I write advice for designers. My articles are guides on how to be professional and how to best service a client’s needs while guaranteeing the best possible solution and a superior product. Clients should be thankful that these articles are well received and teach professional practices to members of a service industry who truly desire to offer their best to clients. In discussing my next article…THIS article with my editor, we realized that clients could use the same information to assure themselves of delivery of the best possible solution to their needs.
Firstly, as a client with a business, large or small or anything in between, you have to understand that you want to deal with a professional and the best way to do that is to treat them in a professional manner. If you understand not only the process of how a web site is envisioned, constructed and delivered but also how a designer works and your part in the entire process, you will find the experience can be effective and cost saving.
You will have four avenues available to you when you want a web site designed for your business:
A design studio that specializes in web design. They won’t be cheap but will give you incredible FULL service. They will provide all design, programming, photography, copywriting, uploading, debugging, SEO and even web hosting in many cases. As the client, all you need to do is tell them what demographics you have or want and they will do the rest.
A freelancer will also provide most, if not all of the same services but at a lower cost because their overhead isn’t as high as a design studio. You will need to sign more checks as a freelancer can’t cover certain costs by themselves and need to farm out services like photography, content writing, coding and web hosting.
Ready made templates, WordPress and design contests are another avenue but you will need to be very involved with the process and make sure you have a handle on your needs and the ability to design and/or put forth your needs with little or no hope of changes later on.
Templates are usually drag-and-drop on-line services that give you a choice of template designs in which you plug in your own copy writing and photos. WordPress is the same as is Blogger. Each service has different functionalities and restrictions, so the research is up to you.
With a design contest, you will need to communicate ALL of your needs and visions and designers from around the world will submit their solutions and you pick a “winner.” In most cases, you will then need to pick a web hosting company (find reviews of hosting firms here) and upload and debug your site yourself. The amount of work you need in a contest situation will spell out what kind of “prize” or final fee you must offer to draw quality designers into your contest or, as in the case of eLance or oDesk, get them to bid their fees for what you have listed.
The fourth avenue will just lead to disaster. This is when you decide you can get the work for free with false promises and threats. There are at least a hundred articles on the web about clients who take this tactic. Professional designers are wise to the promises that are so uniform it’s frightening and there is stipulation as to the existence of a book on how to ask for free work with enticing promises that never have to be fulfilled.
These promises range from the ever popular, “do this for free and there will be paying work later” to “if you don’t do it, I’ll just find an art student who’ll jump at this opportunity to have their work seen by some influential people.” The truth is that professional designers don’t fall for any of the dozens of reasons a client has for doing the work for free and anyone who does fall for it will not give you a professional web site.
When faced with the financial considerations, you might say, “what does that matter?” Well, your web site is your virtual introduction to clients and prospects. If it isn’t professional, then your business will be judged as unprofessional. It’s plain and simple. The one truth that runs through all four avenues is that you get what you pay for. The less you pay, the more YOU will need to work to make your web site a success. If you are able to get someone to do your site for free, then you will need to be just as good as the designer so you can make sure the function, navigation and branded look are right on target. When someone works for free, they are also more likely to walk away from the project and when time is money for your business, you can’t afford to have to spend another two weeks to a month to replace a freebie designer.
The biggest mistake a client makes when it comes to the creation of a web site is not wanting to do what they consider, “losing control.” In a proper and professional job, a web designer or studio will have a transparent process with every step of the project. You do not just hand them money and wait for a finished site. The designer or project manager should explain process steps as or before they occur and explain them in layperson’s terms you can understand. If you don’t understand, just ask. There are no stupid questions when it comes to your project.
There is, however, a trust that you should have when it comes to understanding a professional design will do what is best for the client and their business. A professional and effective job means the client will return for updates and more work as their business evolves and grows.
To that end, when you first meet with the person or people who will handle your design project, it’s best to hear them out for their design ideas. One of the worst things a client can do is to point out a site and say, “make mine look like this one!”
A professional designer knows the ins and outs of the copyright law and starting one of the most important marketing tools of your business with copyright infringement, is a recipe for disaster (yet another reason to steer away from free work as shortcuts taken to minimize the project can come back to haunt you with possible financial ruin).
