How to commission a website designer

By: Brian Copeland

Date: 26 July 2010

The first thing a potential customer is likely to do after meeting you, or hearing about your business, is look at your website.

If it makes the right impression, hopefully, you can move onto making your first sale and build the relationship from there. If your website falls short of the mark, it’s likely to put them off and they will go elsewhere.

So where do you start? If this is the first time you’ve needed a website, it can seem overwhelming. But, if you get a good designer onboard, it shouldn’t cause you any problems. You can benefit from their knowledge and experience, providing you commission them effectively. But how?

Your website must reflect your brand. It should be a tool that enables you to achieve your marketing goals. So before you even think about commissioning a web designer, you must know what your brand stands for and how your website fits into your marketing strategy, otherwise, you’ll waste precious money.

What’s your brand?

So what’s your brand? Think of it as your business’s personality – how it speaks, looks and behaves. It’s something far greater than a logo, typeface or a few colours.

The essence of a brand is voice, look and behaviour. Often, these are defined by brand values, so take time to work out what these are. Before you ask a web designer to start work on your behalf, be clear in your mind about your brand values. Draw up a list of five or six brand values, if necessary, seek advice from those with knowledge of your professional or commercial values.

Now think about your marketing strategy – how you will sell your products or services. Your website will be part of this, even if you don’t intend to sell online. Your website must seamlessly complement your other sales efforts, whether that’s cold calling, distributing leaflets, direct mail, newspaper adverts, using online social media such as Twitter or quite possibly a mixture of these.

Be clear about the contribution your website needs to make. Do you need it to sell, generate sales leads/enquiries, capture information or simply tell people more about your business and its wares?

Choosing a web designer

Your choice of web designer will depend on several factors – and budget will be a key. Big agencies don’t work for small fees, while a self-employed web designer could create just as good a website for your business anyway.

Decide on your budget and stick to it. You could search online for web developers, but I’d recommend seeking recommendations from other businesses you trust. Give them a call and ask about how happy they are with the service and value for money they received. Ask whether they encountered any problems.

Shortlist at least three potential designers/agencies; check out their work and ask what solution they recommend for your business. One of the important questions, of course, is price. That’s not to say go with the cheapest – it’s more a question of value for money. Negotiate a set price before any work commences and get all work set out in black and white. There should be no unexpected additional charges. Most web designers often offer ready-made packages, so make sure your website will meet your individual needs.

Briefing your designer

Once you’ve decided on a supplier, you’ll need to brief them properly. A good brief is the cornerstone of any successful design project. They don’t have to be wordy, multi-page documents; aim for concise and clear guidance on the form, look and content of the site you want, totally in step with your brand and marketing strategy.

When it comes to key decisions (eg site structure, fonts, colours, images, etc), the designer should explain your options, which will enable you to make well-informed decisions. If you’ve picked the right one, you should have confidence in your designer’s ability and opinions, but that doesn’t meaning settling for something you don’t like. You should also be prepared to have your choices criticised where necessary, as long as this is accompanied by suggestions for better alternatives.

The process might involve having to make a few changes (hopefully minor) along the way, but soon enough, come launch you should end up with an important tool that enables you to start and grow your new business.

Brian Copeland, creative director of the multi award-winning agency, Graphic Clinic

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