How To Choose The Best Web Designer

In this article, I'm going to discuss some of the different types of "web designers" and agencies and explain the pros and cons of each. There are several options, and if you’ve received on of my videos or already had a chat with me, then you’ve probably heard me say “that these days, you can throw $100 in the air at a Starbucks and find someone who can make you a pretty website.” Seriously, almost anyone coming out of college these days can use a “website builder” and make something pretty for you. I’ll talk about this possible solution and the others, like a part-timer, full-timer, and the differences between an old school web design group and a new school digital marketing agency.

Written By Matthew Martin

May 13, 2020

Are you considering redesigning your website or having a new website built for your business?

If so, you’re probably wondering where to start.

We have a great resource available that you can download, that goes into great detail about how to start a website project and what it takes for it to be successful. You can download it here: 5 Steps to a Winning Website Project, but in this article, I’d like to discuss a few options about who you can actually hire to help do the work.

There are several options, and if you’ve received on of my videos or already had a chat with me, then you’ve probably heard me say “that these days, you can throw $100 in the air at a Starbucks and find someone who can make you a pretty website.” Seriously, almost anyone coming out of college these days can use a “website builder” and make something pretty for you. I’ll talk about this possible solution and the others, like a part-timer, full-timer, and the differences between an old school web design group and a new school digital marketing agency. So here we go:

The Artist Turned Web Designer, Hobbyist, or Friend

There are a lot of hobbyist web designers out there, usually, these are artists who have turned to web design to help pay the bills, or they may be a student or a young friend of a friend who makes websites in their free time. It’s very “cool” to be a web designer or digital nomad these days and anyone can call themselves one. so it’s important to be very careful in this category. That said, a lot of web designers start out this way, and some of them even evolve into really great designers.

There are pros and cons to choosing the artist or hobbyist, just like all of these categories. The point here is to help you understand the differences, helping you in making the right decision, and helping you determine who is going to be the best fit for you and your business.

Probably one of the main things that draw people to want to higher someone in this category is the price. A hobbyist or artist turned web designer, is usually the most affordable option when it comes to building a website.

Although that may be a huge plus for you, please consider the negatives. The main issue comes from their limited knowledge of technical work. They will probably have less than three years of experience building websites. Therefore they typically only have limited or theoretical knowledge of what websites need in order to actually be successful in ranking on search engines, generating traffic, and converting that traffic into leads. Although I can talk endlessly about the differences between artists and designers, I’ll keep it simple by saying art is about the artist and design is about the user. Sometimes these lines blur but when it comes to your business, it is very important to understand that designing something for yourself or even the designer is missing the mark. Always build with your user in mind.

There are a few types of businesses and even individuals that may find this type of solution suitable for their business. It’s usually going to be brand new businesses that are just starting up or something that requires a simple informational landing page or brochure site to be posted online. New business launches are often strapped for cash, forced to cut corners, or even accept higher risks in order to get things going.

If you go in this direction, here are a few pieces of advice to help you along the way. First, check for references, but it’s important to make sure that these references are actual customers who have live websites created by this person in question. The second will be to have a payment plan that is either fair or preferably in your favor; with the large amount being paid at completion. This helps ensure the work gets done and gives you some security if it doesn’t. Lastly, have milestones for your project and deadlines that must be met. This helps keep things moving forward and holds each party accountable for their actions.

The One Man Shop or Single Manned Agency

This is the next level that hobbyists seem to graduate to when they feel they can turn web design into a full-time career. You’ll take less risk with these people and they will typically have a more developed understanding of the foundational steps to making a website go live.

This is usually a step in the right direction, and a sign, because it shows commitment and reduces the risk of your web designer disappearing. In this category, you’ll find most of these individuals still work on a project-based basis but they’ve usually been doing this type of work for a few years (3-5 is common). Meaning they typically do not offer ongoing services, managed services, and prefer to help build a website then hand it over for you to deal with. This isn’t necessarily bad, and it works really well if you need a website redesign to bring you into the modern age (like mobile responsive web design).

Typically these people have learned that using builders like Wix and Squarespace are not sufficient for the businesses they hope to work with. Therefore, they’ve usually graduated to more advanced content management systems (CMS) like WordPress.

The Pros here, are that you get someone who is committed to web design, probably depending on it for their main source of income, and who is hopefully excited to learn and master new methods and systems. The cons are that they are still learning and typically tend to be a generalist in what they do. Their skills are similar to the top part of the capital letter T. As a jack of all trades they tend to have surface knowledge of each piece needed for a successful website, as opposed to being able to drill down like the bottom part of the T and know something thoroughly.

This solution is usually a good choice for most small businesses that are not competing heavily for rankings, leads, and/or sales. These businesses do not want to take the risk of someone who is brand new but may not have the full budget to work with a large agency.

