The headline might be a little aggressive here, but the unfortunate reality of hiring a web designer to build your website is that there are risks. I’ve talked to several clients who have had negative experiences with their previous designer, developer, or hosting company. In almost every case, there were simple things that the client could have done to avoid getting into those situations from the get-go. You shouldn’t always just pick the first option that comes up when you Google web designer near me.
In this article, we’ll try to help you avoid that situation by outlining some of the things that you can do as a smart business owner to ensure you’re getting what you paid for and that you aren’t being taken advantage of. I’d like to answer the question of “What to look for when hiring a website designer?”.
Table of Contents
Is Your Website Yours?
Register Your Own Domain
This is a HUGE problem. I often have clients ask me to just register their domain name for them, and 99% of the time we refuse the request, OR insist that they give us login information to their own registrar account in order to do so. Then we simply have the DNS pointed to our nameservers so we can manage it. The reason?
There are unethical web designers out there who will hold domain names hostage if the client decides to drop them from hosting or managing their websites. If the designer owns your domain, it makes this a possibility. This means that you either have to deal with getting your domain name transferred, or you have to get an entirely new domain name. (Which, by the way, is absolutely TERRIBLE for your SEO).
We want to make sure that this is never going to be an issue for our clients. Of course, we hold ourselves to a higher standard and would never do this to someone, but in order to establish trust with our clients, we make sure they have registered and own their own domain names.
Get Access To Your Website
Most developers – ourselves included – do not want to give full website access to our clients. The reason this happens is because more often than not, someone will go and make an edit to a page or update a piece of software that ends up causing bigger issues. Usually, the client has all the best intentions but still, when you’re not an expert, these things can happen.
That said, it’s still important to have access to your website. The specifics of this should be discussed with your developer, but being able to update your own content (at the very least being able to make text changes to pages) is really important. It means you have the freedom to do things yourself instead of being forced to contact your designer every single time.
Of course, if your designer offers a website management plan, we’d recommend taking advantage of it! It’s always reassuring to know that when an update gets made, it’s going to be done the right way and there’s no risk of something getting messed up in the process.
Confirm Website Ownership
What do I mean by Website Ownership? When I say “Website Ownership”, I’m referring to the intellectual property of your website. You need to make sure that your contract explicitly states that you own the website they make for you before hiring a web designer. For example, here is the clause from our web design contracts that touches on this subject.
2.1 Client Owns All Work Product. As part of this job, the Contractor is creating “work product” for the Client. To avoid confusion, work product is the finished product, as well as drafts, notes, materials, mockups, hardware, designs, inventions, patents, code, and anything else that the Contractor works on—that is, conceives, creates, designs, develops, invents, works on, or reduces to practice—as part of this project, whether before the date of this Contract or after. The Contractor hereby gives the Client this work product once the Client pays for it in full.
This means the Contractor is giving the Client all of its rights, titles, and interests in and to the work product (including intellectual property rights), and the Client will be the sole owner of it. The Client can use the work product however it wants or it can decide not to use the work product at all. The Client, for example, can modify, destroy, or sell it, as it sees fit.
I will be very direct here. Do not settle for anything less than complete ownership of the website that is being built for you. Our contracts also include a clause that legally requires us as the designer to help the client in the case that they need to prove they own the site. If you don’t have this, you are open to your site being held hostage just like with the domain name situation we noted above. Don’t even consider hiring a web designer who doesn’t have an ironclad contract that protects both you and them.
Vet Your Designer
Check Their Reviews
When you call a plumber or HVAC company, most people check online reviews first. Yet for some, this isn’t the case when talking about professional services like Web Design, Graphic Design, etc. Always check reviews before hiring a designer!
If your designer is new to the business, that’s okay. We understand that not everyone will have 100 5-star reviews on Google or Facebook. In these cases, do your due diligence to make sure that the designer you’re going to be working with can be trusted. If that means asking for a personal reference, then ask. You’re not going to regret making sure your potential designer is trustworthy and good at their job!
Bonus: Get a Referral
Most of our business comes through referrals, and in these cases, the client usually is ready to work with us immediately. This is because people trust the opinions of people they know. If you know someone who recently had a new website made, maybe it’s worth reaching out to them to see who did it and if they would recommend you also use the same designer. Hiring a web designer is a lot easier if you have a personal connection with them already!
Check Their Portfolio
Even a designer who has never built a website for a real client can have projects in their portfolio. Maybe a passion project or something they made for school! But make sure that their design style matches the style you’re going for and that they have the ability to build websites at a similar scope to what yours will be. If they don’t have a portfolio public, you can always ask them for examples of their work as well.
Our web design portfolio doesn’t include every single project we’ve done for example, so sometimes there are more relevant samples of work for the client that might not be featured on the designer’s site. We wouldn’t recommend hiring a freelance web designer who can’t provide any samples of work though, this is an easy way to end up in a lot of trouble and out a good bit of money.
Do Your Research
Know Your Scope
Knowing the functionality and size requirements of the website you’re going to have built goes a long way in choosing the right person. If your site needs some service pages, a few contact forms, and a solid home page, you’re probably safe to go with that new local agency with only a few projects under its belt.
On the other hand, if you’re needing a huge slew of custom features like online booking, course management, user interaction, or e-commerce features? Then maybe consider hiring a web designer who is more experienced with a track record of building more complex sites. That actually leads into our next point…
Do Pricing Research
Know how much you can expect to spend and be aware of what the market rate is in your area. If you reach out to 5 different designers and all of them are in the $2k-$5k range, and one designer comes back at $500 – There’s a reason. Yes, this designer is probably not charging what they’re worth and maybe will do a really good job regardless, but it shows a lack of confidence in their ability to do the project or that they’re desperate for work.
Again, this is very much a “use your own discretion” situation. The last thing we want to do is to discourage new designers from entering the web design space, but that super low price tag is that way for a reason. Maybe there are hidden fees or higher ongoing costs to the website, or maybe at the end of the day you won’t actually own your website at all.
This is why we feel that the way a marketing agency prices their websites is more revealing of the quality of work and their confidence levels than you might expect. Then again, we also offer free websites for certain types of businesses, so maybe there’s more to it than that.
Before Hiring a Web Designer
I hope this article was genuinely helpful if you’re in the process of hiring a web designer. It can be risky, but if you find the right one for you, you will never regret it. Seeing your business idea come to life online is such a rewarding experience, and the final product can be so worth it if done right.