As a freelance web designer with 12 years in the business, 8 of them being full-time freelancing at my own design firm, I feel it is my duty to share as much as I can, with potential website owners.
Here are rants on a few things I think anyone shopping around for a web designer should know, when it comes to things you can ask for in a website.
Granted, there’re just a few, and of course there are probably more, but these are the ones that stick out to me as being the most obvious.
Enjoy! Questions? Contact me.
1) Start work without a deposit
This is a big one. Rarely if ever, will you find a web designer/developer who will start a project without some kind of retainer or down payment. In fact, it’s not just in our industry… many professional and service-oriented businesses follow this policy. It’s pretty standard, you put down a certain amount, then when the project’s done, you pay the balance then. It’s not that web designers/developers put precedence on making money over other things, we love our jobs! It’s just that we’ve been bitten.
When you are in the talking stages with a web designer/developer, both parties are testing the waters to see if the relationship and project will be mutually beneficial. From the client/customer standpoint, it’s understandable that you would want to get as much info upfront and understand as much about the process, as possible. From the web designers/developers point of view, we accept and respect this, but at the same time, have been bitten before. There are times when web designers/developers have been given the green light on a project, or even shook hands with a prospective client/customer after agreeing on a deal when meeting in person (aka “gentlemen’s agreement”, which most businesspeople understand to be a signal that we have a deal and should proceed with setting up the contract/agreement), then all that work is for naught when the client/customer calls us back or e-mails to let us know that they were “shopping” around (and didn’t tell us before), and found someone else to handle the job. This results in a pretty big disappointment, not to mention a waste of time, after we (the designer/developer) have spent a couple hours researching and developing an agreement which fits the scope of the project we plan for you to hire us to do. Not to mention the time we took to talk to you on the phone and/or meet with you, including time to get there.
Before talking to or meeting with a web designer/developer, have an idea of your budget in mind, and plan to have at least 50% of that amount ready and set aside , to pay if you are ready for him/her to start work. If you are not sure what it might cost, ask! Chances are, even if it seems out of your realm to afford what the designer/developer is asking, we can likely trim down the cost if there are elements of the project which are not necessary, or we can work something out to start out with the most required tasks/items done first just to get your site online, then down the road we can discuss doing the rest when you can afford it. Keep in mind that designers/developers have practiced their craft for years, and are usually good at what they do, so you are paying for a professional service which results in a revenue-building asset for your business.
2) Place a stats/hit counter on your site
This one’s pretty simple. It’s very 1999 to have hit counters/stats counters on websites these days. The only people who really need to see your websites’s hits/stats is you, and pretty much any website hosting company out there has this as a feature built into your hosting plan. Just ask for the info and you’ll get it. Usually it’s a private page you log into, view your visitors, unique hits, where people are viewing your site from in the world, what page they entered from and the URL, key search words/phrases they used to find you, and much more. You can also set up more finely tuned web statistics via Google Analytics, a product of Google Webmaster Tools. Google Analytics costs nothing but a few minutes of your time to set up. Your webmaster/designer should have some familiarity with this, so once you’ve gotten your analytics code, you can forward it to them to insert into your website.
3) Monkey with tables
Tables are boxes made up of cells much like a spreadsheet. They are meant to organize data, such as a list of people and their phone numbers, etc. They are still used in websites to organize lists of things, but rarely if ever, are they absolutely necessary. Now, I don’t claim to have zero-tolerance for usage of tables in a website, but with the ease of CSS (cascading style sheets), there really isn’t 100% need for them in pretty much any website. There are some cases where they can be used minimally, however. If you ask your website designer/developer if they design their client sites using cascading style sheets for layout and interface and they respond by saying they don’t, you might want to try someone else. I know, this sounds kind of snobby. But here’s the thing. Website browsers are changing all the time, and some don’t always make websites look the same as they should every time, and some don’t even support modern web standards, a big part of designing using CSS.
Also, there are mobile device browsers out there, and with the advent of the tablet pc (iPad, XOOM, etc.), people are browsing the web on smaller screens which are also formatted differently and may make your website look and act horribly. So the other reason to not use table-designed layouts is that it helps to have semantic, ordered css layout which can be more flexible to match the screen size a site is being viewed on. Moreover, cascading style sheets are great because they separate the content from the design. So if a smaller screen on a tablet or your iPhone is pulling up a website designing using CSS layout, it can be more graceful at displaying the content.
4) Utilize a static map
Remember the old days when you’d go to MapQuest.com to get a directions for a place? You’d plop in your starting location and your destination, hit ’submit’ and the resulting map was a static, non-dynamic image of the map with your requested driving directions. Your web designer then puts the image of the map on your site, perhaps into your contact page, and that was that.
Nowadays, thanks to the large availability of satellite data for maps around the world, dynamic maps which can be zoomed in, marker points dragged around to change your starting location, etc., are available, most notably through Google Maps. Google Maps for a few years now, has the feature where you can get the embed code for a map and place the code into your website. There’s simply no reason not to use this feature. If your web developer/designer doesn’t know how to do this for you, here’s a simple step-by-step article showing how it can be done:
5) Provide a “mock-up” or “sample” without a retainer and/or signed agreement
I’ve had people I can count on both hands that have asked me to submit a design mockup, however, once I explain to them that there would be a fee for such, things tend to go much more smoothly.
If your web designer has a spine and tells you what they need after you tell them what you need, chances are high you are working with someone who has integrity and you will get a good return on your investment.
Copyright © Bobbi Jo Woods - published June 18, 2011 at http://www.webprospeak.com
About the author:
Bobbi Jo is the owner of B. Woods Design, a St. Paul Web Design company - http://bwoodsdesign.com