For the past 10 years or so, I have spoken to hundreds of people that hired a web designer before Trig Web Design for various reasons, and have come back with the saddest stories about getting ripped off. Unfortunately, the last few years we have seen the uprising of a large number of shysters in the Web Design and SEO business, chock full of mean, uncaring and untalented people that take your money, promise you the world, then disappear after the check clears. Most of the time, they deliver some kind of website, but nothing like what they promised, and the client is stuck with no more money, and a poor design that won't make them a penny. In the hope that some people out there looking for a web designer find this article, I want to tell you what to look for when hiring a web design company, and how to avoid getting ripped off.
Hiring a web designer without "Googling" them - People will Google someone after a first date, but not if they are hiring them to do a web design. This is the most dangerous way to hire any company for any reason. In any industry, chances are if they are scammers, someone out there has complained about them. Go to Google.com and search their name and business name with words like "scam", "fraud", and "complaint". If they have a track record of screwing their customers, this is where you will find out.
Doing it yourself, then hiring a pro for the "hard parts" - This is possibly the worse-case-scenario you can be in. If you have taken it upon yourself to build your own website, it' a lot like representing yourself in court. If you don't know what you are doing, you can do much more harm than good. When you reach a point where you're stuck, you will hire anyone that you think can help. What happens most of the time is that the designer will come in, do what you want, but not put any real effort into it; after all, he knows your-self made website isn't going to get traffic, or convert to sales, so the designer will do only what you hire him for, and charge you by the hour at his highest rate. The worst part is, the client usually blames the part time designer for the eventual failure of the website, which is not really fair to the designer. Moral of the story - don't do it yourself unless you really know what you are doing.
Hiring your relative / friend / former roommate - Everyone I have talked to has had a misguided sense of loyalty to the people they know that can "do a website". Just because your brother-in-law wrote a website (poorly) about his wife's cooking, doesn't mean he'll be able to create a good website for your business. I hear all kinds of reasons for doing this, but the most common is "I didn't know any better at the time". While web design and SEO is a bit intimidating, it only requires a bit of research on Google to find out what is involved, and how to hire an affordable, reputable company that will create your website to reflect your business.
Not checking out your competition - Business 101 states that there are a few immutable laws to starting a successful business. One is location, location, location; two is knowing your competition. The same holds true for a website. As a business owner, you have to be aware of your competition. You have to look at their websites and know (before you start) what you want to look like, or be better than. If you haven't looked at your competitors, don't worry; you'll be working for them soon enough!
Buying a site for $299 - This is a gimmick that is being used by a lot of my competitors. This "bait and switch" tactic is killing the web design market, as well as people's businesses. Websites for $299 are simple, 2 page sites that have no edited content (you have to provide it all), and no SEO. Optimization of your website is not just the words on the page, it is also the construction of it. The Google Webmaster Guidelines is a great place to look at how Google themselves rate a website. A cheap website is just that - cheap. Depending on what you need, you will need to spend at least $500 minimum on your website, more if you want things like a calendar, extra pages, blogs, forms, etc. I say $500 because that will buy you the minimum of what you really need; base pages like Home, About, Services and Contact. Any less than this and no one (especially the search engines) will take your site or business seriously.
Hiring a company that outsources all the work to India - This is a scary trend that is not only resulting in bad websites and angry clients, but is draining our economy as well. Some of my competitors claim that they are creating jobs here in the USA, when they are really just lining their pockets and funneling our hard earned money overseas. These overseas companies take months to build a simple website, and with their high employee turnover rates, you can have half a dozen people working on your website before it's finally finished. Most of the time, people have to sue them just to get their badly made website! Make sure you ask them if they outsource and check them out on Google first.
Signing a contract that strangles you - This is possibly the sleaziest tactic employed by some of my competitors. Instead of spending their time and money on learning how to design better, they use it on lawyers to write confusing contracts that protect them from you - not the other way around. Some of these contracts even state that you have to pay them, even if they don't finish your website! Some of these guys spend as much time with lawyers and in court as they do selling new clients; suing for money they never earned or being sued for work they never did. If their contract is not written in simple language, have a lawyer take a look at it before you sign.
Bottom line is to use common sense and take the time to do it right the first time, and you will avoid spending thousands over the long haul. Check out the company on Google, contact their former clients if they have testimonials or reviews. Look at their work and make sure their style is to your liking. Most of all, if something they say doesn't quite ring true, run - you're about to be taken to the cleaners.