This is actually pretty simple: don’t. If you want to get real results from your site, you need to be talking to someone who understands online marketing and has a proven track record of success, not just someone who wants to “build you a website.”
If you’re in the market for a new website, you need to make sure that you’re asking the right questions. Or at least, that the firms you’re talking to are asking you the right questions. I cannot say this enough: web design has become highly commoditized. There is a very low barrier of entry to being able to call yourself a “web designer.” My father has built a website before, but you don’t want him building your business a website!
Everyone has a cousin Max, or knows someone who can “build a website,” but if you’re interested in really driving growth for your business through the Internet, just walk away…
Here are some thoughts to consider if you think that you need a (new) website
Building the site itself is only the first step. This isn’t Field of Dreams, and you are not Kevin Costner. If you build it, they will not come. Get that idea out of your head altogether.
If you are going to launch a site, a good rule of thumb for most SMBs is that you should devote 25% of your budget to the site itself, and 75% to driving traffic and promoting it. So, if your web designer or firm doesn’t mention anything about what they are going to do after your site is launched, thank them for their time, and walk away.
Online success requires your interaction, so if anyone talks to you about building a site that cannot be easily updated (by you) in the future, then you need to keep interviewing vendors. There is absolutely no reason to build static websites anymore; not unless you are a true designer and can’t code your way out of a paper bag.
There are some amazing, free products that do all this for you! WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, just to name a few. If your web designer can’t build you a site on some type of content management system, then you need to look elsewhere. There are many opinions over why you should use open-source or proprietary, but that’s another topic entirely.
Lastly, if the people you’re talking to are only asking questions about your taste in colors, and the kind of content you will have, and what imagery will be used; then walk away. Don’t get me wrong, those are all very valid questions, but that isn’t ultimately what will make your site successful. If you keep with the 75/25 rule, then on 1/4 of your discussion about the site should revolve around the site itself. The other 3/4 of the discussion should be focused on your business and what will be effective at marketing it online. How is your audience, what appeals to them, what are their pain points, what are your differentiators from the competition? These are questions that can lead to a successfully developed website that will have some legs under it.
If you’re in the market for a new site – make sure you talk to at 3 firms, too. It is very difficult to compare apples to apples when it comes to web design/development, and also with online marketing. TALK to your prospective vendors and make sure you feel comfortable with them, and have a high level of confidence that they know what they are doing. Look for case studies, check references, do your homework and see if they can back up what they are telling you. Find out what/who they use for project management, and how they can ensure that your project will be completed on time, within scope, and within budget.
Good luck, and if you get stuck – we can always help you vet them out! :-)