Another major problem with the project process is when a client invites everyone they know – employees, friends and the “artsy” niece to comment upon the design and expect the designer or studio to implement all of those changes. Design-by-committee has never helped a product and will only water down your message by taking your site and marketing in many different directions.
Even if the designer presents you with one final solution, rest assured they have explored several solutions and have chosen the strongest one for your needs. Trust that the designer also has their reputation as a top professional in mind and if your business doesn’t prosper from the site they designed, it reflects poorly upon them. They will do their utmost to please you and give you what you NEED and perhaps not what you want. The opinions of employees, friends and relatives are not based on what is best for your company but more their concern for your feelings and what they think YOU want.
Contracts and Payments
This is a sensitive subject for most projects. As you are not buying a car or lamp, you cannot hold a web site in your hands and that can cause anxiety when it comes to handing over cash. If you’ve ever given a lawyer a retainer, not knowing what the outcome of the case will be, then it’s understandable you are nervous about handing over a deposit and milestone payments to a designer or design firm. By the same token, they are nervous you will not make final payments once they are done. Yet another horror story designers tell is of clients who demand the web site be designed and in place before any payments are made to see “if it does well.”
Web design and the marketing of the site are two different things. You cannot tie payment to the success of the site. You can demand that navigation is easy and user friendly, which any professional will consider while designing the site but the performance of your site depends on how you market it with print, advertising and social media. No amount of SEO will do the entire job.
In all of this trust a client and designer has, it is tied together with a sound and legal contract. Like a contract for the leasing of office equipment, phone service, office rent or any other service needed to do business, a contract assures both parties that the agreement will be honored and fulfilled. It also assures the client that all material is legally theirs and there will be no copyright issues down the road.
Part of a contract is assurances on how the project will proceed. Have you ever hired a contractor to remodel your kitchen and they quote a two-week project that turns into two-months? If you had a contract, you could fire the contractor or demand monetary compensation for the delays. You could even sue not only for the entire fee paid to that point but for the inconvenience of not having a working kitchen. The best way to deal with a contractor is through the use of milestone payments; small payments made as the project progresses, with a final payment made at the end. The contractor wants to get paid, so they will move the project along quickly…a professional contractor will but that’s another story I don’t care to relive from remodeling a six-bedroom house.
When your project has been contracted and is about to begin, you will be asked for a deposit of 20% to 50%, depending on the milestone payments laid out in the contract terms. As with a contractor who will work on your house, a designer/design firm has expenses he/she/they need to cover while working on your project. Research, salaries, overhead are all business expenses that will continue as your project evolves, so a deposit is a necessary payment.
Milestones are sections of a project. You may be asked to make small “milestone payments” as those sections are completed. For instance, the design phase of the project may be considered the first milestone. Once you sign off on the design direction, you will be expected to make a payment based on an agreed percentage. The programming for a test phase may be the second milestone. Uploading and debugging for final presentation may be the next milestone and payment and when the site goes live will be the final milestone and the last payment will be expected.
Some freelancers and firms may give you 30 days to make a final payment but that is rare these days and final payments are due once your approved site is available on the web.
When it comes to contests, payments are made upfront to the site that runs the contest. There are contractual terms that protect you as well as the site. When the entries are presented for you to judge and accept, the payment is made to the winner. Different contest sites have varied rules and payments if you want changes made to your winning choice, so make sure you read and understand the terms when using a contest site.
If you decide you can use a drag-an-drop template site to build your own web site, make sure you are happy with your final efforts. Most of these sites have help desks if you can’t figure something out and, as with any web building solution you choose, make sure your copy content is proofread! Typos can end up costing you if you offer a new car for $200 and meant $20,000. There are too many horror stories of typos trapping businesses into the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Get What You Want and Be Happy!
As with any professional business web and graphic designers want to provide you with the best solution for all of your design related needs. If you doubt the abilities of a web designer or firm, they will be happy to provide you with references and certainly a portfolio of impressive work should put your mind at ease when you want the best for your business.
Always feel free to discuss your concerns, ask questions and put forth your needs that will dovetail your brand and business goals. A professional designer or team will give you fantastic results…if you know the best way to work with them as fellow professionals. If you treat them as flaky artists who should be happy to do the work for free, then you will get the results of dealing with problem children in a special kindergarten. The question is, which is more important to your business?
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