Building a website can be complicated, expensive, and if you don’t do it right, a complete of waste of money
Your website is advertising. If a designer or agency doesn’t bring up how your site is going to sell your product or service in the first five minutes of the conversation, move on to the next one. There are a lot of people who love technology and writing code and who can build a beautiful website, but if they don’t know advertising you’re wasting your time and money.
In fact, you’ve probably seen commercials which claim that you can build your own small business website. Absolutely true. And so can one of your friends, or your friend’s kid. Avoid these options like the plague, unless all you need is the online equivalent of a business card.
Advertising agencies versus freelancers
Advertising agencies provide full service and great support. After all, you’re paying an account executive to do nothing but answer the phone and get results from the agency. Still, agencies are great if you need a lot of different services, such as research, media buys and traffic coordinators.
Most small businesses can’t afford that, so they turn to freelance web designers or developers. There are typically two types – those with advertising backgrounds who are now working on their own, and those who know technology and are learning advertising as they go. Technology is easy. Learning what makes advertising work takes experience.
If you’re hiring a local web designer you deserve a face-to-face meeting to see how you click. Websites are long-term projects. If it’s a one-person company, be flexible in setting up the meeting. Their time is valuable too.
You pay for a fast response from an agency. If you get an immediate response from a freelancer, that person is either putting a current client on hold, or they don’t have a lot of business. There’s a lot of work out there, so be suspicious of any web designer who isn’t busy. That likely means their own advertising isn’t working.
Come to think of it, if you don’t hear back within 24 hours, give them the benefit of the doubt that they’re servicing a client. After all, if you hire them, do you want them interrupting your project to look for new work?
Here’s a hint … ask about their sleep. If they’re not getting enough, that might mean they’ve over extended themselves and won’t be able to give your account the attention it deserves.
Develop a plan so steering off course is deliberate, rather than a train-wreck
Make a list of what you want. Then ask the designer for ideas. This is their business, and they should be able to come up with more solutions and ideas for growth than you. Ask specifically for ideas they know to work. If they don’t have a good answer, it’s a safe bet they cut the client loose once the project is finished. It’s inexcusable to disappear once the check is cashed.
Make a list of your competitor’s websites, as well as websites that you like. Write out problems, anticipated solutions, goals and areas where you hope to grow later. Having this in writing gives the designer a feel for your tastes and needs.
When presented with a good idea, don’t be afraid to add your two cents. But be open to their response. It takes more balls to disagree with a client than to agree. You’re paying for this person’s expertise, so use it.
Decide how much control you want
There’s no reason to not be offered the option of making site updates in-house. You shouldn’t have to pay just to change a name or phone number, unless you prefer to stay hands-off. If you don’t want to do it yourself, ask about putting the website designer on a monthly or quarterly retainer.
Ask to see examples of sites they’ve designed with phones and tablets in mind. For some businesses this is essential, others not so much.
Set realistic deadlines for your website designer
Allow extra time up front for the design process. Inspiration rarely happens on a schedule, and an extra day or two might give the designer time to come up with a better idea. Yesterday I spent four hours developing concepts which were at best, average. A couple hours later the idea came to me fully formed … in the shower.
Decide on a realistic deadline. Rushing to complete a job means you’re pushing your website designer to cut corners. Build your site in stages if your deadline is tight. Google will reward you with more visitors.
Caveat Emptor: Beware the SEO snake-oil salesmen
If you’re in a competitive market and they guarantee you’ll be at the top of Google’s search results, and the price doesn’t make your stomach turn, thank the person and show them the door. Unless you have very little competition, getting good Google rankings, known as search engine optimization or SEO requires time and a lot of effort.
Get your domain name registered in the name of your business, and a user name and password to access it directly from the registrar. You might want to move your site to a new host, or hire a new agency someday. If your domain name is registered in their name, they effectively have you hostage.
How to get the best website designer for your money
I spent the better part of a decade in advertising agencies, and I’ll be honest. I haven’t a clue how they come up with the bill. What I do know is in a 40 hour week I often had 60 hours or more of billable time. How is that possible? Billing in quarter hour or even hour increments. It might take five minutes to make a change, but it’s not uncommon for that change to be billed for an hour at $200+.
There’s a lot of business, but a lot of competition, and freelancers often cut to the bone to land a project. Insist on paying your website designer more than what they’re asking, even if it’s just a percent or two. It’s a vote of confidence, and you’ll be paid back in spades, as they’ll likely jump through hoops of fire to satisfy you.
If you get an estimate based on an hourly rate, add a substantial amount and ask if they would charge by the project instead. If I’m being paid by the hour, I’m not likely to take a chance with a new idea, because if it doesn’t pan out, I have to eat the cost. But if I’m paid by the project I can be fearless, and try something new without worrying about how I’ll bill for it if it doesn’t pan out.
About Green Man Advertising and Design
Green Man Advertising and Design is a boutique agency serving Evansville, Indiana, southwestern Indiana and southern Illinois, as well as clients scattered around the globe. What is a boutique agency you might ask? Don’t feel bad, I had to look it up too. Simply put, it’s a small agency specializing in creative strategies and production, leaving the paper shuffling and negotiating to someone else.
I serve as creative director, account executive and honestly, the staff as well in most cases. With over 30 years of solid advertising experience, I’ve developed a network of artists, vendors and creative types to call on as needed, which gives you flexibility while keeping costs down.
Regardless of the medium, Green Man puts the focus on developing a strong advertising message, or as agency types like to say, the creative. I’ve worked for newspapers, advertising agencies, universities and Fortune 500 companies, as well as countless small businesses. I’ve developed print advertising, newspaper advertising, magazines, video, trade shows, product design and for the last decade, online advertising, including the dreaded social media marketing. This hands-on approach gives me insights into not only what works in advertising, but how to produce it on time and within the budget and across all mediums.
Five years ago I was an hour commute from midtown Manhattan … today I’m two blocks from a corn field in southern Illinois. Why the change? Family is a big part of it, but professionally I dreamt of working with small businesses looking to make a difference. Helping a sole proprietor feed their family is a lot more rewarding than helping a corporation gain another percentage or two of market share.
The information above and elsewhere on the site is for your benefit, because what counts in advertising is knowledge. You have to know your product, your audience and the market, but you also need to know the nuts and bolts of advertising.
I hope you’ll consider giving me a call for your next project.
Todd Atteberry, Green Man Advertising and Design
Learn more? Three steps to a better website. Click here!
Attn. photographers: For photography websites click here