Choosing the Right Web Company/Designer For You

With the rise of Content Management Systems (CMS) like WordPress in the last 10 years, the process of building a website has been greatly simplified. Unfortunately, this simplicity has also made it easy for amateur developers to make some quick bucks from people who don’t understand the technology. Doing a quick and rough job, they often fail to properly develop a site that meets system standards, which leads to broken websites.

In the past, I have given quotes to clients for their websites, but they have chosen to go with a cheaper alternative. Each time this happens, they come back to me requesting for help fixing issues because either their web company is unreachable or the developers just don’t know how to solve the issue.

There are two reasons why this might happen. First, the web developer might be someone who you contacted locally but has no real understanding of web development beyond setting up a pre-made template on a WordPress site. On the other hand, the web design company may outsource their work to an amateur developer in another country. While this leads to a cheaper price, the quality of their work may not be worth the price tag.

When looking for a web designer, do your research! Just like hiring someone for a position within your company, a babysitter for your children, or a contractor for home renovations, you have to do your part. You’re investing hundreds and thousands of dollars, so why go into a business relationship blindly?

Here are the 7 things to do before choosing a web designer:

1. Review their experience and a portfolio

Having experience and a portfolio is a must! Ask about previous projects and take a look at the websites they’ve created. You’re not looking for a high number of projects, you’re looking for diverse and high quality projects done. If all the web projects look similar, then this may be a web company that recycles a theme for all their clients. As a result, your web developer may not have the knowledge to debug your site when issues arise because they only know how to use one theme – their theme.

2. Contact previous clients or read about their testimonies

Do a reference check and reach out to past clients. Get an idea of how their experience was. Did the web company explain things thoroughly in a way that their client could understand? Were they reachable when issues arose? Was the project finished on time? If the project was delayed, was there enough communication on their end? All of these questions are important to determine what your experience as a client may be like.

3. Make sure there’s a contract!

A good web design company should provide you a contract so you know exactly what to expect. In the contract, look for things like:

  • A clear outline of what is in the project scope
  • Project timeline and project milestones that are clearly laid out
  • The number of revisions are allowed at different stages of the project
  • How much would it cost if requests are beyond the project scope
  • Training/documentation provided at project launch
  • The cost breakdown
  • Payment due dates (deposit, interim and final payments)
  • Grace period (if any) after project launch if any issues arise

Contact me if you need assistance with this!

4. Request for training

Don’t skimp out on costs because you think that training is unnecessary. If you’re busy doing what you are good at, don’t waste time on reading on documentation to update the site. Most of my clients’ sites are simple enough that it takes only one hour for the training. One hour with me will give you the confidence in updating your website.

With my websites, you shouldn’t need to hire me to do content updates. The whole point of a WordPress website is so you (the client) can make the updates yourself – placing the power and autonomy in your hands.

5. You should have the option of full access

A web company should give you the option of having full access or partial access. If a novice user with full access changes a certain section of a WordPress site, it could end up breaking the site or undoing updates. This is why certain web companies limit access. However, the website belongs to you, so you should be able to request full access.

If your web company only gives you partial access (such as no access to appearance, plugins, users, and settings sections), then it’s their way to ask for more money when you want to do design/functionality updates. This is where training is important, so that I can advise you exactly which sections to edit and which to avoid.

6. Ask about different pricing options

A web company should be able to provide different pricing options. There are many different ways a site is built. Some take more time than others, some have more robust creative solutions, and some require a different management approach. A web designer should be able to offer a variety of options to meet your needs.

7. Make sure it’s someone you trust

Your web designer should be someone you trust. Don’t go for the web company because of a price tag. If a price tag is low, under $1000, find out why. As mentioned before, some of these low cost web companies outsource their staff, and aren’t actually available to troubleshoot and fix issues.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have worked for a non-profit organization that hired a popular web design company that targeted non-profit organizations. Their price tag was $60 000 for a custom CMS and I ended up sending 200+ issues to them to get fixed. With a cost like that, you shouldn’t be encountering so many problems.

