So you want to hire a website designer… that’s great news!
As you start to do your research, it’s easy to feel somewhat overwhelmed by how many website designers are out there. There are quite literally thousands of talented website designers and agencies to choose from, so how do you make the best decision for you?
The first place to start is by choosing a website platform. WordPress, Showit, ProPhoto, and Squarespace are some of the most popular choices, especially among creative entrepreneurs like you and I, but I highly recommend Showit. You can read why here.
Once you select a website platform, you’ll naturally eliminate website designers who don’t have experience or don’t want to work with the platform you’ve chosen. From here, you can do more research, ask for referral recommendations, and get closer to making a confident hiring decision.
To help you along the way, I’ve put together a guide with five important questions so you can go from a good website design to a great website design. To make sure you choose the right design partner, we’ll start with the first question. It may seem obvious, but the reasoning behind it might surprise you.
Does their portfolio of previous work draw you in?
Most of us find ourselves naturally attracted to website designers based on their past work. You might choose them because of their personal aesthetics—whether your style is minimal and clean, edgy and bold, or soft and feminine—or their unique abilities, like incorporating hand-drawn illustrations or custom-coded content blocks into websites.
No matter who you choose to work on your website, make sure you have an opportunity to browse through their work before you book them. Many website designers share their work on social media platforms like Instagram as well as on their website portfolio, much like this:
If you haven’t been able to find their portfolio of previous work, contact the website design directly for examples. If you like what you see, then you can consider them as a website design partner. If they aren’t willing to show you past work, that might be a red flag. Trust in your instincts if this arises.
As you look through a designer’s past work, remember to visit the actual website they built rather than only looking at mockup graphics. This is because a website is not only about how it looks but also how it functions, which brings me to our next question.
Are they knowledgeable about strategy, conversion, and SEO?
By now, you know you like the website designer’s past work, but is the design only satisfying to the eyes? What I mean is that a website could look really pretty but still not accomplish the brand’s intended goals, and I don’t want that to be the case for your project.
It breaks my heart when I see a visually stunning website that looks great at a quick glance but isn’t strategically built to last. This is usually due to a lack of calls-to-action, SEO strategies, and other conversion-focused efforts.
If you aren’t sure if the website designer takes these important strategies into account or if they have the necessary expertise to help you with a more well-rounded website, here are a few places to start:
Visit other websites they’ve designed. As you navigate through their past designed websites, you should get a feel for how it functions for a user. Is the navigation clunky? Do you find it hard to find what you are looking for? Is there a clear pathway toward their most important call-to-action? Answering these questions will give you a good idea of how well they implement basic website strategies.
Ask them! One of the best ways to ensure someone has an expertise in something is to ask them directly. If you aren’t sure by looking at their work, send them an email asking for more information about their experience. The more specific they are, the better! If they give you a broad answer, you can ask for past case studies or examples that will show how they’ve implemented the expertise you’re wondering about.
Remember, YOU are hiring THEM for your website design project. Most website designers will be happy to give you more information upon request because they want to make sure they’re the right fit, too. This leads us perfectly into the next question.
Are they available to meet with you before booking?
I cannot stress enough how important it is for you to jump on a phone or video call with the website designer before making your decision to book them. This way, you’ll be able to assess if they’re the right fit in terms of their personality and collaboration style.
Someone could have the same visual style preferences as you, but that doesn’t automatically make them the best fit. Instead, it’s important to have a conversation with the website designer to see how well your personalities will mesh during the project.
I believe the absolute best website design projects aren’t based solely on aesthetics or even strategies. The final product you’re hoping to create can only result from a great designer and client collaboration.
Most website designers will be available for a free 15-30 minute consultation or discovery call in order to talk about your project. Here are a few tips to make sure you have the best, most productive discovery call:
Read their website thoroughly: You don’t want to spend your time asking questions that their website already answers for you. Make sure to read the most important pages of their website and make sure their website copywriting resonates with you. That way, you can spend most of the limited time on your discovery call talking about the ins and outs of your project.
