Hiring the Right Web Design Firm

Regardless whether you manage a small business, charitable organization, or Fortune 500 company, choosing the right web design firm can quickly become a full-time research project. With thousands of design firms to choose from, what factors truly determine which design firm is best for your business?

The primary considerations for choosing a web design firm are:

* Price
* Customer service/access to support
* Credibility indicators of the design firm
* Portfolio and design experience
* Other services offered (domain renewal, hosting, SEO)
* Turnaround time

Let?s take a closer look at each consideration in detail, and explore how to identify and qualify the right design firm.

Price

Like many products and services we purchase, both personally and professionally, deciding on a web design firm can often come down to price. But the value of the services rendered is really what?s important. A $200 web site usually turns out to look, feel and perform like a $200 web site.

The price of your site?s development will depend on three factors: the features of the site, the amount of content, and the service options included with the design package, such as hosting.

Because pricing varies by firm, here are several principles to use when determining the validity and value of a web design quote:

* Does the quote state one all-inclusive price for the entire project?
* Is there a reoccurring monthly fee for hosting?
* Is the site custom-built, or is it customization of an existing template?
* Is there a separate fee for content development, such as writing sales copy?
* Is domain registration/management included in the package?
* Will the firm provide multiple design concepts, prior to actual development?

It?s important to compare quotes from at least three firms to, determine the value of the services offered. Looking for the best value is important in a competitive service market.

Customer Service

There?s nothing worse than signing with a firm that offers a great product, only to find out they are impossible to contact. Consistent, open contact with your web design firm is important for ensuring success before, during, and after your web site is developed.

Throughout the design process, you may identify text, photos, or contact information you?d like to change before the site goes live. If you have immediate questions regarding your site?s development, you?ll be glad to have immediate contact with customer support staff by e-mail, telephone, or live chat.

If you are limited to e-mail technical support, consider other firms that offer a wider range of customer service options such as telephone and live chat support. E-mail is great for convenience ? when it?s convenient.

Credibility Indicators

Identifying ?credibility indicators? can help ensure a firm is trustworthy, and will be around after your deposit or full payment is sent. Credibility indicators include, but are not limited to:

* Toll free telephone support
* 24 hour customer service
* Better Business Bureau affiliation
* Human e-mail address contacts
* Google PageRank of 2 or above
* Presentation of a hard-copy quote/design contract

Design Experience/Portfolio

Does the design firm have experience in working with similar types of businesses? Even if a designer doesn?t have a web site in their portfolio related to your industry, the firm you select should have a strong working knowledge of how to develop an effective site for your business type. Product and service web sites are not the same. Your designer should have a plan of action for developing a site that reaches the maximum number of prospective customers in your target market.

A few good questions to ask about a firm?s design experience include:

* Does the firm offer a number of diverse, finished web sites available for review?
* Will the firm conduct research regarding my competition?
* Will my web site highlight the features, benefits and value of my product or service?
* Has the firm outlined a plan of action for creating an effective site, start to finish?

Design experience need not always relate to the type of web sites the firm has previously developed. If you have a specific look in mind, ask the firm if achieving a similar design is possible. The ultimate goal is to know you?re going to get a tangible benefit out of your site through effective, affordable web design.

Additional Services

Many web design firms offer design, but do not provide other required services such as hosting and domain name registration. Ideally, your web design company should be a full-service firm, offering at least basic hosting, domain registration and search engine optimization services tailored to your needs. Research each firm to determine other key lines of business, so that any future expansion of your site will be seamless as your business grows.

Turnaround Time

An effective website should take 30-60 days to go live, from the start of production. Unless you?re offering hundreds of individual products or services on your web site, the entire development process, start to finish, should take no longer than 60 days. Turnaround time should include:

* Upload of your web site to the hosting provider
* Configuration of any scripts or forms on your site
* Domain propagation (accessing your web site and e-mail via yoursite.com)

Hiring the cheapest, fastest, or most elaborate web design firm does not always equate to hiring the right web design firm. A limited amount of front-end research can save time and money in the long term, and maximize the sales revenue from your web presence.

Jim D. Ray is a seasoned web developer and president of Web Presence, a national web design firm serving the small business market sector. To learn more, or for a free quote for your own web site, visit the Web Presence at http://www.web-presence.net.