Choosing the right design and development team is key to building a website that will be an asset to your business.
When looking to either build, or redesign, a website the first thing that comes to mind for many is “I need to find a web designer”. However, the days of finding a single person titled “web designer” to build your site are gone. The modern online landscape requires business owners (small and large alike) to have an arsenal of online tools, resources, and time, dedicated to building their online presence.
While this may seem out of reach for small business owners, the right resources (including a qualified web designer) can make a successful online presence a budget friendly possibility.
If you’re going to have a website, you need more than just a design.
With online services pitching web design for small business with “build a website in minutes” or “only a few dollars a month”, many small business owners wonder how a website design for their needs could become so complex as to need a team, rather than a single web designer.
The answer is based on understanding modern technology and marketing: if you build it, they will not come (unless you market your site…and you had better make sure they can come on their phone, tablet, desktop, and any other new device that hits the market!).
Let’s take a look at the basics you need for a successful small business site, then dive into choosing a website designer and developer to help you meet your business goals.
A small business site needs to:
Reflect the business brand. Leveraging pre-fab templates, and content networks will not convince users that your business is a better solution for them than your competition. If you are going to have a website, brand it—second only to real people, your website is the most powerful spokesperson for the quality of your services and products. This means choosing a web designer, developer, and content writer who understand your brand is incredibly important.
Be geared towards your audience. Just because a new feature or style is showing up all over the web, doesn’t mean it’s suitable for your audience. Know your audience, and structure your website pages, images, content, and all features towards them and their needs.
Be mobile friendly. With over 50% of media time happening on mobile devices, if you’re not able to reach your audience on mobile, you are opening doors for your competitors. Whether leveraging adaptive or responsive technologies, ensure that your site is accessible to mobile and desktop users alike.
Be simple to maintain. Site maintenance can either be costly, or streamlined. With tools like WordPress, web design for small business owners can be based on a site platform that is simple to add content to, easy to update, and secure.
Connect with social media. Your website is only one aspect of your business’s online presence, and it should “speak” with all of the other resources you leverage such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or even Etsy. Depending on your business and social goals, this could mean basic integrations such as sharing, or more complex integrations that require a highly skilled developer.
Show results. As with all marketing efforts, your site should provide a positive ROI for your business. This means integrating analytics to track site visits and activities, as well as setting goals with tactics to drive traffic and convert that traffic into leads and sales.
Be a tool to generate leads and customers. Most everything mentioned above could apply to this statement: the design, mobile friendly, social media connections…. but the key point here is ensuring that your site has the ability to allow your prospects to easily contact you, and engage with your brand. Tactics for converting visitors into leads and customers will vary based on your industry, audience, and business goals.
Be flexible. As new technologies are released seemingly every day (Apple just announced the iPad pro and Pencil as I’m writing this), your site should be flexible enough to allow you to compensate. While you can’t foresee every possible new technology, you can build your site on widely supported platforms, with industry standard technologies. This will provide your business with the sound opportunities for growth, as new technologies tend to be integrated for proven platforms first.
As you can see, a small business website needs many components to be successful: branding, design, content, development, integrations, tracking, and marketing. If I wasn’t a web designer, I would never attempt to build my own site—I’d be pulling my hairs out!
So, let’s look at how you can choose a qualified resource for building and designing your site.
Vetting a Web Team: what to look for in a “web designer”
When choosing a website designer and development team, you’ll want to pose questions on, and gain information about, a few key areas that will help you determine if they are a good fit for your business.
Site Planning and Platforms
Preliminary discussions will also help assess various platforms (WordPress, Magento, Drupal, or even Shopify) for possible use as your site platform. The more your web design team knows about your business, the more they will be able to help you assess the options.
Quality of Design and Code
Proof is in the pudding as they say… and the proof here can start with the portfolio. Review the web design portfolio, but don’t just look for something that you feel your business could fit into. Review various projects as if you were using the sites (remember, sites are built for the audience). Look for branded content and images, responsive display for mobile, and for diversity in styling across different projects (make sure they are not just clones of a template with new colors slapped on). You will also want to discuss two or three sites with the designer and question them on how the site was built, what platform they were created on, and discuss functionality that may be similar to what you need for your site.