Come with questions: As you read through their website, it’s smart to make a list of questions you haven’t been able to answer. Come prepared with questions to ask the website designer so you can walk away from the conversation feeling like you can confidently make a hiring decision.
Let the designer ask you questions first: This may seem like a strange piece of advice, but how the website designer conducts the call says a LOT about what kind of collaborator. By letting them drive the conversation initially, you’re able to see what’s most important to them. Do they ask about the inspiration or mission of your business, or perhaps what your goals are? Do they take the time to get to know your unique needs? All of these things are good to keep in mind before you ask your own questions.
Make a note of their qualities: This can be something you make a mental note of or write down on a sheet of paper. During your conversation, pay attention to how curious the website designer is. Are they thinking ahead? Are they asking you follow-up questions to show they are engaged? Does it feel like they are reading a script or are they adjusting the conversation to naturally fit what you need? Do they care about website best practices or sound knowledgeable? All of these are great qualities to look for.
As you ask questions, you’ll want to make sure it’s not just the website designer who says they’re great at what they do; their past clients need to say it, too. That’s what I’ll talk about next.
Do they have great reviews from past clients or successful results?
One of the best ways to see if a website designer is worth their weight in gold is to see if past clients would recommend working with them. If someone has already invested their hard-earned money into a website designer and says they would do it again, it shows you how much they got out of the collaboration.
Some website designers may have an entire website page dedicated to their reviews while others may sprinkle client reviews into their copy (like this). No matter where they can be found, highlighting past client experiences should be a high priority for the website designer you choose to work with.
As we think about these reviews, there are a few different forms of social proof you’ll want to actively look for:
Testimonials: The majority of website designers will highlight past client testimonials on their website. These testimonials can be in a written format or turned into audio or video content. Make sure the testimonials line up with the website designer’s personality, process, experience, expertise, and beyond.
Case studies: While testimonials give past clients the chance to recommend the website designer in their own words, case studies show the strategy and results of the collaboration. If they feature case studies on their website, read at least two success stories to understand how their process turned into such great results. If you can’t find any case studies, ask them directly for any examples they may have. Here’s one of my case study examples so you know what to look for.
Third-party reviews: If you’re in the wedding industry, you know how important reviews are on websites like The Knot and WeddingWire. The same is true for website designers. After doing some research, you may be able to find reviews on Google and Facebook, to name a few. Remember, the website designer gets to choose which testimonials they highlight on their website. Take a look at third-party websites to see how the majority of people are reviewing them.
Chances are, if other business owners who are just like you loved working with the website designer, it’s likely you will too. You’re getting closer to making your decision now, but there’s one last question that’s important to consider.
Do they consistently overdeliver?
How a website designer interacts with you on the discovery call will tell you a lot about how they work. When you turn an email conversation into a live call, ask yourself whether they are delivering on the promises they included on their website. It’s even better if they overdeliver!
Do they thoughtfully reply to your direct questions or do they give you a broad answer? Do they answer questions fully or focus on other things? This will help you determine if they are going the extra mile to help you assess if you’re the right fit vs. saying anything to book the project.
Do you know what to expect when you start their process? Have they discussed every step along the way so you understand how you’ll be working together? Do you have an idea of the approximate timeline of your project and how it fits into both of your calendars? These are all important questions to ask.
Also, you’ll be able to see how much a website designer respects your time if they deliver your proposal on time or even earlier than they promised. Is it thorough and does it answer even more of your questions? Do you know exactly what deliverables you are getting inside the website design package before you need to sign a contract?
All of these things are great predictors of how the website designer will treat you as a client.
Now, you are fully equipped to choose a website designer!
So, where should you start? I usually recommend making a list of website designers who produce work you really resonate with, and then narrow it down to five or six designers.
From there, read their websites fully and research what makes them a potentially great choice for your project. You can strike out designers who don’t have a good process or the right experience for the project as you go through their websites.
If you can narrow it down to three website designers, you’re ready to reach out to them directly through their contact form and get more information on their services. You can also jump on a discovery call with them from here.
I know it takes some work, but you’ll be glad you put in a few hours of research time upfront in order to save yourself time and money in the long run. Trust me!