Leaving your website to a web designer is a GOOD idea.

Are you a web designer? If you’re not, that is the NUMBER ONE reason why leaving your website to a designer is a GOOD idea.

In this era of exponential online growth, your website may be your MOST important promotional tool –put some time and money into it.

But who knows your business like you do? How can you possibly trust anyone else to present YOU the way you think YOU can? This is the next GOOD REASON to hire a designer.

“Designer” can be a bit of a misnomer. With the prevalence of free tools for creating websites these days, what you really need is a whole team. Designer, Artist, Manager, Writer, Coder, Social Media Strategist, Search Engine Optimizer… in a perfect world, these will all be one person.

On a small business budget, you want to find someone with some marketing background who can work with you to create visuals and copy to represent and sell YOU. Before anything happens, a designer should ask you questions (some that you may never have considered) about your business, your market, your current activities… so they can get a feel for what you’re about. They may play devil’s advocate too, and challenge your thinking on things, so be prepared. Two heads are almost ALWAYS better than one.

Now… are you seeing the wisdom in hiring a professional. After all… do you tell your potential clients that you are the professional they need? Of course you do. Why would a conference planner do all the speaking himself? Why would a CEO think she could train her entire staff in the latest computer software? Why would a lawyer type his own transcripts? They simply wouldn’t.

So why would you build your own website? You have better things to do…

Is your business important to you?

Do you want it to expand? You started it because you were good at something… or you had knowledge or a product that people wanted you to share. If it wasn’t web design, that’s ANOTHER reason to leave your website to a designer.

You need to focus on your business… on attracting clients, delivering products and services, expanding your reputation. Can you do that while you’re struggling with xhtml, php & css codes that just don’t make sense? NO. (And, um, if you don’t know what those are, that’s one more reason on the list!)

A designer won’t tell you how to run your business, they won’t give you a topic for a new workshop (well, unless you ask them <grin>)… they’ll build your website (and if you’re lucky, your other promotional materials) so that it complements the work you’re doing and INCREASES the results of your efforts.

But… I can’t afford it.

I think, more precisely, you can’t NOT afford it.

A good designer doesn’t necessarily have to cost you an arm and a leg, but you generally get what you pay for. Expect to pay somewhere between $40-75/hr for quality work. And the more aspects of the work they can do for you, the more you should pay them. A good website doesn’t have to cost multiple thousands of dollars, but it can if you don’t plan before you start.

Find a designer who works on a project fee basis – and usually you’ll get more than you pay for. If they work hourly, ask for an estimate with a CEILING price, and create an agreement with specific “deliverables” so you’ve got some way of knowing what you’re paying for, and what you get.

These days, it’s almost IMPERATIVE to have a blog, too. Discuss platforms with your designer. WordPress is probably the most popular, but there are others. You may need a more robust Content Management System, like Joomla or Drupal, or Expression Engine, depending on just what your website will do.

Having a clear idea of what you want you can cut down design time significantly. BUT, it can also hamper creativity and block you from getting the best design for your needs. It’s important to find a balance. Nothing drives a designer MORE crazy than “I know what I DON’T want”… Spend your own time preparing. It will save you money in the long run.

Know what’s free and learn to recognize it. Trust me. There are lots of folks out there ready to take your money for things that don’t cost a penny. Don’t let a designer charge you for your blogging platform (charging to set it up and customize it is another story). WordPress, Joomla & Drupal are all open source and free to use (there are 100’s of others, but these are the most popular and best supported).

You can save a ton of money, in the long run, using one of these systems, because you’ll be able to do updates yourself, and utilize excellent tools for streamlining your marketing & business building. This can free you from the strings of a designer, allow you a large extent of control with little technical knowledge, AND give you a great looking website.

Expect to spend at least $500, and upwards of $3000+ if you have extensive content, lots of products, or are extraordinarily micro-managing the project. Get out of the way, supply information when asked, and let your designer do their job. You will pay more if you try to do it for them.

But I’ve tried, and I’m always disappointed with the results.

This is not uncommon. “Web designers” are a dime a dozen. You want one who’s got staying power, and happy clients. Start by getting referrals from colleagues. Ask a friend whose got a great website for the name of their designer. Ask that same friend how they find working with their designer. Ask what that designer does for them – did they use different people to create the overall design and then implement it, and then do they have someone else manage it?? or is it all the same person/firm? These are important details.

Experience in your industry can be a big bonus when it comes to a designer. If they have inside knowledge, and a wealth of resources that can help your business outside your website, you’ll get much more than a website out of them. I almost guarantee it.

Whatever why you go, a solid designer will work with you to clarify the purpose and function of your site, and bring you ideas for look and feel that will already have your preferences AND your market taken into account. And will stay on budget.

Some things to consider when thinking about your website:

  • It’s not going to happen overnight. And if it does… don’t say we didn’t warn you.<G>
  • Good design – like fine wine – takes time.
  • Make sure you’re looking at design from your CUSTOMER’s point of view… if you are not your customer, don’t design it for you.
  • Good design is evolutionary too… find a designer you like, because you should be together for a while. You MUST keep your site up to date and fresh.
  • Make your plan and stick to it… if you want to keep on your budget. Be prepared to pay more if you change your mind endless times, or decide on a whim that you want to go in a different direction.
  • Get a clear list of what you and your designer expect from each other (this can be as simple as an email-trail). Know how many design choices you’re paying for, how quickly they expect materials from you, when you can expect a working draft, how much you’ll have to pay for stock photos… etc etc. PAY ATTENTION, and don’t nickel & dime each other to death.
  • Provide your designer with your materials (content, photos, product lists, etc etc) in a timely fashion. You can’t expect them to deliver on time for you if you don’t give them what they need from you.
  • Don’t strive for perfection. That will just make everyone crazy, and put your costs up. If you and your designer are “connecting” near perfection will likely happen on its own. If you get bogged down in tiny details you’ll never launch and your time & money will be wasted.

Does that get the point across??

Then, once you get a website you’re proud to share… it’s no good if people don’t know about it…and we’ll get to that NEXT TIME.

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Things to look for when hiring a designer:

  • project fee flexibility
  • marketing & social media experience
  • good writing skills
  • versatility in their portfolio
  • a portfolio, period… it doesn’t have to be big, or even paid/published work, it just has to be THEIR work.
  • referrals
  • questions (if they ask good questions, you’re on the right track)
  • network – if they have others they collaborate with, you’ll probably get better results…
  • blog/ecommerce/social community familiarity