By Joel Montgomery // 9 January 2009 // Related Categories: Tips

Congratulations. 75.9% of the Australian population is now online (Source: so you've made the first right move by deciding that your small business needs a website. I made the same decision as you about a year ago now and it's been an amazing learning experience.

I wanted more from a website than the standard cookie-cutter approach (which will typically set you back $1,000 - $3,000). I was after something a little more customised and I found out quickly that I was going to need to pay a lot more and put a lot of hard work in to make it happen. I wrote a 50-page website "explanation" document and I gave it to 3 Sydney-based web designers and 1 Melbourne-based designer (yes, I wrote the document myself, and it was just a layman's description of how I expected my customers to interact with the site).

What I learnt during the evaluation process will hopefully save you a lot of time and money as you embark on a similar journey. Here are my tips:

  1. Make sure your web designer will survive the downturn. I had a rude shock when an account manager from one of the companies I'd ask to quote called me from his private phone to advise me not to go with his company because the business was about to go under. One week prior I had walked through their office and was very impressed by the cool layout, equipment and the 50 programmers who were busily building sites. I wouldn't have guessed it. I suggest you spend some time talking to the owner of the company, establishing rapport and asking questions about their financial situation and their 2009 plan. Also, make sure you don't pay one big lump-sum payment upfront. Negotiate to spread the payments across the development cycle (25% upfront, 25% in beta, 50% at conclusion).
  2. Find a developer who can do more than just coding. I chose a company that does both graphic design and web development and they also helped develop my brand, logo, strap line and they even print my marketing materials for me. Having a senior graphic designer to spend 20 hours on your site can make a significant difference to the impact of the final product.
  3. Find an account manager who has deep sales and marketing experience. Why? Because building a website is all about mimicking your current or preferred sales flow. If your web design partner doesn't understand your sales process then how can you expect them to build a site that maximises your sales conversion rate?
  4. Find out who (which individual) will actually code your site. You'll find the bigger (and usually more expensive) companies pass the coding work to a junior coder to do all the work. Most of the time you won't notice the difference, but I strongly suggest asking for a senior, highly experienced coder to write highly efficient and bug-free code for you.
  5. Find out what language they code in. Almost everyone I talk to tells me that .Net (Microsoft) is the most popular platform and the platform of the future. My designers code in Cold Fusion (Adobe) and whilst it has its benefits it is not as popular hence it is presents issues when you need help on SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and other services that require code involvement.
  6. Ongoing support and costs are important to understand before you proceed. How much are they going to charge you for the inevitable changes and improvements you want to make? Who pays for bugs that are found after the system goes live? What is the arrangement if something fails at 3am on a Saturday morning? Make sure you ask all these questions and get satisfactory, documented responses. One web designer I approached told me that they'd only fix bugs for free if they were found within 90-days of launch. I don't think this is acceptable.
  7. Make sure you own the code and you can walk away at any time and take the code with you (after you've paid, of course). If they claim that they own the code because it's their Intellectual Property then I suggest you walk away. No thanks.
  8. A CMS (Content Management System) is the back-end that allows you to edit page content, navigation and manage users on the site. You'll find most coders use their own home-grown CMS but some use open standards (e.g. Joomla). I would suggest you go for the open standard if you can, unless your web designer can grant you a perpetual license to use their CMS so you can take it with you if you decide to leave. There's not much point running a website that you can't easily edit.

Taking on the challenge to find a good designer that can build you an effective, customised website is a big and often confusing task. Get at least 3 quotes because you'll find pricing varies by significant amounts depending on who you speak to (the maximum I would pay is $150 per hour). Oh, and did I mention that finding the right partner is only just the beginning?

Comments: 2 // Share:

Yu Dan Shi // 02/03/2009 3:53 PM

Joel well written, this is exactly what I am looking for to get my own website set up. Tks, Yu Dan

Tiffani // 02/03/2012 4:00 PM

This is the third time I've been to your site. Thank you for sharing more details.

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