How Do I Find a Good Web Designer?
We aren’t going to tell you to open a search engine and search for local web designers. You know that already. Still, there is way more to the process than that, and we want to set you up for success!
If you’ve made the decision to hire someone to design a website for you, regardless of how you arrived at that decision, you have some new questions to consider…
- How much will it cost to hire a website designer?
- How long does it take to build a website?
- How do I find a good web designer?
- What questions should you ask a website designer?
- How do you know which website designer to choose?
(See, the keyword placement silliness works because the rest of the article is so @#$%-ing valuable — which makes the search engines happy. And, I’m not being gross about it, which keeps you and I on good terms)
Let’s look at the cost first…
How much does it cost to hire a professional web designer?
If you’re following lean principles, you could honestly get a basic website built for a few hundred dollars, and maybe even less depending on the level of quality you are willing to accept.
If I’m asking Google “how can I create my own website for free,” I might consider if “free” is actually the most reasonable approach for me to take.
Alternatively, maybe you’ve started your research with a Google search for “how to find a web designer,” or the ever reliable “web designers near me” search strings…
Honestly, I have nothing negative to say.
Those searches are a great start.
You might get lucky and stumble onto someone inexpensive, and good — but you should know upfront, that combo (inexpensive and good) isn’t the standard.
As with everything, you get what you pay for.
Generally, the more skilled the craftsman is, the more they get paid. That’s the trade.
We can practically guarantee that the process will be smoother, faster, and more comfortable, if you hire an experienced pro.
They will be better able to address your specific needs.
The trade is that they will be more expensive than someone on a bottom-dollar freelance marketplace.
Where is your line in the sand?
On average, you can expect to spend somewhere between $5,000-$10,000 for an experienced professional to build a modest (2-10 page) website.
If you’re trying to build an online store, or other ecommerce website — those technologies can (will) add some extra costs to the project.
If you’re building in the WordPress ecosystem, Woocommerce (free) and Bigcommerce (not free) are solid options for software to build the shop with.
The best designers will guide you through your choices.
If you’re hiring a rookie, you can expect to pay anywhere from $0-$3,000 for a complete site.
There will be no guarantee of quality.
(Heads up: There are other costs too, even if you get a free domain. We’ll talk more about those soon. For now, just understand there are more costs involved in the average small business site than just hiring the designer.)
You’ll have to find your best balance here, but if you’re thinking lean (as we recommend that you do), then you’ll discover that more can be done with an objectively basic site than most people think — if you’re using it properly.
One more point, before we move on…
A complex website for a large organization can cost significantly more than $10,000, which is why you need to develop a healthy relationship between your expectations and your budget.
You will pay a premium for the technical knowledge of the seasoned expert. It takes a lot of know-how to build a fast site which ranks well on search engine result pages.
Figure out what you are comfortable spending.
When you eventually begin interviewing prospective designers, be honest with them about the number.
They need an honest assessment of the budget you have available for the project. Among other things, it gives the designer better direction when choosing which platforms to recommend to you.
Don’t worry about getting taken. You’ll be able to sniff out the ones padding their prices. Trust your instincts.
We are going to talk about how to find good candidates for the job before we talk about the questions you should ask — and before we do that, we (meaning you) need to look in the mirror and ask a question…
What do I want from my website?
It is important to have a clear understanding of the Goal before we begin researching or interviewing.
This applies even if you intend to outsource the web design project to a freelance marketplace like Fiverr. Get clear on your goal for the site, and then start your search.
Let’s tackle one more classic question, so I can be sure we are setting proper expectations…
How long does it take to build a website from start to finish?
We will talk about the designer’s timeline soon. But first, the obvious truth:
The length of time it takes to build a strong website can be weeks, or it can be months — it depends heavily on what you’re asking you developers to build, and how long it takes you to get your content together.
Experience often equals speed. If you hire a professional web designer, they will work quickly.
Speaking as an agency, we can safely say that the bottleneck happens with content.
Time spent waiting on approvals from you (the client) is going to delay the project. That said, a good agency will plan for client delays, and work them into the timeline.
