How to Select a Web Design Firm

Whether you’re an entrepreneur with a brand new idea or you work with an established brand looking to improve, finding the right web design firm is a critical step in the success of your web project. The good news? You’ve never had more options. The bad news? It’s become even more difficult to find the right fit.

1. Do Your Research

A good web design firm will have a portfolio on their website to showcase some of their best work. You’ll know very quickly if the firm’s design aesthetic and messaging moves you. Don’t get too caught up in the fancy copywriting and flashy list of clientele. Firms like to include logos of well-known companies, but that doesn’t always mean they’ve worked closely with them. In some cases, it just means that someone on the team has worked with them at some point in their career. In other words, expect a little peacocking. Pay more attention to actual site links, testimonials and case studies.

Don’t be discouraged if everything in the firm’s portfolio seems bigger and higher profile than your own project. It’s human nature to showcase the trophy work. You can be a little concerned, though, if everything in the portfolio is smaller than your project.

You should research other details on their website too. Subtle but important details: How long the firm has been in business. Whether they build business systems or simply churn out brochure sites. Who they work with. Et cetera.

2. Get In Touch

This step is pretty obvious. Get in touch with the web design firm by sending them an email or by submitting a contact form. It might be tempting to just call them, but providing some details in an email gives the firm very important context. It also gives you a great chance to test both the firm’s responsiveness and their interest. That initial reply will speak volumes

The right team will ask to set up a call. Distance shouldn’t matter, but attentiveness definitely does. The team should ask to hear your requirements firsthand, learning more about you and your project. You’ll have your chance to learn more about them as well, but the most telling quality in a potential development partner is their ability to listen to you and your project’s goals. They should be asking about you, not going on about themselves.

3. Know What to Expect for Project Communication

Some of the most important aspects of what makes a potential partner successful in the industry probably won’t be spelled out on their website. They most likely won’t be a part of the firm’s elevator pitch either, but they will be a monumental factor in separating the professionals from the hobbyists.

The main thing you’ll want to know is whether a project manager will be involved to keep the web design project on track. It’s simply not realistic to produce a large web project without a project manager, and smaller projects benefit greatly as well. Don’t think of this as an added cost, think of it as a benefit and a necessity. The time a project manager devotes to scheduling and defining will be made up in spades.

Ask what tools the firm uses for project milestones and collaboration (i.e., Basecamp, Asana, etc.). This should be a quick topic, but it’s incredibly important. Answers to these questions will let you know both how organized the firm is and how involved they want you to be in the process.

4. Beware of Unnecessary Steps

Okay, grab your snorkels; we’re going under the surface for a minute to look at a few hidden services that can have a huge impact on project cost. Lengthy discovery processes, competitive analysis, user testing, etc. will add tangible time and cost to a development project. The value of these added steps, however, is hard to weigh.

If a firm can demonstrate they consistently pull off complex projects without working through these steps, they’re going to save on time and cost to ship. Ask the firm if they’re able to work within tight timelines even if you have a little time to spare. A confident, rapid deployment team makes a great development partner.

5. Make Sure They Understand Business Objectives

At this point in the process, you’ll know if the firm understands responsive web design and code. You should also know a bit about their project cycle and workflow. The next thing to uncover is whether the firm understands what it takes to make a website’s performance successful and measurable. Sadly, this is where most firms are lacking.

The right team will ask questions to ensure sure they have a clear understanding of your project’s goals. Once your business objectives are defined, the firm will set up key performance indicators to provide measurable goals. This is a key factor in determining your website’s design strategy and how you can measure your return on investment.

6. Go Beyond the Web Design

By now, you should trust that the web design firm knows their craft. They understand your goals and how to measure success, but do they know how to maximize your website’s performance after it has launched?

A good website is more than a pretty facade. It should be built for performance with usability and findability in mind. An experienced firm will have extensive knowledge of the methods used to drive website traffic and conversions, as well as how to continuously improve its performance.

If you don’t have a team who is capable of making website updates, optimizing for search engines or analyzing data, you should consider asking the firm about their digital marketing services. Not only is it more convenient to bundle your company’s web hosting, development and digital strategies under one roof, but it will also strengthen the consistency of your brand’s online presence.

7. Ask for a Proposal

An interested firm should be able to give you a set cost for your project. If it isn’t already clear, ask if the quote is Fixed-Bid or Time and Materials.

A Fixed-Bid Proposal will take the most work for a firm to put together but will result in the least chance for surprises for you. A Proposal will focus on the Scope of Work, so ask the firm to explain their hourly rate if it isn’t clear.

A Time and Materials Estimate or Evaluation will focus instead on the forecasted development hours. In this case, you’ll need to make sure you understand exactly what the firm is detailing.

Regardless of whether the firm is Fixed-Bid or Agile (Time and Materials), you need to make sure the proposed budget guarantees a finished product.

Comparing quotes is hard. Many of the details we’ve discussed up to this point can be multipliers in a proposal’s value, so simply comparing numbers is not enough. Don’t be afraid to circle back and clear up or reconfirm anything you’re unsure of.

8. Should I Stay or Should I Go?

If you’ve been through the steps and things aren’t adding up, don’t be afraid to move on and look elsewhere. Selecting the right firm is simply too important to rush into blindly. Few other vendor relationships will have such a dramatic impact on your bottom line since your website affects revenue, not just expense.

When you find the right firm, you’ll know. They’ll have a confident story and plenty of visible experience to back it up. It’ll feel good to make the decision. You don’t have to celebrate just yet, but feel free to throw a fist pump into the air or high five a stranger. When you get it right, it’s a fun and rewarding experience.

If you’ve made it this far and are still looking for an experienced full-service digital agency specializing in web design, development and digital strategy, we’d love to talk! Electric Pulp has helped pioneer the ever-changing digital world since 1996. With testimonials and a portfolio to prove it, our team can help you achieve your business goals and crush project timelines. Get in touch with us today!

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We should start by noting that optimizing sites for mobile screens takes time. In order for a site to look and perform well on a wide range of screens and devices, a fair amount of work needs to go in to designing the site to, well, respond to those conditions. That time adds cost.

So, with little data supporting our belief and more cost required to perform the work, we had set ourselves up for a recurring conversation with clients. “We know this will help you, you’ll just have to trust us with a bigger part of your budget.” You could say that just about everything we do has to be taken on some measure of faith. A lot of our work happens before a site ever launches. But, it’s always easy for a client to view a new technique or model as an add-on. Especially in the case of ecommerce, where the site’s explicit purpose is to drive a return on investment.

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