Hiring a Web Professional

Steve Burrows

Hiring a web professional for MSPs. As a seasoned web designer, I thought I would offer a guide to hiring a web professional to design and build a website, as an alternative to using downloaded templates. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section. This is the first in a series of articles that will aim to provide practical guides for MSPs on branding, website design, Content Management Systems, online marketing strategy, content strategy, and more.

Introduction

A good website is not difficult to set up; however, a great website is very difficult to set up. There are undoubtedly dozens of experienced, passionate, and talented professionals in your town, city, or region that are itching to apply those hard-earned attributes to your business. They have the potential to deliver a website that looks fantastic, reflects your brand attributes, is easy to find, and works hard to bring you more customers. The following is a brief guide to who you need, what they should provide, and why you should avoid doing this yourself.

What I am looking for again?

A web professional (also known as simply 'web designer') should include the following in their skillset:

  • Website design: a creative outlook
  • Website development: turn that design into a fast, error-free website
  • Content Management System development: allow that website to be updated using the latest version of a commercial or Open Source CMS
  • Online marketing: create and apply a strategy to get people on the website

For a bit more money, you will be able to hire someone who also has the following in their locker:

  • Copywriting skills: “First person? Third person? Too casual? Too formal? What do I say on the About Us page? How do I explain how great this new antivirus service is?”
  • Graphic design skills: “Do I need a new logo? Can I get a new business card to match the website?”

A true professional will have the means to prove that they have these skills and are actively putting them to use for businesses to some measurable level of success.

Where are these web professionals?

You could start looking on websites that allow people to ‘bid’ on projects, however, it is very difficult to find reliable people here with quality work to show you. Find someone local but generally avoid the big agencies (unless you receive assurances that you will be working directly with a designer, not an account manager).

A search through Google (or the preferred search engine of your choice!) maybe lead you to some promising candidates. The key here is to look for testimonials from existing clients, and visit the websites the designer has created. Check these sites against the considerations listed below so you know what to look for.

A solid strategy here is to ask for recommendations from colleagues, customers, friends, local businesses, etc. who may have worked with a local web professional recently.

Okay, I found them – but who should I hire?

Research, research, research. Look through their Facebook profile, Twitter profile, LinkedIn account – are they serious about what they do, or are they hobbyists? Will they be easy to work with, knowledgeable, and reliable? 

As mentioned previously, expect an online portfolio of recent work, but also someone who can meet with you and confidently take you through similar work they have completed for another business. They may have experience creating a website for an IT company but this should be considered a bonus rather than an expectation – a good website designer is adaptable in their work.

They'll want some money, right? How much?

The amount of money that a web professional charges will vary wildly, depending on their experience, demand for their services, and geographical location.

Ideally, you would have a predetermined budget for promoting your business as part of a yearly plan, and the cost for a new website would be a significant part of this budget.

Tell them what you need in a format that allows them to price each feature. For example:

  • Website design: Mock-up of the homepage
  • Website template: A single page powered by PHP or HTML, CSS, Javascript (if necessary)
  • Content Management System Installation: A basic installation of a CMS, integrated with the website template
  • CMS feature: Image gallery
  • CMS feature: Survery functionality
  • CMS feature: Blog system with comments
  • CMS feature: Contact form with anti-spam protection
  • Website Analytics: A system that measures website statistics and produces reports.
  • Website Marketing Strategy: Creation and implementation of a strategy that increases unique visits to site, improves Google Page Rankings, and improves search engine results position for 5 key phrases

Have them quote for each feature, as well as providing a total including tax, and the amount required for the deposit - insist on providing a deposit because it will commit both parties to the project. The remainder of the amount due would normally be paid when the website is live.

If the total amount quoted is out of your budget, firstly, don't panic, and secondly, ask for some of the non-essential features to be removed for now (can the image gallery and survey functionality wait until next year?). Asking a website designer to 'have another look at their pricing' or similar is tantamount to saying 'I don't value the service you have offered' in their eyes - the project is unlikely to be enjoyable or a success from that point.

If the amount quoted is still out of your budget, you may need to look at a designer with less experience, however, this may not produce the results you need - a general rule here is 'money out - money in' (or GIGO if you prefer!).

A successful website will require both financial and time investment but will bring new customers and keep current customers reassured - the website is effectively another 'front door' or 'window' to your business, and a good one can be an advantage over competitors, which is worth a lot in these challenging times.

This is taking time (and money)! I just want a website – how complicated can it be?

A website that will actually bring people to your door, get the phone ringing, and be a valuable asset to your business (and the envy of your competitors) will need to be created with care and constantly maintained to include the following key considerations:

  • Aesthetics
    A design that stands out from the competition.
  • Content
    Content is King. The content, which you will need to supply at the start of the project, will dictate the design, not the other way around.
  • Content Management Systems
    Let the web professional make the choice but don’t get tied into a CMS that they aren't really familiar with (ask a few challenging questions!) and ensure that upgrading the CMS with new features isn't going to be restrictive or overly expensive. Ask for demonstration of past CMS work.
  • Social-awareness
    Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn should be the focus of your online marketing and as such should be integrated into your new website in a way that encourages people to interact with you.
  • Stay mobile
    How many potential clients will visit your site on a mobile device? iPads, iPhones, and the rapidly-growing Android devices are everywhere - having a website that can make the most of them is a big advantage.
  • The Search Engine Maze
    Search Engine marketing is complicated – an ever-changing science that requires, foremostly, a website that has content that people are actually reading (promoting your website through the social networks will help here), content that is being updated constantly, and a website that loads fast (your site will be penalised if it’s slow!).

    Look for a website designer who can show you websites they have created which rank highly for keywords that actually help that company in some way.

I will be penning individual articles that cover the above topics in all the detail you'll need, in easily-digestible chunks.

Conclusion

To summarise then, you need a web professional that can show you the following before signing a contract (no contract? Walk away):

  • Samples of web design work
  • Samples of graphic design work (if you need branding or printed collateral)
  • Examples of Content Managed websites, and how the administration area operates

You will need to provide:

  • A deposit (usually 30-50%)
  • Detailed requirements
  • The content

They should then be in a great position to deliver a website that covers, at a minimum, the requirements mentioned above. The results will go beyond anything you could expect from a downloaded template or something created quickly over a spare weekend!

In summary, to reap rewards from online marketing, you need to trust in a website professional and their many skills, just like your customers trust in you and the software you employ.