Would Our Web Designer Sell Us A Junk Design?

Junk just gathers dust
Web designers are in the business of selling web designs. That is the first principle of business for a web design firm, as it is for many other types of businesses. There is nothing new here except that the whole purpose of a web site is to create business for the owner, and a site just gathering dust does not do that.

No one says that a web design needs to create direct sales for any business but it must connect with the business owner’s market and engage that market. If the site doesn’t connect with the market it is just junk collecting dust. It may be a beautiful piece of work but it’s still collecting dust.

Part of this problem is our responsibility as small business owners. We didn’t go to a web designer and say, “I need a web site designed for my web market.”

Instead, most small business owners say, “I need a web site designed for my business.”

Our market doesn’t care about us
The difference is about the focus our words create and the intent that gives to a project. And when the focus is on our business it is not on our market. Thus, we end up with something we are thrilled with even though our market is not impressed and doesn’t care.

What our market cares about is their problem, not the looks of our web site. They are not going to share our web site with others because it looks cool, but they will share when our business web site helps them and educates them about our industry and how to make the best choice for their needs.

Are we being educated on our marketing options?
The chances are that our web designer doesn’t really want to go there. Instead they jump right in to giving us a good look at their portfolio and suggesting how they could customize and come up with something totally original for us.

And our fault is that we go for this – not knowing any better.

But it’s not really our fault. We go to experts to get the best information and all too often we are talking to a professional that has a conflict of interest. This is where the web designer is advising us about the very product they sell. We may never get clear information about what all our choices are.

For instance:
If the conversations never touches on the low cost, or no cost, of “Pull Marketing” then we are not getting all of the available choices.

If the conversations never come around to discussing the differences between a demographic market and a virtual market then we are not seeing our real needs.

If the conversations never get around to discussing how to define a marketing profile for our web market (not just guessing about our virtual market) then we are not getting to use the best of what a web site can offer our business.

And there are more if’s that the web design industry does not talk about. Web designers don’t talk about our market other than to ask us to describe them. It is so much easier for them to design something for us. So most small business owners end up with a beautiful site that is headed for the scrap pile from day one.

To design for our web market a design firm would need to know how to discover things about our virtual market that even we don’t know. They would need to know about virtual markets and why they are different. Web designers need to know our market’s shopping habits, what our market values the most and which values we have in common with our market. But web designers, trendy or not, don’t give us any of this.

The solution is in market segmentation
This is just another term for psycho-graphics. Segmentation divides a whole geographical or national market into 7 segments where each has a psychological profile that describes the segments shopping habits, values, likes & dislikes as well as general beliefs. These are better tools to work with on the web.

Reverse engineer
We could also stand back from our own business and ask that business a few questions to discover things about the market it serves.

  • Doesn’t our business provide solutions for a market?
  • Doesn’t our experience include the pain and distress our market feels?
  • Can we name our market’s biggest problem?

Once we have put words to the solutions we provide and for who we provide them for then we are well on our way toward knowing who our web site should be designed for.

We do not have to accept trendy web designs that have no appeal to our market. These just sit and gather dust. We want a site that engages our market and this means engaging our market.

Read that last line again. It’s like saying, “If nothing changes… then nothing changes.”

If our web site doesn’t engage our market it’s just junk

No matter how beautiful and pleasing it is to our eyes.

And it is our job to make sure that our web designer is going to think about our market and what would be best for our market but we shouldn’t really expect this to happen. The reason for this is that there is no one that knows more about our business than we do, but we need to stop listening to the professionals who are only thinking about us.

A professional web designer may not deserve all the blame for junk web site, except that they are the self proclaimed experts and they expect that we will listen to them. Therefore, the first rule of hiring a web professional is to not let them design our web site.

There is, of course, a great deal more to learn about our virtual market and how they think, what their shopping habits are, what their values are and what they believe in. There isn’t room in one article to cover the web as a virtual marketplace or market segmentation to develop a market’s profile. You will find this information in other articles.

Choosing a Web Designer

Here are some tips in finding the right people for the job and some considerations to be taken into account.