One major point to focus on if you are considering highering this type of person is deciphering if they will still be around in five years. over 55% of our clients have come to us after working with someone in this category, only to discover their web designer has fallen off the face of the earth. Check for references and make sure they are real customers that actually have live websites up and running. Then inquiry about communication styles. The reference may have been hand-selected, so it’s probably going to be someone they feel comfortable with you checking in on, but try to find another client or two that was not given as a reference.

The Typical Web Design Group

This category is seen less and less as time goes on and technology evolves. It’s the typical web design group or web design company that has been around for 10 or more years.

These companies are a lot less risky than the categories I’ve mentioned before. You can almost bet on the fact that your end product will be suitable for your business and you’ll be happy with the design and functionality. That is a big pro. You’ll also be able to have some peace of mind that those in this category can accomplish pretty much whatever is needed. They will typically be familiar with handling customer requests and possibly even developing custom solutions for your needs, once they are made aware of them. This is another pro, plus the people working on your project will have more expertise in their given field.

Web design groups like this typically work with companies that have higher budgets and projects usually start around $10,000 or more. They will usually have a well-documented process and manner of doing things so that the project is simple and goes through stages. There are a few cons to consider though.

One major con is that this category tends to work on a very outdated hourly pricing structure. This becomes problematic for a number of reasons, and it typically is not in the customer’s favor. Some of these types of companies will work slow not only because of their hourly billing structure but also due to their staff and “department silos.” Another con, is that those in this category are typically generalists that do not understand specifics for one unique industry. They do things in a general method that seems to work well for everyone but find it hard to make one customer really excel- especially when it comes to rankings and lead generation.

Which brings me to my main point. A web design group is often serving their local town, they make websites for everyone that comes to them with money in hand. They are similar to “order takers” at a fast-food restaurant and can execute on what you ask- but seldom offer suggestions or consider things outside of your request. One month they may be making a website for al local Real estate company, and the very next month, they may be higher to make another website for a competing real estate company. This may be alright because all they are doing is building a website in what is typically an assembly line fashion. They are not considering Search Engine Optimization or trying to make a website that performs better than your competitor. Some people do not have an issue with this, other’s want to ensure they outrank their competitors. If you fall into this category then you need to be aware of the conflict of interest that you may be facing.

If you are considering this category, I would advise that you find a web design group that specializes in your niche service. If you are a real estate company, you will be best served by a web design company that specializes in real estate web design. They will often work with a limited amount of businesses in your area also. Which would be a huge plus.

I am obligated to state that the typical web design group that I am referring to in this category, is quickly becoming obsolete in the modern age of digital marketing. The web design industry has evolved drastically and typical web design is now dead. Web design itself is now only one small aspect of digital marketing and things change so rapidly that your website needs to continuously improve in order to remain effective. Due to this demand, a new type of agency has evolved from traditional web design companies. The lea and agile digital marketing agency.

The Digital Marketing Agency

The Digital Marketing Agency is the newest category in the industry. Digital marketing agencies take into account all aspects of marketing your business online, they consider multiple digital channels that go beyond just your website, and they use the internet to help you grow your business- both “on-site” and “off-site.” Digital Marketing agencies are usually formed by team of 5 or more that are considered experts in their field. They’ve often worked at traditional web design companies and sought something better.

Agencies like Spade Design fit into this new category. These digital marketing agencies have typically created an agile and lean business structure that has the resources and a team of experts like a large web design agency but is affordable to small business owners due to the lack of overhead. These agencies may typically have a small office to meet clients or be 100% virtual- which is a huge plus. This helps aid the agency in removing physical or geographical limitations and allows them to work with clients all around the globe. Often this enables them to “niche down” to a very specific service model and become experts in what they do.

At Spade Design, our team has been together for several years and we’re each an expert in what we do. Each team member specializes in their field of web design, search engine optimization, graphic design, copywriting, and business automation. For the types of projects we typically work on, we’ve found this structure to give us the most flexibility to fit the project’s scope and needs. We also limit the number of projects we are actively working on so each project gets the full attention it deserves.

We also have the ability to offer less expensive options and work with businesses that otherwise couldn’t afford to work with an agency. Obviously I have a little bias on this topic, but this option gives you the best of both worlds. Affordability and expertise.

Exceptions To Every Rule

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. There are a lot of topics I couldn’t get into in this article. You could find an artist turned web designer or hobbyist that does an amazing job, or you could hire a local web design group in your town that completely lets you down. Unfortunately, we hear about these things more times than we would like.

You’ll always get the best results when you work with a person or agency that understands your needs and is the right fit for both of you to work together.

The best way to end up with a successful project is to make sure you are prepared to have a website created in the first place. To help you with that, we’ve made a guide that you can download for free.

When you have a full understanding of your own needs and can communicate those clearly, it will make it easier to find the right partner that is the perfect fit. If you would like to schedule a call and learn more, I’d love to answer any questions you may have. You can book a free consultation on my booking page found here.


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