Over the past few months I have spent a lot of time consulting with companies who have been duped and robbed by freelancers or web design firms who promise them the stars and leave them with garage web sites and inflated invoices. I am sick of it and giving us all a bad name. So before you re-design your web site read this article because I want to shine some light on the common traps and pitfalls that these “professionals” use to get and trap your business. When you hire a web designer or web firm ask these questions:
Will you own the site and all of the code and your URL?
First of all, be sure that you have a contract to protect both parties and be sure that the contract says that you will own the site and all of the code. I have known companies that are sleazy enough to put clauses in their contracts to keep ownership of the site designs and code. This way if you decide to change firms you get nothing but the chance to re-do your entire site.
Also, if the firm is going to purchase the site URL for you make sure that ownership of that URL address transfers to you. This is just as important as your company name so be sure you own this name.
How do they handle changes to the site after it launches?
A common trick is for a company to put in a low bid to win your business. Once you hire them you find out that they will charge you for every phone call, they have huge hourly fees for every small change and may even charge you an annual maintenance fee. All of this adds up quickly and before long that cheap initial proposal will turn into a total cost that is higher than your highest initial proposal.
Are they using any “proprietary” technology?
The word proprietary should raise a huge red flag. Unless you are BMW Films who is doing cutting edge work you don’t need it. In the worst cases they use it as a trap to get your site into their “proprietary” technology so only they can maintain and update your site and you have to stay with them. You want to make sure you are getting the functionality you need without being dependent on just one company with technology only they know to maintain.
Can you run the site or are you going to have to depend on them?
The best designs firms will sit down with you and take the time to understand what the site will need to do and lay out the options for how the site will be updated and maintained. You want to look for a firm that will be your partner and recommend the best solution to the problem and not just push their software on you.
Are they hosting the web site?
Hosting is a cash cow for web design firms. Usually they will either host it in house or have it hosted somewhere else and mark up the hosting fee. You never want to have your host hosted in-house. Professional hosting has someone to watch over your site 24 hours a day in a building with tight security and big bandwidth. You will get none of this when a firm hosts sites in-house.
Who are their other clients and will they give your references?
Any good agency that does work will be happy to give you their client list, work samples and even names of clients you can talk with to verify their quality. If you are a Fortune 500 company and you are looking at a company who’s client list is filled with small business projects then you should be careful. You want to be sure you are dealing with designers who can deliver a product that will match the quality of your brand.
As professional I am presented with the same situation that the Desktop Publishing revolution presented to graphic designers in the 1980s when new applications told people that anyone with a computer could do great graphic design. Firms that use these tactics give us all a black eye. I am determined to widen the gap between the self-proclaimed web designer and the true professional.
This is a topic I am going to revisit from time to time looking at both the client and agency sides of the problem. Let me know what you think about this problem and what we can do to stop it.