Still, the fact remains, if the designer is perpetually waiting for the small business owner to provide content, or to approve something, the project will inevitably get delayed into the grave.
On average, basic websites take 4-6 weeks to create.
Use that as your baseline, but recognize and appreciate that the time estimate increases as complexity is added to the project. If you need a site with several complex features, maybe it takes 6-12 weeks, or more.
A good web designer can help set proper expectations for delivery if they understand the scope of your project.
How do you find good web designers?
We will operate under the assumption that you know how to use a search engine. It’s almost guaranteed that you used one to find this article.
You already know where to start.
If you’re stuck, “web designer + [location]” is a reliable search string to get you moving.
You will find freelancers, small 3-4 person firms, larger agencies, and freelance marketplaces like Fiverr, UpWork, and Dribbble.
Some options will have clear, easy to understand pricing information. Some won’t.
If you can’t find pricing, don’t let that discourage you. If you like their work enough, feel free to contact them.
You’ll likely learn something.
Yes, you may hear higher numbers than you would like but, you may not. Either way, the call won’t be a waste.
Of course, we understand that price matters a great deal. It makes sense that we might start our research there — but right now, price is not the most important consideration, no matter how limited the budget is.
So if we don’t start with price, where do we start?
First, we get an understanding of direction. As you research, your first goal is to get a sense for what style and aesthetic qualities you like in what you’re what you’re looking at. Not how much any of it costs.
You’re going to need to do this homework anyway, especially if you’re the owner of the business.
Right now, imagine yourself as a sponge, and you’re absorbing what you’re seeing.
Not making any choices, just taking it all in.
After you do this for a while, you’ll begin to notice preferences forming. You’ll notice a theme. A signal appearing in the noise.
- Which characteristics do you like?
- Which repel you?
Take note of these things, and keep a short list of any web designers whose work stands out from the rest.
When it comes to design services, we know it can be difficult to articulate what one does or doesn’t like.
This task may not come naturally, and that is ok.
As you browse portfolio sites, try to describe your likes and dislikes anyway. When trying to get to the root of a preference, we like the 5 Whys exercise. This should be less about content, and more about feeling.
If all you can come up with is “bright” and a happy face, that’s fine too. Also, try to elaborate. Why does bright get a happy face? What gets an unhappy face?
Grab a pen and paper. Use it to write down your reactions as you look through portfolios. There is no need to try for perfection, just respond, on the paper.
- Website #1: I like ____, I dislike _____.
- Website #2: I like ____, I dislike _____.
- Website #3: I like ____, I dislike _____.
Later on, a good designer can help articulate your preferences. Right now, you’re working off of your personal instincts.
Trust those instincts, and make some notes.
Review at least 10-20 portfolios. Write down your reactions to the work you’re reviewing.
Ideally, this exercise will show you a design theme you naturally gravitate toward.
Some people/brands love bright colors, others enjoy minimalism, some want dark and moody, and so on.
If you do this review process enough, you can eventually notice a theme in the options you consistently react positively to. Knowing that, is good.
Make note of designs you love, and be specific about what qualities attract you to them so strongly.
Write down qualities you like, and qualities you don’t.
Is there one style of content you like more than another?
The precise terms describing things will take shape later, don’t over-focus on finding the right words to explain your preference. The point is to capture the preference, not have it read like poetry.
(Your notes will also help you generate a good short list of people to seriously consider, and to possibly follow up with as you begin your research.)
Keep browsing through portfolios until you’ve made a list of 5-10 candidates who stand out to you.
If any of them have listed pricing which is beyond your budget, note what you liked about them, and then take them off the list.
Contact any remaining designers and set up a meeting.
You have a lot of questions to ask them…
What questions should you ask a web designer before hiring them?
You’ve reviewed their portfolios, and have decided to begin interviewing. What, exactly, do you need to know from them in your initial conversation?
Ideally, the designer will lead your customer experience in this meeting, and they will generally start the conversation with probing questions about your project.
They will want to know what you have in mind.
The more prepared you are, the better. That’s why you did all that work from the last section.
A good designer will be deeply curious about what you’re working on, and why you opted to contact them for it.