1. Introduction

Many businesses look for a web designer as though they were shopping for a general commodity item such as a light bulb – i.e. All websites are equal and paying the 16 year old student on a computer course to build the site will reap exactly the same dividend as paying a specialist web development agency. Other businesses often feel they have to spend thousands upon thousands of pounds on a website for it to be successful.

Let us dispel these myths

Contrary to what many believe, web design is only one component in the production of your website. Some web designers can talk day and night about how pretty your web site can be, but if it isn’t functional, user-friendly, or capable of helping you meet your online goals, then all the superficial beauty in the world isn’t going to help it serve it’s purpose. The design theme of a website is only one component of building a successful online presence.

Choosing a Web Designer is not an easy task! – Here are some tips…

There is so much more to web design than just making a few web pages look pretty if you want to succeed. You need to consider your target audience, underlying message, content, desired responses, visitor impact, online goals, how you are going to measure the success of the site and more. There is so much more to web design than just making a few web pages look pretty

2. Defining Your Requirements

If you have no idea why you want a website or what you want the website to achieve, it is as well to sit down and think it through, rather than rushing to put up a “White elephant” that doesn’t serve a purpose. Every website must serve a purpose, and that’s usually where many websites falls short. They serve no purpose because the website owner never gave much thought to it. It’s not the website’s fault. A website is inanimate. It is only what you make it. The only life a website has is the one given to it by its designer and owner. If the human element doesn’t do a good job of defining the building blocks, the website will serve no purpose and eventually die a digital death. Every website should have a distinct purpose With that in mind, we’d suggest the first stage would be to define the “Goals” of the website in relation to the requirements and aspirations of the business or organisation involved.

Defining the Goal

Every website should have a distinct goal or number of goals that are measurable. A goal can be anything from communicating with friends and associates through to making profits by selling products or services online (e commerce). Your goal in the first instance may even be to have a web presence so potential clients don’t regard your organisation as being backward! Once you have defined a goal (or number of goals), it’s equally important to define:

  • The target audience. i.e. Who you want/expect to visit your website.
  • The actions you want to result from their visit. i.e. Making an online sale, getting them to make an inquiry etc.
  • What benefits you are giving and receiving from having the website.

Defining the Key Functions (The actions)

Once the goals of the website have been established, it’s important to define the actions required by site visitors to meet the goals. An action is any traceable sequence of events carried out by the end user.

Examples might include:

  • Getting in touch – either by phone, email or via an online form.
  • Disseminating Information.
  • Signing up for a newsletter.
  • Completing a questionnaire
  • Commenting on a Blog
  • Downloading or buying products
  • Using an online tool

Of course, there are other intangible benefits that your website might provide to an end user that don’t result in direct “actions”… i.e. simply providing “peace of mind” to an existing or prospective customer would be considered as such. If you haven’t already done so, then it’s also useful to check out the competition, for ideas, likes and dislikes.

Establishing Your Design & Development Preferences

Once you have formulated the goals and functional requirements for the website, it’s time to start building a picture of how you anticipate the site coming together – with regard to structure and design theme. This doesn’t need to be a definitive exercise – Your web designer should be able to add a lot of input and suggestions at a later stage, but it helps to have some ideas to feed into the requirements you approach the designer with in the first instance.

As follows are a few that we feel should be mandatory:

  • The website should adhere to recognised standards. The site should be written to conform and validate to the standards defined by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) – this will in turn, mean your site should be cross-browser friendly (i.e. Appear the same across various different types of web browser).
  • The website should be accessible. In web terms, this means that it conforms to the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).
  • The website should be clean, crisp and fast loading.
  • The website should be easy to use and inoffensive (see below).

Our Tip: Easy to use and Inoffensive – The WOW factor

Webbies often get asked to produce a website with the “WOW factor”. The “WOW factor” is a term that means different things to different people. Often, the person or business commissioning the website have grandiose plans for extensive animation, splash screens, cartoons, garish designs… This isn’t the WOW factor – A bold garish design with “off the wall” colour schemes may seem bold and innovative to some people, but may really put off other site users – Find the happy medium.

If a person wants to buy a pair of shoes online then their mission is basically to find the desirable pair of shoes at the right price in the quickest possible time. They don’t visit an e-commerce site to watch an animation of shoes tap dancing across the screen. Leave cartoons and needless animation that add zero value to those experts in their own field. People watch the Simpsons for that type of entertainment. They likely won’t be visiting your website for (or be impressed by) to be “dazzled” by irrelevant attempts to stand out.

