signing documentI hear horror stories all the time of jilted businesses wishing they’d made a different decision on who to work with to design their website.  Before you get started you just don’t know what you don’t know.
A few months ago I had just such a conversation with Jennifer Gardner, Assistant Store Manager of local small business.  She commented, “Truly, this web design has been a full time job.  Had I known that going in, I would have gone about the whole process much differently.”

Hopefully our combined experience can help shed some light on how to uncover the unexpected.

Ask potential design candidates:

What can you expect from your design?

Design can mean a lot of things.  It’s not just how the website looks but how it functions as well.

Will it be a custom design or a template site?

A custom design generally takes longer than modifying a pre-designed template.  Clarify which option is included in your proposal to make sure you’re comfortable with the level of consultation and customization you’re paying for.

Will it look good on multiple devices and browsers?

According to comscore.com more people use smart phones and tablets to view the internet than desktop computers.   Make sure your estimate includes a responsive or adaptive template that adjusts to display well on multiple devices.  Your site visitors use a variety of browsers to view your site, ask your designer which browsers the site optimized for.  Also ask for which versions of the browsers are included.  As the browsers update they support more progressive coding techniques.  If you require a website that looks the same in Internet Explorer 8 as it does in Microsoft Edge (Internet Explorer’s replacement browser) you may be looking at a much different cost for developing the site.

What will you be responsible for (other than the bill)?

One of the most time consuming tasks when building a website can be writing the content and finding or taking the right photos to represent your company.  Know who’s responsible for those tasks up front, when they’re due and to what standard they need to be completed.

Gardner says you should ask your web designer to clearly define what will be expected of you.  “I was totally blindsided by how much work I had to do to get this website up and going and I was not made aware of that when I signed up.  I guess I thought the designer was also a marketing genius who was supposed to know everything about my business.   I was not prepared to write every blurb, to find and organize every picture, as well as everything needed from my staff.”

How much will it REALLY cost?

How much your site will cost is sort of a big deal.  An even bigger deal would be thinking it will cost one amount and then being charged for another.

“If your potential designer is not thoroughly discussing things like additional cost of photography, additional costs of marketing blurbs, what your commitment to the project needs to be – find another designer.” Advised Gardner, “They are not being realistic and glossing over the reality.  Or your website may not meet your expectations.”

Is if fixed bid or sliding scale?

Read the fine print and determine if the bid is fixed and you’re only responsible for the amount on the contract or if the company can charge you a fixed price plus up to X% over the estimated price.

How will payments work?

Learn about how the website payments will work.  Most designers ask for either half down and half upon completion or break the payments into thirds.  If you’re being asked to pay for it all upfront that may be a red flag.

Gardner shared, “Most website companies require a large portion of the total up front.  I understand this and would do the same if I was in their shoes.  However, once the expectations and timelines start to sour with a company, it becomes very difficult to ‘cut and run’ because they have a lot of your money.  I would say never sign a contract without checking two recent references.”

Are there monthly charges?

Also, ask about any monthly charges that will begin during or after the site is completed.

What’s not included?

You may have spoken about a lot of things in your meeting but that doesn’t mean it’s all in the proposal.  Sometimes client budgets and expectations do not align perfectly so initially discussed items are trimmed to meet the budget.  Make sure you know up front if your SEO, photography, content development, social media and marketing requests were met within the proposal.

When it’s all over then what?

This question often becomes a sticking point when you’re unhappy with your service provider and seeking to have another finish or maintain the site.

What happens if they don’t fulfill the contract?

In most contracts the payments made to the vendor are non-refundable.  Though if your vendor doesn’t fulfill his or her end of the bargain you may want to negotiate a refund or at the very least not pay for the entire website upfront so you can decide not to make any more payments.

Gardner advised, “If you have done your part and your designer starts to miss deadlines, do not let it get out of hand.  Be direct and revisit your signed contract. Worse case scenario, demand a refund and find another company.”

Can you update the website on your own?

If you’ll be able to update the site on your own make sure they will give you a username and password to do so and ask that you are made an administrator for your site.  Then if your relationship goes south you will have proper privileges to make all changes necessary to the site or hire someone else to do so.  If you’re not sure how to work your site ask if training is included.  Clarify what type of training is available, is it online, in person or printed guide.   Also determine how long training is available without an additional charge and how many people can attend.

Who owns what?

If your vendor owns the site after it’s completed it’s difficult to switch.  Be on the lookout for this especially when working with vendors who are only charging a low monthly rate for your site.  This often indicates you’ll be using a proprietary software to create the site and there might not even be a way to move the site away from their service once it’s completed.

Hopefully this gives you some idea of what to ask potential design companies before signing the dotted line.  For more information to prepare you to make an educated decision download our free Design Company Interview Guide.

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