  • Company Website: Mobile Responsive Website featuring best practice techniques.
  • Development Platform: Latest web development platform and software tools.
  • Portfolio: Diverse websites featuring what is on offer now for new customers.
  • Hosting Platform: Professional ISP in Docklands with high-performance network.
  • Problem Management: Highly experienced problem solver with hardware and software.
  • Search Engines: Offer Web Marketing at different levels to suit the budget.
  • Website Images: Royalty Free Images or Stock Images at Best Prices.

Amateur Web Developer

  • Professional Experience: None or limited, gathered from writing a few poor websites.
  • Business Premises: Bedroom or Storeroom of Computer Repair Shop.
  • Company Website: Often none or bland, amateur and uninspiring style of website.
  • Development Platform: Plain HTML Editor or old/pirated development tools.
  • Portfolio: None or possibly a clutch of similarly simplistic sites with a poor graphical layout.
  • Hosting Platform: Mass market ISP with no guarantees on bandwidth at peak times.
  • Problem Management: No problem-solving experience when tech problems arise.
  • Search Engines: No knowledge of, or rudimentary idea, of Search Engine Marketing.
  • Website Images: Often images taken straight from the web which infringe copyright law.

Here are some important questions to ask when employing the services of a web design agency:

  • Who will own and control the domain names? It should be you, the customer!
  • Where will your website be hosted and how fast and reliable is the parent hosting company?
  • What formal, IT Industry experience have the designers who are actually building the website?
  • How much time has been spent discussing your individual business needs?
  • How much attention has been paid to the business impression that you want to present online?
  • Are you happy that you have been consulted fully as to the eventual design of the website?
  • Have you been made aware of the costs involved according to the website package or deal selected?
  • How and when will the cost of design and development be paid?
  • How much will be charged per annum for website hosting?
  • What extra charges might be made according to website images that will be used?
  • Who will be producing the written web page content to be published?
  • Does the website include content management capability that enables you to update it yourself?
  • Will training be given in how to use the content management facilities of the website?
  • What is the hourly rate for changes to the website after it has been completed and published?
  • Is the website of a responsive design that will translate smoothly on mobile devices?
  • Will the website allow integration with Social Media such as Facebook and Twitter?
  • How much Search Engine Optimisation is included with the proposed website package?
  • If an E-Commerce site, what is the product capacity and range of payment gateway options?
  • What consideration has been given to cookie and disability legislation and content copyright issues?
  • Does the web agency have an offline development environment to avoid downtime during post-commissioning development phases?
  • What measures are in place to prevent loss of website content and product data?
  • Does the web agency have a contingency plan for a wholesale service failure of the parent hosting company?

These are just some of the important questions you should be asking of your website designer. There are of course many more but too many to list here. Above all, just as you would be as careful as possible before handing over your vehicle to a mechanic, be sure that you use a proven and communicative, industry experienced web designer to build your website.

When internet users visit your website, they will decide in seconds whether to stay or leave so ensure that they can find it in the first place and, of equal importance, that they want to remain on the website and engage with your business.

With the wrong web designer, you could be simply throwing away your money or, worse still, damaging the reputation of your business online.

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Neil Smith
I am Head of Technical Services at Seaford Web Design and spent many years in the IT Industry working as a consultant web developer for many large banks and other financial organisations in the City of London. I personally have over 25 years of experience in website development and can help you find the right website solution for your business.