10 questions to ask before hiring a web designer

by Karen Kanakanui, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association member and copywriter

If you’re taking the first steps to getting your farm on the web, there are a few basic questions you need to keep in mind. The good news is, creating an online presence doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive even if you hire a web designer. The key is finding someone who understands your goals and who can provide you with good answers to your questions.

1.    What are my goals for the website? As you’re thinking about creating a website, it’s helpful to define your goals. Your website is your online storefront and presence. It’s important that it represents you in a professional manner. Beyond that, what else does the website need to accomplish? For one thing, your website needs to quickly tell visitors what you do and what you offer. You want visitors to arrive at your site, read a few lines, and think, “Ah, I’m in the right place.”  It’s also helpful to answer questions your visitors might have. Put yourself in their position and think about what’s most helpful to them.

2.    Why can’t I just create a Facebook page and forget the website? Good question. Some businesses have done that successfully. But the main reason against this strategy is simple: you don’t own the social media platforms. If Facebook were to shut down tomorrow or change the rules about businesses on the site, you could be out of luck. They make the rules. On your website, however, you’re the ruler, as long as you pay attention to the next question.

3.    Who owns the domain name? The correct answer should be YOU. (The domain name is the name of your website, the something-something.com that represents you.) Even if you choose to have a web designer set up your domain name and host your website, the domain name and the hosting should be registered in your name or your company name. Otherwise, you don’t own it and if your web designer disappeared off the face of the earth, you would not own your website name. Really.

4.    Do you like the work the web designer has done for others? Make sure you check the portfolio of the web designer. Web designers have different strengths and design sensibilities, and they need to mesh with yours. If they don’t have any samples to show you, run.

5.    How will the designer make your website “search” friendly? Search Engine Optimization, sometimes called SEO, or just “search,” is a big buzzword that encompasses all kinds of techniques that you don’t necessarily need to know a whole lot about, but you need to make sure your designer does. What you do want is to be “found” on the Internet by people looking for businesses like yours, and you do need a strategy for that – which your web designer should provide.

6.    What are your options for going “social” with your site? Similar to question 5, there are some fairly easy ways to tie your website into whatever social media you’re on or plan to join. In most cases, this is not a lot of extra work for the designer, and more can be added later.  If you’re already on social media, it needs to be accessible from your website.

7.    How easy will it be for you to make changes to your website? In the olden days (which is to say 5-10 years ago!) websites had to be updated by the web designer.  Every change, from adding a word to changing a comma placement, had to be made by the designer.  No more! Many designers will build in simple “content management systems” (CMS) so that you can make your own changes. WordPress, which is a very popular CMS and blogging system, allows for great customization of your website through the use of “themes.” It is also fairly user-friendly when it comes to making changes to the website. Many designers are using WordPress templates and customizing them to make them unique to your business.

8.    Who’s going to do the writing? As a copywriter, I have some strong feelings about who “should” be doing the writing, but let me start by saying this. If you’re going to write your own copy, make sure that – at the very least – you cover these main points:

a.    Who is your target market? Who are you writing to when you’re thinking about what you want to say? (Hint: The answer can’t be “everyone.” That’s too broad a market – you can’t say enough in a short space to convince the whole world they should buy from you – even if it’s true!)

b.    What message do you want to get across? And the message needs to be couched in terms of your visitors. So it’s not so much “we have this” and “we offer this” as it is “your need for this will be fulfilled here” and “you will get the best value for your dollar here” – or words to that effect.

c.    Create a call-to-action for your website. What do you want people to do? Call you directly, sign up for your newsletter, visit other pages on your site, for example. You need no more than one call-to-action on each page – offering too many choices often leads to someone making no choice and clicking away somewhere else.

d.    What sets you apart in the marketplace? In marketing, we call this differentiation but it’s basically just what makes you different from your competitors. In other words, why should someone buy from you instead of the person down the street? Usually, you want to be able to put forth a reason why you offer more value for your product or service, but be careful with what you choose. It’s rarely a good idea to try and compete on price.

9.    Do you get good answers from the web designer to the questions you ask? And by “good,” I mean answers that can be understood by the general public and not just techies. Remember, it will be your site and it’s a lot easier to make changes before a project begins than after it is complete.

10.    How much should it cost? I hesitate to put this in here because each project is different, but I will make this generalization based on some missteps I’ve seen small businesses take in the last 10 years. Unless you are creating some massive database of all your farm products and need to track inventory, cost of goods sold, sales, etc., you do not need to pay thousands of dollars. The more complex your site is, the more you can expect to pay. Small, simple sites can be easily created for under $1000.

Finally, make sure the home page of your website puts your best foot forward. Many times visitors will never make it past the home page, so you have one chance to make a good impression. And let your personality shine through – “professional” does not mean “boring.” Welcome to the web!

Karen Kanakanui is a member of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association and a copywriter and voiceover artist whose background in entertainment and the leisure/hospitality industry taught her the importance of effective storytelling for business. Karen believes that story marketing extends the human delight in hearing a story into the marketing realm and allows businesses to reach customers and clients in a more direct manner—personal but still professional. She works with small business owners, primarily in the food and hospitality industries who recognize the importance of business storytelling in their marketing efforts, but need help telling their stories well! Find out more about her work at www.copyvox.com.

Veggie question mark photo by erix!/Flickr

5 Responses to “10 questions to ask before hiring a web designer”

  1. Wendy

    As a web developer, I’d like to recommend to anyone who has the time: Use a free, easy online tool such as Weebly (silly name but great product) to build an example of the site you want. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but can show how the content should be laid out and the pages should work together.

    You can also add features you want such as a search box, drop down menus, examples of picture gallery, etc. (You may even end up just building your own site since the tools are so easy to customize!)

    A good developer will use your example to build a more robust site in a CMS such as WordPress or Drupal, but your initial work can save hours of discussion and revision time.

    I recently had a client submit both their current site and an example of a new site (that an employee built in SquareSpace) for a bid, and my understanding of what they wanted was much clearer than paragraphs of text explaining it.

  2. Heilene

    Hi Wendy, thank you thats a great idea.

    I would just like to add, in terms of SEO that the designer you hire have some SEO background. He might be able to help you with on page optimisation (search engine friendly) but you are still going to have to hire an SEO expert or company to provide you with a SEO strategy and to get traffic to your site. SEO is a whole job by itself.

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