Our own interpretation of the “WOW factor” is a site that is very simple to use, clean, crisp, user friendly, fast loading with great content. Basically, the site that delivers it’s underlying message quickly and concisely is the most effective. Google has the WOW Factor and you don’t see slow loading animation on that website. The WOW factor should mean Winning on the Web and nothing else.

Ok, so you’ve mapped out some goals and requirements… time to start looking for the right guys to go ahead and implement the solution for you.

3. Selecting a Web Designer / Developer

Initially, the best place to begin is by putting together a shortlist of designers. You may choose to do this in any number of ways but here are some suggestions that you may wish to factor in:

  • The location of the prospective designer. This may or may not be a factor for you. Some people are happy to work remotely and others prefer some face to face interaction. If the latter is essential to you, then you will need to focus on designers in your local area.
  • The designer’s portfolio. This is usually a key factor in any shortlisting process. You may choose to favour designers who have worked specifically in the sector you are targeting, or you may simply like other unrelated websites they have developed.
  • Independent Word of mouth recommendation. You may have received glowing reports on particular designers and their after-sales service. Don’t overlook this.
  • The size of the company. Generally speaking, the size of the company provides you with little idea to the quality or work they can produce or the services they can provide. Some SMEs prefer to work on a more personal level with smaller providers or freelance designers with larger corporates preferring the opposite.
  • The cost – Most professional web designers tend to produce work on a bespoke basis, tailored uniquely for each client – and the vast majority do not publish prices. (We do). However, an initial discussion should be able to provide you with a “ball park” figure at least based on your requirements outline. Some designers are also able to provide cost-effective “out of the box” solutions at a fixed price.

Tip: Get a fixed price quote rather than an hourly rate. Let’s face it… an hourly or daily rate is meaningless as a measuring stick when your consider it may take one designer twice as long as another to complete the same job.

Web designers will typically showcase previous work on their own websites, but be sure to consider that they are gearing a site’s design and structure to requirements presented by another party that likely won’t match your own. It’s more important that you are confident that they can implement your solution than perhaps reading too much into other design work that you might not necessarily like.

Another consideration you may should take into account is the attitude a designer shows when you first make contact. You can often gauge whether they are genuinely interested in the project and whether they are going to be proactive – and if they can offer a high level of support. Designers not providing a landline phone number or a business address may be harder to contact when you need them the most. Trust your instincts and exercise common sense.

Tip: Don’t base everything on price and make sure you compare “like” with “like”. Also, don’t be afraid to share your budget with the designers during initial discussions and then see what they can deliver within it. Time is often wasted if you are discussing the project over days or weeks and then end up being miles apart on pricing expectations.

The more information you give furnish the designer with, relating to your goals, requirements and design preferences, the better. Also make sure that you discuss timescales and payment schedules (most designers will ask for a deposit upfront and a final balance payment when the project is completed. There may also be interim payment milestones for larger projects). Additionally, enquire about any recurring charges for support, future amends, web hosting, domains etc. Neither party will want hidden surprises.

4. Questions You will be Asked

It’s always better to be prepared when you approach web designers… they will also have their own queries to establish a the requirements, gauge the work involved and furnish you with a quote.

Typical questions you might be asked include the following:

  • What does your company do?
  • What are the Unique Selling Points that your company has to offer?
  • What is the purpose of the website?
  • How do you see the website evolving in the future?
  • Do you have any existing branding? i.e. Logo, colour schemes or other marketing materials?
  • Who are your competitors?
  • Do you require e commerce or an online payment mechanism?
  • Can you provide links to other websites that you like from a design perspective?
  • Can you provide links to other websites that you like from a functionality perspective? (i.e. How they work)
  • What is your budget? Don’t be afraid to disclose a budget figure – it can help a lot.

If you aren’t able to get an immediate quote, request that the designer gets back to you and establish a timescale for this to happen. As you can probably tell, choosing a web designer isn’t necessarily a straightforward process if you are seeking the right fit for your project. The more detailed research and preparation that you carry out, the better.

