Most of the problems that we see when it comes to how people hire website companies comes from a lack of clarity from the person doing the hiring regarding what they want out of their website.
There are three primary types of website companies.
1. The IT company.
2. The Design Company.
3. The Marketing/Advertising company.
There is nothing wrong with any of the three; they each have a specific niche.
The real problem is that all three say they are fully capable on any front when they aren’t. The issue is compounded when a client doesn’t know the difference or doesn’t know what to look for when hiring the firm.
The IT guys.
There are many levels of Information Technology (IT), web development starting from the company whose main work is fixing your computers all the way up to the enterprise level company that solves large technical problems. You can easily spot an IT firm at presentations because they focus on the technology first and the marketing communications second. These providers can be the right solution for the smaller level companies without large budgets. However, in many instances, organization assume that all websites are technical tools which should automatically go to an IT firm when modern websites are usually marketing tools that an IT firm isn’t best suited to build.
The Design Shop
You can spot the design firm presentation because they will focus heavily on their past designs or showing you designs of what your new website might look like if you hire them. Assuming it’s a good shop, a design firm can help your web image look fantastic. There are many mid-level design firms that can get you on the web at an affordable price. Often times design focused firms will hire out freelancers to actually do the technical work on the site while they focus on making you look pretty.
The Marketing Guys
The Marketing or Ad Firm can be the best or worst decision among the group. Usually, they are most expensive due to high overhead (i.e. employees, buildings, offices, etc.). You can spot the Marketing Agency because they will talk about results first with design and tech as simply parts of the solution. The trick is being able to separate the good firms from the poor, as well as managing expectations. A good firm can deliver impactful change for your organization on the web. A weak firm may leave your wallet empty and you wondering what happened.
Here are some steps to help decide and make your new website experience more fruitful.
First, start at the end.
Define what it is you want from this website: What do you want it to do? More sales? Better image? More awareness? Provide a service? Once you know what you want to provide on the web, the type of firm you should hire will become much more clear.
Ask about Time, Project Management and Process.
A website is a multi-part process that can vary in production time due to a multitude of factors. The agency you hire should be able to clearly demonstrate how they will mange the project, as well as give you time estimations based on your particular variables. This point goes for every type of firm. Ask questions. At what stage of the project will we see what? Will they just disappear and show up with a “finished” site three months later? What work are they outsourcing? What happens with maintenance and support after the website goes live? Many firms will not show a design until the site is built. While for some this is okay, most organization like to see an illustration or sketch of what the end product before hundreds of hours are spent building it.
Because some clients are uncomfortable when talking about the web, they fail to ask for specific deliverables from their agency. Not defining deliverables or having them defined for you can lead to an open ended relationship where the web people are delivering what they think you want or the minimum they think they can get away with. But building a website is like building a building or any other product. You need to know what to expect. So, at the start of the project, outline specific functions of the website (i.e. timelines, content, etc.). If you can’t define these deliverables, ask them to define them so there is no inconsistency in expectations.
Where’s the beef? (Content)
Content is overlooked consistently but it’s what fills up your website, it’s what visitors will be looking at, and it’s what Google uses to rank you in searches. Is your content going to be text, pictures, video, some combination, or something else? Does the firm develop the content for you? Do you want them to? The IT Firm typically doesn’t develop content. The Design Firm usually subcontracts it out. And the Marketing Company does it at a premium.
Do you want to be educated on the possibilities of the website and have a relationship with the firm so they always keep you on the cutting edge? It’s a good idea to look for a firm that talks about the present and the future.
How much money you got?
Figure out what your budget is going to be for this website because that will determine the level of service that you will receive. Spending more does not necessarily mean you will get more. But, like your father said, you get what you pay for in life. You don’t necessarily need to share your specific budget with the firm, but try to determine the amount you could conceivably budget on the project keeping in mind your goals (if you want a site to make you millions, you probably should spend more than $500). Different agencies charge a really wide variety of prices based on factors like expertise, location, staff size, and more. Websites can range from $1,000 to $200,000 and its a good idea to know what priority you give your site.
Check the References.
This gets overlooked more often than we like to think about. Ask and check references because it can save you time, money and sanity. If you call ten references and eight had amazing experiences, it’s much better than if none or one did. Think of it like you’re hiring an employee or accepting a tenant. You wouldn’t hire or let someone live in your house without checking their backgrounds. Why should hiring a web contractor be any different?
One other thing to keep in mind if you’re really small or have a super tiny budget: There are services out there that make building your own website (within templates and without any custom functionality) fairly easily. Companies like SquareSpace.com and Moonfruit.com are resources for this type of project.
And, finally, no questions are bad questions. So ask your firms the most basic of questions because, once your site is complete, it will always be more about you than it will be about them.