You’re not an expert on the process of working with a website designer, and nor should you be. However, like any service you only buy once in a blue moon, you can be at a disadvantage, if you have no inkling of smart questions to ask.
Here are 7 questions you should ask, plus 3 more which might be revealing. No professional designer should object to answering them.
The best questions to ask your website designer
1. What technology / platform will you use, and why is it right for me?
Some designers work on different platforms for different clients, but many specialize, for example, in WordPress or Squarespace. I work with Carrd, which is best for clean, simple websites without bells & whistles.
Choice of technology can be confusing, but be aware that options are changing fast. Just because a friend mentions one platform, this might not be the best solution for you. WordPress enjoys considerable market dominance but I no longer recommend it for anyone who isn’t technically adept. Squarespace is an excellent product but usually comes with a higher price tag, and may be more than you need.
For more information on evaluating a website platform, I invite you to download my free website starter kit.
Your website designer should be able to explain why their suggested platform is right for your needs. This is a good moment to check they have asked you plenty of questions to understand those needs!
2. What will my ongoing costs be?
You need to know not only your upfront costs for getting your website built, but the monthly or annual fees you’ll incur indefinitely. These can include the ongoing cost of owning your domain name (approx US$12 per year), hosting (the online space where your website files live), and any continuing help or maintenance you need from your website professional. This last category can be pricey, and once you’ve made a significant upfront investment, you’ll probably be reluctant to switch. So if maintenance is going to cost you, say, $40-80 per month, you need to budget for it.
3. What commissions do you make from my project?
Often called affiliate income, this can be an important source of revenue for many online professionals. There’s nothing wrong with them making a commission from referring you (for example, for a hosting service), but you want to be sure they love what they’re recommending, and don’t simply stand to make a nice fat fee from your purchase. For example, when I refer a new client to Carrd, I make less than $6. Other hosting services reward their affiliates with over $100.
4. What extra costs might I incur during our work together?
Hopefully, you’ve agreed a project fee which you feel is reasonable. But look carefully at the scope of what’s included. Some designers charge extra for additional pages, and some even restrict the number of photos they’ll upload for you, before costs rise. They’re not setting out to nickle and dime you: “scope creep” is a problem for all kinds of projects, and every extra that you request will eat into your designer’s profit. Although you might not intend to mess them around, it’s likely you won’t truly understand all that you need, until you see it coming together. So it’s worth asking what additional items other clients have ended up paying for.
5. What’s your background and skill set?
In my opinion, the ideal website designer has a combination of technical ability, design flair, and marketing expertise. If you can find an individual with all three talents, you’ll be getting extra value, and their fee will likely reflect this. If you hire someone and can tell them exactly how you want your site to look and function, then you only really need a “pixel pusher”. But, you’re not an expert in effective website layouts which prompt visitors to take action, so you’d probably benefit from some advice here. If you have a consultation before you sign on as a client, notice what questions the web designer is asking you: there are clues here on whether they’ll simply implement your wishes without question, or whether they’ll add value as a strategic marketing partner.
6. Who will actually build my website?
If you are impressed by your initial conversation with a designer, it’s worth checking to see if they themselves will build your site, or whether they will then pass it to a sub-contractor. Whether or not that person’s first language is English, there’s plenty that can get “lost in translation” when the person doing the work is not the person in touch with you. If a sub-contractor is involved, it’s more likely you’ll be in that “pixel pushing” territory, with less strategic value added.
7. How will I maintain my website?
As mentioned already with ongoing costs, you should be clear whether your website designer expects to hand it over to you to keep fresh, or whether you’ll be paying them for ongoing edits and updates. There are pros and cons to both approaches, but if you’re reliant on someone else to make changes, be sure you understand both the costs and their availability. In times of urgency, I believe every small business owner should be able to make basic updates to their website themselves.
Questions which are less helpful:
There is no harm in asking these questions, but the way in which a website designer responds may tell you more than the answer itself. You’ll get clues here about the nature of the working relationship your designer expects.
8. Will my site be SEO friendly?
Every professional website developer should take basic steps to make sure your website can be easily found by Google. However, they absolutely should not promise you certain results: there are far too many variables, including the proliferation of similar websites, your niche (or lack of), the advertising budgets of your competitors, and the vagaries of search algorithms.
They’re also doing you a disservice to imply that once your website is optimized for SEO, that you can simply sit back and wait for business to roll in. That’s extremely unlikely: as a solopreneur, you should plan to use your website as a tool to underpin your other promotional efforts. It’s not a replacement for you spreading the word about your work.
9. Will my website look good on a mobile device?
If your website designer even blinks at this question, move on. These days, this is like buying a car and wondering if it comes with brakes. Your website must be viewed easily on phones and smaller devices. Note, however, that every browser and device takes a slightly different approach to how your content appears, so you will not have perfect control over the placement of every item. For example, line breaks will occur in different places, buttons will resize, and spacing between elements may adjust. Nonetheless, your site should look good and function without glitches, on all screen sizes.
10. How long will it take for you to build my website?
Ideally, you should get a tactfully worded answer that building a website is a collaborative project and that you, the client, are almost always the slowest part of the process! You’ll need to provide extensive material initially to your website designer, and then you’ll need to review & approve work in progress, make decisions on complementary features (like an email list provider, for example), and sign off the final result.
Some website designers insist that you package everything they need and submit it before they begin, in which case this question has more relevance. However, I’m not a fan of this approach as I truly believe the best websites are built together, and there’s no way you can know in advance whether you’ve drafted too much copy, or whether certain elements will work well, once they’re on a page together. So, if your website professional invites you to send “everything” and then names a timescale, this is probably a sign you’re hiring a pixel pusher, not a collaborative partner.
Hopefully, these questions will spark a useful conversation with your intended website designer. You’ll get more sense for that person’s philosophy and approach, and a better idea of whether you’ll be a good match to work together. I answer most of these on my FAQ page, but if you’re interested in a 1:1 project, I’m happy to discuss them during your free consultation, too.
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