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A blog about branding, marketing, and design, mostly through the lens of practical psychology, intended to be a resource to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Unless otherwise noted, all articles are written by Nyla Smith, owner of n-Vision Designs. {Subscribe to the RSS feed here: RSS}

Who Should You Hire to Build Your Website?

Nyla Smith | Tuesday, January 30, 2018

who does web designThese days, it seems everybody “does web design”. How do you know the best option for you?

You may be having your first website built or on your fifth iteration in 20 years. The challenge is always there — finding the best service provider to create or improve your site. One reason this is so challenging is because there are a variety of options that, on the surface, all promise to provide seemingly the same outcome: a website.

Let’s make a list of those options, because, everybody likes a good list, right? In the words of America's favorite Italian plumber: Here we go!

Who “does web design”?

  • Local freelance web designers/developers
    Local freelancers can range from someone who dabbles in code or design, to college students, to professionals with years of corporate experience.
  • Non-local (virtual*) freelancers
    Most frequently, this means online marketplaces like freelancer.com, thumbtack.com, or upwork.com. Sure, you may find some local freelancers here, but these sites are truly global. In other words, this is where you go if you want to hire someone overseas for pennies on the dollar. (A generalization, yes. But still very, very true.)
  • Web design agencies
    All these agencies do is build websites. Which means they are typically very good at it. You will likely have a team of people working on your project, each one dedicated to a specific aspect of your site — e.g. user experience, copywriting, photography, design, programming, testing, etc.
  • Digital marketing agencies
    These agencies are like your outsourced marketing department. They can help you with an overall marketing plan, market research, PR — anything to do with marketing your business. They can also build your website and tie it with other online marketing efforts, like social media, video production, email marketing, and SEO.
  • Traditional marketing/ad agencies
    Like the digital agencies, these agencies focus on marketing as a whole, but they tend to excel at the more traditional outlets of television, radio, billboards, and print ads, as opposed to digital media. However, they make the list because some also offer digital marketing services (either in-house or, more commonly, outsourced) which include website design.
  • Technology companies
    You know the people you call when your computer has crashed, or you’re having email problems, or you can’t get your internet to work? Many IT companies, including web hosting companies, also offer website design as a service.
  • You!
    There are a lot of DIY solutions advertised for building your own website – Squarespace, Wix, GoDaddy Website Builder, Vistaprint. Hey, why hire someone else when you can do it yourself?

*I realize local freelancers can also be virtual. But for the sake of simplicity in this article, I’m referring to non-local as virtual, and also to refer to the international community.

That’s a lot of options. Where do we start?

#1: What do you need, exactly?

Let’s take a moment to clarify our terminology.

I can’t even count how many times over the years I’ve been introduced as someone who “does web design” (which is true, but extremely limiting). For some reason, “web design” seems to have become a catch-all term for the start-to-finish process of building a website, and often implies other skills as well (which may or may not be accurate and may or may not be possessed).

At its simplest, a web designer is someone who creates the design of a website. That’s it. The work of actually making it functional and live on the internet is under a separate job title of web developer. So, most people, when they say they need a website designer, actually need a designer/developer.

Some people, when they say they need a website designer, actually need a software programmer or an app developer.

(And some people, when they say they need a website designer, actually need a business consultant.)

Now, if you’re outside of the industry, it’s certainly not your fault if you don’t know what all these labels and terminology mean. Half the people inside the industry can’t agree on job titles, since so many areas overlap and are closely related.

"Who cares what they're called? I just need a website!" Easy, friend. I hear you. Shall we pause for a tea break to unwind? Okay, good. There’s an important point here.

The point is, you should be aware when you’re on the hunt for a new website that someone who “does web design” is typically the lowest common denominator of what you need. In other words, anybody you select should have this skillset, so don’t limit your search to just that or you may not end up with the additional disciplines you may need to make your website a success.

Don’t just look for someone who “does web design”. A successful website is much more than that.

And so we finally arrive at the crux of step #1: Be able to articulate what exactly you need.

This may be more difficult if you’ve never gone through the process of having a website built before. But, by describing accurately what you’re looking for, you’ll likely be able to narrow down the options simply based on the skillsets necessary to accomplish what you want.

Say, for example, you want a complementary Android app to go hand-in-hand with a snazzy new interactive website. Let’s look at our list and see who might make the cut:

  • Local freelancer
  • Virtual freelancer
  • Web design agency
  • Digital marketing agency
  • Traditional marketing agency
  • Technology company
  • DIY

You’ll likely want to turn to a digital agency, or a web design agency that has an app developer at the ready. Many freelancers (unless they're highly skilled), traditional agencies, or IT companies probably won’t be able to provide what you need in a one-stop shop, if that’s what you ultimately are looking for.