If they ask you what you’re wanting to build, but you’re stuck for an answer… telling them “a responsive website with a handful of pages, for my small business” will probably be an accurate answer for your situation.
If you need help determining number and types of pages, they can offer some insights for you.
Don’t shy away from explaining your business. It will help the designer understand the project better.
When the time comes, we suggest your first question be about their process.
Question 1: What can they tell you about their design process?
You want to know how they build things. If you asked them to build you a single business page, starting today, what would that process look like?
As they respond, you’re looking for some key information. The clarity and confidence of the designer (as they answer) will tell you a lot about their experience level. Here are some points we want you to listen for:
- Do they begin their process by ensuring they clearly understand the full scope of what you need?
- How much do they involve their clients in the steps of the design process?
- Who provides the imagery and graphics?
- Who provides the written content?
- How many rounds of revision are there?
- On average, how long does their process take, from start-to-finish?
You will likely meet a number of designers who specialize in the ever reliable WordPress site, it is a great platform and you shouldn’t feel surprised to hear it.
It is generally better to build on an existing ecosystem.
It is faster, and it costs less than custom development.
Question 2: What content will they need from you, and when?
I want you to know, a web designer does not generally provide custom photography.
Some will help you find relevant stock photography.
Yet, stock photos won’t work in every situation.
They are an imperfect answer and sometimes (often) you will need to have custom images created.
Illustrations are an alternative, or you can consider the possibility of avoiding photography on your new website altogether… like what we’ve done here.
If you cannot produce the images yourself, and there is no adequate stock imagery — you need a professional, nothing else will do. You cannot simply take what you find on Google. You will need to consider hiring a professional photographer.
From a purely practical standpoint, it will be less expensive to hire someone than it will be to buy a camera, some lights, and spend a bunch of time learning how to take the images yourself.
Find your own balance between time and money.
Some agencies have photographers on staff. Others can help find one to hire. Either way, if you need them, you’re going to have to pay to get custom images made.
The same goes for copywriting. Except, it is much more difficult to quickly become a good copywriter.
A person can learn to take product photos on a white background in less than a single weekend, for less than a few hundred dollars (camera included).
Copywriting is different.
It takes a different kind of skill to write a good sales letter. It can’t be learned in a weekend.
Web designers are generally not copywriters.
Don’t expect them to write your high-conversion funnel.
You will need to provide all of the verbiage for your site’s pages. They will work to structure it visually.
They don’t write it.
Some agencies have copywriters on staff. Others can help you find one to hire. Either way, you’re going to have to pay to get the copy written.
If it happens that you’ve found a web designer who is also adept at either photography, or copywriting, or both, expect to pay them for that service as well, if you ask them to provide it.
No matter who is involved, it is critical that everyone involved understand your goal, and produce work focused on it.
Question 3: How do they determine their pricing?
You want to know if they have a set pricing list. If they do, you want to know what is included in each tier.
If they don’t have a set pricing structure, find out what they can tell you about how they estimate projects.
Are there any transaction fees?
Ask about what an average project costs.
Listen for any distinctions they make about why something would be more (or less) expensive.
Wabbits charge substantially less for a single page contact form than we would for modest site, which puts that option well within reach of most early-stage startups. Find out if they do the same.
Question 4: Do they charge a recurring monthly fee for site maintenance or support?
Like a oil in a car, websites can generally go a little while without updates. A car can certainly run with old oil, but the odds of a problem happening rise the longer we go.
A website which is not regularly updated becomes a security risk. It may not be a dramatic problem if you’re a small consulting firm — but if you’re running a store, it can be a nuclear-level disaster.
There are bots roaming the internet, probing for sites with common security flaws — which is what you get when a site isn’t updated — and, when they find targets, they automatically attack. If successful, they can potentially access any information stored on the site.
That is obviously bad.
Ensure that you understand if, and how the web designer will help the site stay current.
Find out how they handle website maintenance.
Question 5: Who provides hosting?
Web hosting is a big topic, and there’s too much to cover for the scope of this question. What you need to know going in is, a professional website has to be hosted somewhere. Which means, like it or not, you will need to buy some kind of hosting plan.
Even if it’s the most basic of all basic plans, you need it.