These are the 7 things you need to do before choosing a web designer. With my own websites, I ensure that my projects are well-tested and easy to use. Additionally, I include a one month grace period so if issues arise, you can come back to me for support.

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Navigating the Price of a Website

So you got some quotes back from web design companies for your project and you’re not sure if it’s worth it. I’ve seen website quotes less than $2,000 to quotes as much as $60,000. Which one should you go for? 

Just because a website costs a lot doesn’t mean it will be trustworthy and easy to use. On the flip side, websites that cost very little may be riddled with issues. 

Here are the kind of websites I have found based on these quotes.

The cheap, less than $2,000 website

What to expect from the vendor

Most of these vendors are inexperienced. They may only be starting out and trying to get as much experience as possible. This means when issues arise, they might not know how to fix your website, or they haven’t gotten a grasp of the project as a whole, and unable to see every aspect of the project.

If the vendor says they have worked with many clients, it may be that they created their own WordPress theme and just duplicate it for all their clients. In the cases I saw, these vendors created their own theme, but do not have the resources to keep their theme up-to-date with the latest version of WordPress. 

WordPress is an open source software, which means that the developers have allow anybody to access their code. But when I say anybody, it means anybody – designer, developers and hackers. The site may be perfect today, but tomorrow, when there is a WordPress update, there will be gaps. 

Why there are gaps? Themes are not developed by WordPress. WordPress does develop one theme per year, but the rest are developed by theme designers and developers. Hackers look for these gaps to break your site. If your web designer doesn’t know how to update your theme to the current WordPress standard, you could be vulnerable to be hacked.

Issues that arise

In the case of one of my clients, their theme was built by a vendor but there was no update button. The moment WordPress made an update, that theme was instantly outdated. The site was doomed to be hacked. I was able to fix the hack, but the theme is still not able to be updated. As a result, we’re currently rebuilding the site onto a theme that is updatable. 

In another case, my client had a vendor build upon a default WordPress theme. All themes and plugins have their own set of files, the most up-to-date WordPress files originates at WordPress’ repository. The theme on any WordPress site is just a copy of those files. Since the vendor built upon the theme files that reside on the client’s side, the moment the client updated the theme, all the work that vendor did was overwritten. This is a loophole that the vendor used in order to get more money from this client. The client could have chosen not to update the theme, but the site would be hackable. In this scenario, this site was already set up to fail in the first place.

The ridiculous $60 000 website

What to expect from the vendor

When I was working for a not-profit organization, they hired a vendor that charged $60 000. Why did this site cost so much? The organization I was working for was ill-advised, probably by the vendor, to get a fully custom website. A site costs this much usually means they’re building a system from scratch. For perspective, it’s like buying the very first prototype of a new model for a car. Why would you want to spend money on something that hasn’t yet been through quality assurance?

Rather than providing an already existing, tested version of their product, they built a system from scratch. In addition, there was no flexibility to changing the design. A content management system should allow any knowledgeable web designer make changes to the look and feel of the website, so this was especially bizarre.

Issues that arise

While I was hired on for graphic design at the organization, and they knew that I had web background, I was enlisted to see the project to completion which had been sitting around in development for 4 years.

To pay $60,000 for a website, you’d expect it to be functioning perfectly, but this was not the case. I discovered over 200 bugs on this site. Beyond this, I could never get in contact with the vendor. If you’ve paid $60,000 including ongoing costs of $200+ a month for them to host the site, you deserve some good customer service.

Needless to say, the vendor changed their company name twice already to avoid being caught, and the organization changed their website since.

So what is a good price for a website?

Look for experience and look for something that doesn’t break your bank either. If the $60,000 website doesn’t work out, then how can you replace it? In the end, it’s not the price determines whether if it’ll be a good site or not, it’s your trust in the vendor. 

When I went to look for quotes for basement renovations, we went with a guy who gave us a quote right in the middle. The most expensive vendor was just saying everything we needed to hear, and the cheapest vendor just gave us a quick quote. The guy who we went with took the time to explain things to us, why one design works and another doesn’t work. He was such a pleasure to work with. 

In the end, you have to ask yourself: how much is trust worth to you?