Our series to bridge the communication gap between businesses and their web design agencies. Knowing what questions to ask and what to listen for will help you make a well-informed decision in choosing the agency to work with.
Choosing a web design company is a big decision; it literally can affect the success or failure of your business. It is not a decision that you should take lightly.
In Part 1 of our series, we covered a few of the warning signs you should watch for when hiring a web design agency. In this segment, we are going to give you a checklist of what to ask the web designer before signing an agreement and starting a website project.
The following questions and recommendations are just a guide. Follow your gut instinct when considering which web design agency you choose. A well-thought-out decision will lead to a long-standing relationship that will benefit your company's success.
Recommendation: Web design agencies outsource work all the time. They may handle some of the tasks of the project and work with freelancers on some aspects. If they will outsource some or all of the project, ask a few key questions:
This is a crucial question. You need to know what role you play as well as when and what you are expected to provide. This could be a logo, branding guide, content for the website, images, product information, access to the existing site, and other access needed for the project.
Reality check The web designer cannot do their job if they do not have the resources needed to complete it. If you have a deadline for the project that you don't complete on time, often the web designer gets the blame, but truthfully the reason is the Client not providing agreed-to action items on a timely basis.
Once you know what is needed, make sure to ask when the information or resource needs to be delivered, so you have it completed by the deadline, so there isn't a delay in the project.
A web designer will estimate how long the project will take. Hopefully, you are dealing with an agency that determines completion dates wisely, leaving wiggle room for unexpected roadblocks that occur. This gives you both realistic expectations and goals which enable you to complete your tasks on time.
Make sure and let your web designer know if you have specific deadlines BEFORE the start of the project. Product launches, trade shows, and other events where you want your shiny new website up and running are critical details to give the designer before they create their redesign plan and timeline.
Web design agencies, like you, base their hours and expected deliverables for each week on the pre-communicated needs of their current clients. If you announce a surprise deadline in the middle of the project, the web design agency is not able to complete time-allotted tasks previously determined for not only your project, but for the other projects.
Another thing that can impact project timelines and on-time completion is interruption due to unexpected life events. It is how your web design agency reacts that matters most when you have an unexpected event. When you can spend time on the project, ask about the timeline.
This question can result in a wide variety of answers that you will have to evaluate individually to see if you are comfortable with the information you receive.
For instance, if you own an HVAC company and they have worked in the home services industry (i.e., plumbers, pest control, etc.), the web design company would have the relevant experience needed to build a website for an HVAC company.
If their experience is more in the neighborhood of building eCommerce websites or industrial-type websites, they may be a bit challenged designing an HVAC company website and may need more information from you to complete the project correctly.
Changes to a business happen: the project manager at your company may change, add additional products, and industry-type adjustments can change the scope of a project after it has begun. Understanding how the agency working on your project handles changes and how it could affect the launch date of your website are vital details you want to know.
As we mentioned in Part 1, SAAS websites (i.e. websites like Squarespace, Wix, and GoDaddy site builder) have to remain on the platform they are built on and cannot be moved. If the company plans on making your website on this type of platform, you need to know before starting with them, so you understand the limitations of the site they are building.
If it is SAAS ask the following:
We will touch more on this subject in another segment.
All relationships come to an end at some point. Find out about the cancellation policy of the design agency. You will want to know the cancellation terms before signing an agreement and launching the website.
Here is another reality check. Websites are stored on servers, and eventually, a server is going to go down or fail. It is a harsh reality of doing business on the internet. A good web design company will be upfront about this fact, so you know that server failure may occur occasionally. They will also let you know that your web design company will be on top of the issue to help you get back online as quickly as possible.
To this point, you need to ask the design company if they have a plan in place to react to servers going down. It is important here to listen carefully to their answer:
Bad Answer: Our sites don't go down, but if it does call our office. Or, Sure just send an email to our company email, and we will address it.
Notice what those two statements were missing? The who and the when.
Good Answer: We respond to downtime right away. Call, email, or text, and we will respond and remedy the situation immediately. We check our messages regularly, even outside of our regular office hours.
Note: If your business relies on 24-hour support, let the designer know. It doesn't mean they can't work with you, but they may set up a hosting solution that will provide the support needed.
I have a saying - the only surprises I like are flowers or diamonds, no surprise invoices! Make sure you are aware of what, if anything, would bring the cost of the project up.
NEVER, EVER, EVER pay for your project 100% upfront. It leaves you vulnerable.
Typical payment terms:
The design agency is committing to completing the project for half of the payment. You are agreeing to pay the remaining amount before the website going live.
In your contract, it may say:
A deposit of one-half (1/2) the estimated total, $x,xxx.xx, is due upon signing this Agreement. This payment must be received before any work is started on the Clients website
A final payment (adjusted for changes in the estimate if necessary) is due when the website is complete. This final payment must be paid before the upload or delivery of the website.
The final payment (adjusted) includes any changes that were made to the scope of work after the project began. "
Make sure that any adjustments to the contract amount are signed off on by both parties. Look for something similar worded in your agreement to cover this aspect:
The estimate includes only that which is described in the SITE SPECIFICATION. Additional work is defined as the addition of pages, graphics, or other significant features, any graphic, page design, or actual page requiring more than two rounds of revisions, revisions to text content provided ready for publication, changes to elements which have been finalized, or significant changes in plan, scope, or direction of the project. In this case, the Client will be given a written CHANGE ORDER, including an estimate for the additional work.
In the above case, the SITE SPECIFICATION refers to the scope of work outline established in the contract you agreed to before starting the project.
This payment schedule is my least favorite, as it leaves too much of a gap for failure.
Let me explain.
If a client doesn't complete their deliverables by the agreed-upon due date, the web design agency is penalized as they are left waiting for client information in order to achieve a given milestone. The design agency is forced to work on other projects since bills and payroll expenses need to be covered.
In payment schedules based on benchmarks, I recommend including an additional clause that allows the design agency to proceed and bill the Client if the Client misses agreed-upon deadlines.
This is a common payment agreement and is usually combined with the milestone of the project. It would look something like this:
Client agrees to pay the following payments on the dates specified:
(Design Framework and Layout) May 4, 2019 - $800.00
(Content Layout) May 30, 2019 - $800.00
(Pre-Launch) June 5, 2019 - $1,200.00
(After-Launch) June 10, 2019 - $300.00
Notice how the statement is worded: it doesn't say once the task is completed, it is based on the date, regardless of whether the tasks are complete or not. This puts both the design agency AND the Client in the hot seat to provide what is needed for the milestone by the specified date.
Our hope with this series is to bridge the communication gap between businesses and their web design agency. Web designers provide a level of skill and drive that an employee of the company cannot as the employee has numerous unrelated tasks they are responsible for on a given day. A quality web design agency can provide you with all of the expertise and time needed for your website to be successful.
Richelle is the founder of Lighthouse and has over 25 years of experience in online marketing and website design. Richelle enjoys meeting with clients to pinpoint their goals and come up with a strategy to achieve them. She is active with many groups; including a mastermind group for business owners, a podcast, as well as industry groups to stay current with current marketing, search, and design trends. When not helping businesses, she spends time with family including her fur-kids which you may see pop in to say hello during one of her podcasts.