5. Going ahead

When you make a decision on proceeding with a designer, make sure to get the quote in writing and make sure the it’s clear that the copyright of the website is yours once completed. Ensure all charges (including any future and/or recurring charges) are spelled out to avoid any ambiguity and problems further down the line.

Ideally, once you wish to proceed, your web developer should create a test web address, where you can monitor ongoing development and provide feedback throughout.

Part of a wider strategy

Your website should integrate with and complement your other marketing activities. Promote your site address where you can. Consider putting it on your business cards, stationery, merchandise, delivery vans, carrier bags, customer receipts and on your shop front. Drive people to your website through online adverts, search engine marketing and active offline promotion.

Finding a Job in Columbus in Web Design and Development

Columbus, Ohio is a great city in which to get a start as a freelance web designer or web developer. Columbus is one of the leading technology cities in the US, being the home of such widely renowned technology companies as Accenture, AOL, and the Battelle Memorial Institute. There are also hundreds of small to medium sized web design and web development companies peppered throughout the greater Columbus area.

Being a Columbus freelance web designer can be achieved by telecommuting, so you do not have to live in downtown Columbus, but being close to the city to do the occasional face-to-face meeting is highly recommended. Some web design companies will not give you a job without meeting you and some web development services require a face to face meeting, which is much easier when all web designers and project members are involved. Columbus, Ohio is a great place to live, and has enough web design job opportunities that you will not need to pitch outside of the city. It makes sense to live there. Although freelancing website design may seem like a terrifying prospect, it is not too hard as long as you have the bravery to go out on your own, and the work ethic to stick to it.

Calling web design companies in Columbus is one of the best ways to begin getting web design jobs. Calling companies takes away the potential clients ability to ignore your presence. Emails are easily erased or forgotten and direct mailing gets lost in the shuffle of bills. Write down a short speech introducing you as a freelance web designer, asking whether the company you are calling works with freelancers regularly. Although some web design companies use freelancers, while others prefer to use an in house web design team, you will find a few web design companies in Columbus that will be interested in your services. The secret to success when cold calling companies in Columbus is doing so in numbers. How many jobs you get depend greatly on your pitch and your experience, but expect to get one out of ten. With there being so many web design companies in Columbus, one out of ten is still a large amount of potential website projects.

Setting up a toll free phone number and getting a fax number will help you land more web design projects also. Toll free numbers allow clients who are outside of your area code to reach you free of charge. Prospective web design clients will need the ability to send agreements and documentation to you via fax. You’re right in thinking that most documents can be sent by email, but it is guaranteed that you will run into an old school client that still faxes documents the old fashioned way.

Setup an auto-responder on your email. This will help land more web design jobs in Columbus because people who email you will automatically receive a response. This could be beneficial because you could setup the auto-responder to include sales copy or your resume or both. If you send out mailers or business cards or advertisements with your designated auto-responder email address and get a reply from someone at that email address, that person will automatically receive your resume and sales text.

After getting a website design job, it is important that you stipulate what is required of you and your client. Make sure to draw up a contract or agreement of some sort just so that you have everything down on paper. Include your fee, the work to be done, the time period the work should be completed in and when you expect to be paid and in what forms (credit card, company checks).

Have a look around on the Internet for web design and website development companies in Columbus and write down the ones you are interested in. The best way to find web development companies in Columbus is to Google them. Search for terms such as “Columbus web design” or “web development companies in Columbus, Ohio”. Some day you may just get their attention and become a successful freelancer!

Top 10 Tips for Choosing a Web Designer for Your Business Web Site

How to Choose a Web Design Firm

Simple. You do your homework on them. Then, you start asking questions and taking notes. There are plenty of web designers available. You want to go with the best because, in fact, your web designer is in essence your partner. You want to choose a designer that takes YOUR business seriously.

What questions do you ask?

There are several important questions to ask when choosing a web designer for your business web site.

Creating your web site can be a tricky process. Choosing the best web design firm for your business web site is a very important decision. And if your company is like most small businesses, you probably do not have web design experience. Building your web site will take time and work. And working with a web designer is no easy task. So choose the right web design company from the start and avoid do-over’s, which can be costly and time consuming.