#2: Clarify your goals.

For many small business owners, the goal is simple:

Get a top-notch website built that helps your business make money, and costs your business the least amount of money.

Sure, okay. But, as goals go, that’s just not good enough (any SMARTies here?). Let’s get more specific and break down what this actually means:

“A top-notch website…”:
Substitute whatever adjective here that aligns with your goals. I’ve heard “effective”, “relevant”, “awesome”, “stellar”, “cool-looking”, “rockstar”, “user-friendly”, “scalable”, “immersive”, and the list goes on. Many of those are terrible. (I say this with love.)

A “rockstar” website means zippity-squat to a person building your website. Describe in terms that have actual meaning, and then back up those words with examples. See step #1.

“…that helps your business make money…”:
Yup! If it don’t make money, it don’t make sense! But…. How much money? Over what time period? Is it direct money (sales) or indirect money (lead-generating)?

“… and costs the least amount of money.”:
Well it can’t break the bank, that’s for sure. But you’ll have to spend money to make money. So what’s your budget here? Even if it’s not an exact number, think about it in terms of percentage of your marketing (or business development) budget. Or think about it in terms of immediate and long-term returns on your investment. The point is, you NEED to be thinking about how much you’re willing to spend in relation to how much you want to gain.

So, a goal better stated might be:

Get a mobile-friendly e-commerce website that increases our product sales to $10,000/month, a minimum ROI of 50%.

With this new goal, we can start to narrow down our options. Let’s look at our list and see who might make the cut:

  • Local freelancer
  • Virtual Freelancer
  • Web design agency
  • Digital marketing agency
  • Traditional marketing agency
  • Technology company
  • DIY

Another goal might be:

On a small but highly-aesthetic website to promote our new digital book, sell X number of copies via PayPal in the 6 months after launch.

This is a completely different goal, even though the outcome (a website) is technically the same. Let’s see who might make the cut this time:

  • Local freelancer
  • Virtual freelancer
  • Web design agency
  • Digital marketing agency
  • Traditional marketing agency
  • Technology company
  • DIY

#3: Evaluate Fit

Nobody wants to work with someone who they dread every interaction with. Or who never seems to “get” what they’re saying. Or who has a working style that runs completely counter to what they’re used to.

Fit goes beyond skillsets and budget, although those are a big part of it. Either before or after you’ve determined who might be able to fulfill all of your requirements at a price you can budget for, you also need to consider what type of service provider is likely to be a fit for your brand culture.

  • Are you used to working within clearly-defined processes and procedures with firmly set timeframes?
    You may be exasperated by a fresh-faced freelancer who doesn’t have reliable systems in place.
  • Are you a fast-paced organization that needs a responsive, timely, and flexible service provider that can keep up with you?
    Traditional agencies may move to slow for you. IT companies may not be adequately staffed for the type of response you need. Overseas freelancers may not be reliable or may only be available during limited hours due to time differences.
  • Are you an Innocent brand that values authentic connection, simply trying to make a difference in the world?
    You may be put off by bureaucratic agencies that feel impersonal and profit-driven.

Yes, it’s true — your brand's personality can play a factor in selecting a service provider that is a good fit. If you have a strongly defined brand, you need someone who can understand that and accurately translate it to an online presence. You may find that working with a service provider with the same or a complementary brand archetype makes the process more fun and intuitive for the both of you, since you may share similar values, attitudes, and language.

A final note...

As alluded to earlier, I've had to make some generalizations in this article. While broad categories of service providers do share certain qualities as a whole, it's important to remember that no two freelancers, agencies, or technology companies are the same. A bad experience with one should not spoil the whole bunch for you, and vice versa. Services offered by one agency do not reflect services offered by all, and etc.

But hopefully by now you understand why every Tom, Slick, and Mary who “does web design” is not the same. If you remember to articulate what you need, clarify your goals, and evaluate cultural fit, you'll be able to narrow your options to a service provider that makes sense for you.

Nyla Smith is a Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Front-End Web Developer and Consultant with over 12 years of experience. She is the owner of n-Vision Designs, LLC in Hampton, Virginia, which exists to provide marketing support and brand consulting to small- and medium-sized businesses needing creative solutions. Contact Nyla if you'd like to discuss your next creative project. She can usually be bribed to a meeting with a cup of green tea and an oatmeal cookie.
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