Having a portfolio is great, but did any of the great looking and functioning sites actually perform for the client? Results focused questions to ask a web designer will include ROI, analytics, and results that clients have seen as a direct outcome of their efforts.
You probably have some specific requests for your site ranging from basic social media sharing, contact forms, email capturing, or more complex features such as tying into your internal inventory systems.
Having a list prepared of requirements will help you in the process of choosing a website designer, and easily weed out those without a matching skill set. (A bare minimum set of requirements that a small business site should ask for is included below.)
Note: some web design companies outsource their development. While outsourcing can save costs on the front end, the project could ultimately suffer from communication gaps during the initial phases, and lack support in long-term. Discuss this with any prospective firms, and be sure you understand what their in-house vs. outsourced capabilities include.
Business Basics: Contracts and Pricing
As with any service, know the price and contract terms up front. A big clue that your potential web designer won’t be able to take care of your business, is not having business procedures of their own. Once you have discuss your project, the next step is a proposal that outlines all pricing, deliverables, and terms. Review these, and be comfortable with them. If you have questions, ask for clarification before signing anything.
Communication, Relationship, and Accountability
The relationship between you and your website design and development team needs to be something you enjoy. Make sure you get along with the people on your team, that you can reach them when needed, and they have a track record for delivering.
Check their client list, and ask how long they have worked with various clients—be sure you choose a web designer who has a reputation for long-term relationships as your site will be part of your business for the long haul.
6 Technical Questions to Ask a Web Designer and Developer
The following is a list of technical questions you should your web designer and developer to address prior to hiring them for your project. Each item on the list is intended to ensure that your new site meets standard small business goals, and empowers your online brand to assist with engaging visitors and converting them into leads and customers.
Q: What platforms do you develop on?
They probably have a skill set geared towards one or two platforms (such as WordPress or Drupal). If you don’t know what platform is best for you, ask them for their professional advice, and then do research on your own. Some firms will push their platform of choice, regardless of best fit for your business.
Q: Would you suggest responsive or adaptive technology for my site?
While the two technologies can work together, they do have differences and can affect the final cost of your site. Some features can only be achieved with adaptive technology, and be sure your designer and developer can address all needs.
Q: Do you offer support and training?
Once a site is launched, things will break, tools and platforms will need to be updated. Be sure you are working with a developer who is capable of supporting your site for the long-haul.
Managing site content isn’t necessarily rocket science, but it does require training to ensure that you know how your site works, where different items are stored, etc. Be sure your contract includes training for you and your staff.
Q: How are projects managed?
Everyone has (or rather should have) their own system for tracking project status, meeting deadlines, and providing communication funnels for their clients. Ask what they are, and ensure that you will have a direct point of contact for your project, and a way to monitor progress.
Q: How do you address search rankings?
Not every designer and developer is an SEO or Inbound expert, and that’s OK (in fact, it’s very rare to find a designer who knows SEO and vice versa). But, find out how they address this area for their clients. Do they have someone on staff, do the have a partner they work with, or are you on your own when it comes to SEO?
If you are migrating an existing site, there are many issues to consider to ensure that you do not damage your existing rankings. You will need a site migration plan to address these.
Code should be developed to be “SEO friendly”, and tools should be put in place to ensure that your site is indexed and able to rank for keywords.
Q: Can you build a site with XYZ functionality?
This will vary based on your specific business needs, but be clear and upfront with what you are expecting. The basic small business site needs the following functionality and technologies:
- Custom design and site planning ensures that your site is suitable for your business
- A responsive framework to ensure that your site is viewable on mobile
- Forms – ability to create new forms as needed, and monitor conversions
- Automated backups
- Social sharing tools to share, track, and leverage your content.
- Google Analytics
- Ability for you to manage all content on your site.
- Image light boxes and slideshows
- Video support
- Document management
Get The Business Owners Checklist to Hiring a “Web Designer”
Ready to find a web designer for your site?
Download our one-sheet checklist outlining key points for you to use while interviewing and reviewing proposals.
Make sure you don’t skip any of the web design and development questions in this checklist — you want to be sure to hire the right team for your project.