1. What kind of web experience do you have?

For starters, find out what kind of design experience your potential design firm has. Do they have experience with content management systems such as Joomla or Drupal, do they have experience working with “raw” HTML? Has the web design company created web sites similar to yours? Do they have relevant industry experience? If you want to sell products through your web site and accept credit card payments, does the web design company you are considering have experience with ecommerce hosting?

2. Do you have a portfolio that I can review?

An experienced web design company will have a solid portfolio of web sites that they have created for other clients. Ask for links to other site the design company has created and review each one. Do you like what you see? Do the sites have a style that appeals to you?

3. Do you have any references?

In addition to reviewing web sites, ask for customer references. Contact their clients and ask them about their experience with the web design company. Were they happy with the results? Did they get what they paid for? How much did they pay? Would they recommend them? How long did it take? What didn’t they like about the company? How responsive was the company when they had questions?

4. What are your prices?

The most important step in pricing is to make sure the potential design company outline all of the prices associated with the work and puts it all in writing. Never enter into a deal unless all of the costs are well understood up front.

Ask them a bit about how they manage payments. If they respond in a very business-like and professional manner, this is a good sign. If they throw out answers like – “Don’t worry, we’ll manage” or “Whatever you are comfortable with”, don’t be fooled. This is trouble waiting to happen. Get the price in writing before you begin the project.

5. Do you have experience with search engine optimization?

Most small business owners do not have it in their budget to hire a separate marketing firm to work on search engine optimization (SEO), so it imperative that your web designer have experience in SEO. A good designer will know that design and SEO go hand-in-hand. Designing a web site for search engines with “clean” code that utilizes cascading style sheets is essential to getting your content indexed in the leading search engines, such as Google and Bing.

6. Do you have experience with social media marketing?

Many marketing firms do know the first thing about social media marketing. These firms are stuck in the past and are not as effective as they pretend to be. Be sure that you work with a designer that knows how to setup a Facebook fan page for your business and design a customized Twitter profile. This is important because you will want your social media properties to mesh with the design of your web site. The web site and social media pages should complement one-another.

7. What is your process for designing or building a web site?

Make sure you ask your potential web design company about the process that they use? Do they design a web site or do they build a web site? An experienced Internet professional should understand the difference between these two concepts. If they don’t, they’re probably not as experienced as they claim to be. Building a web site is a highly technical process, while designing a web site is a highly creative process. Many advertising firms specialize in web site design which does not necessarily require any web development skills whatsoever. At the same time, many firms design web sites, yet out-source the creative portion of the project. Find out from the beginning what the process if for the firm that you are considering.

8. How long will it take?

Perfectionism can be a huge stumbling block in the fast paced world of the Internet. Some designers are unable to compromise between quality and time to market needs. Test: See how long it takes until you receive a proposal.

9. What type of support is offered after web site launch?

If your design firm does not offer web site maintenance, you might want to continue looking. Most reputable design firms will offer “post-launch” maintenance for companies that do not have an in-house webmaster.

10. Which web hosting providers do you work with?

If your design firm does not know the first-names of the contact at their favorite web design firm, then this should raise a red flag. Most reputable web designers know not to choose a web host simply because they are the most popular or because they offer the cheapest web hosting. A reputable web design firm should know who to call and how to get results! Does your web designer work with a green hosting company? Environmentally-friendly web hosting is becoming more and more popular for business web sites looking to implement an eco-policy.

Getting a little recognition on the W3 is hard, even in a niche market (especially in a niche market). You have less than 10 seconds to convince a site visitor to stick around long enough to learn about the quality of your services, your products or your message. Web surfers are jagged out on information overload. If they don’t see what they want to see on your home page or a landing page, they bounce. So, making a statement about your corporate culture and your business’ core values has to happen in the blink of an eye. Visitors will never even see the “About Us” page if you don’t create a good impression – in 10 seconds. So, go green! An emblem or banner proclaiming that you employ green hosting makes an immediate statement about your on-line business. It says you care about the environment.

Do your homework when choosing a web design firm.

Good designers are creative people that need to think out of the box. Finding a good web designer is getting harder and harder. The good designers are being snatched by agencies and large projects. They are overloaded with work and often, you won’t know about them because they don’t have time (or need) to market themselves. Doing your homework and asking the right questions is important to decide if they are right for the job.