Without a hosting service, people can’t see your website.
That’s how it works..
Determine if you will have to set up your hosting, or if the designer will.
Determine who will provide the SSL certificate.
Pricing for hosting can be fluid, and it depends heavily on traffic volume. If you have a site getting millions of visitors a day, hosting on a premium plan can cost thousands per month. That said, the average hosting account (for the average site) costs less that $50 a month. Some companies will even offer an unlimited plan to small startups.
Question 6: What can they do for clients operating with your budget?
At some point in your epic “I need a website” quest, you will need to talk about your budget.
There’s no sense in being coy about it.
Don’t allow yourself to feel weird or uneasy about discussing this topic.
Too many people shy away from having honest conversation about budget, and the results aren’t good.
Think of it as a collaborative effort on your project, where they bring a specific skill, and you provide the resources which allow them to get the project done.
Be willing to pay the expert what they deserve, and trust your instincts to help you avoid getting cheated.
If you have an uneasy feeling about a bid, discard it.
Question 7: Can you contact any of their previous clients as a reference?
One particularly unfortunate truth of the internet is that reviews can be faked. This sucks, because you want to know if other clients have enjoyed both the process and the results of working with this web designer.
It may not be possible to contact everyone in their portfolio anymore. People do go out of business, but…
If you are able, speaking to their other clients can be an asset when deciding between one designer, or another.
Reference requests are normal. An experienced pro will be able to provide a list with near immediacy.
If the testimonials on their websites are enough reference for you, then you can feel free to put less importance on this question.
Question 8: Can they show an example of their average contract?
Every agreement you make together, related to this project, will need to be in writing. We want to ensure both the owner, and the designer, are clear on what is expected of each. Make sure the agreement at least addresses each of the following three questions:
- How much will it cost?
- How long do we expect it to take?
- Who does what?
And any other critical details.
The point is to make sure everything is captured on paper, in writing, that way — if there is any confusion during the project — each person has a ruling document to refer back to. They’ve both agreed and signed it.
It is safer this way, for everyone involved.
Don’t. ever. skip. it.
How do you know which website designer is right for you?
If you’ve done the work outlined in the previous sections, and spent time talking with prospective web designers, then you’re likely approaching a critical mass of information. You don’t need to take in anymore. You have talked about SEO tools until you’re blue in the face.
Time to make a decision.
We find it best to first consider which designer you could see yourself working well with.
Projects like these are collaborative efforts, and you’ll likely be working together on this site for several weeks.
If the price is within your budget, and you are satisfied with the answers to your questions, the only thing left to evaluate is the working relationship.
Are you confident that you will work well together?
The level of mutual rapport in the relationship will matter because the small business owner needs to be involved in the project too.
It would be unrealistic to expect to assign the work, disappear, and then come back to a perfect, finished website. Building great sites rarely ever works like that.
Which means, you need to have a pleasant working relationship with whomever you hire. That is the key consideration driving you now.
Think about your answers to these questions:
- Do you share good rapport?
- Does the web designer exhibit enough experience that you feel comfortable having them as your guide through the process?
- Do they ask observant, relevant questions?
- Do they listen?
- Do they offer good customer service?
- Do you believe they can do the job well?
Some people opt to make decisions like this with a pros and cons list. Some people use spreadsheets. The point isn’t the method. Consider those 6 elements in whatever way helps you most.
Naturally, if the price is near the upper limits of the budget, any small business owner would start looking for ways to save a little money. Nobody looks down it, not if they’ve ever owned a business.
Still, you have to be honest about what expense you can actually afford. Begin with the honest expectation that you’ll spend the entire budget.
If spending the whole thing feels uncomfortable, you might want to lower your budget.
Here’s the situation:
You have a finite amount of money, and you have an important project that needs completed.
Of the designers you can choose to complete this project, which one feels like like an ally who will use their skills to support you in achieving this goal?
Who is going to make sure you get across the finish line?
Let those questions guide you.
Keep a realistic view of what is reasonably possible within a given timeframe and budget.
Be honest about what you can comfortably afford.
Be willing to spend the entire amount, and…
Hire the person you trust will take care of you best.