I’ve been a full-time web designer for a couple years now, and on the whole, it’s a job I truly enjoy. When you work with creatives, like I do, designing a website from scratch is sort-of like being entrusted with the painted portrait that will hang in a prominent place in someone’s home. When you get it right, the client feels seen—and by extension, truly happy.
My love of the work sometimes causes me to forget about the pieces that can be a pain. I don’t mean my clients are a pain; I mean that there are aspects of pulling together and debuting a website (what amounts to hundreds of lines of coded language that needs to talk with about a billion other lines of coded language on the internet). Sometimes it feels like it gets harder and harder every year.
So I pulled together 10 things I think every person (or business) should know when hiring a web designer and when going through the pains of building a website. These things will make the process faster, and easier, and in the end should result in a website you love… without caveats.
10 Things to Know Before You Hire a Web Designer
1: Your site should have a clear goal.
Whether you want your website visitors to join your mailing list, place an order for pickup, make a donation, or show up to your next live event, you should know when you hire your designer how you want your website to work for your business. In order to create an effective homepage (… and lineup of navigation links, and sidebar, and everything else), your designer will need to know what your top priority is. It’s okay to have 2-3 things you want your site to do, but you should know what prio #1 is before you even hire your designer.
2: Before you sign a contract, make sure you’ve identified every element you absolutely need for your website (and communicated it to your designer).
Some sites need a calendar of events that can be easily updated. Others need to be able to house affiliate ads. Still others need a specific scheduling software integrated so that visitors can make appointments with the business without ever having to pick up the phone.
It can cost extra sometimes to add in specific plugins like these, depending on where your site will be hosted. You’ll want all of these factored into the cost of the design. Additionally, your designer may not be a developer, which could impact his or her capacity to even integrate the elements you need without hiring outside help… which can really slow down the web-building process.
3: Your designer needs passwords to everything.
No one has ever felt skittish about sharing password information with me, but a good number of my clients haven’t gotten me the information as fast as I could have started using it to make their websites complete. For most sites, I need access to the domain registrar login and password; the email collection software or CRM login info; social media access; DropBox folder access; photo gallery access; and sometimes even administrative access to the hosting platform. The faster you can supply this sort of information, the faster your site will come together.
4: The faster you respond to emails, the faster your site gets done.
If you just wanted to get the website job off your plate, you’re in good company. Many people are intimidated by either the technical or the aesthetic aspects of pulling together a website and feel relieved beyond belief to find someone else who can “do it all.”
However, your designer really wants your website to be what you envision. And your taste might not be his or her taste. So if your designer asks you to create a Pinterest board and you agree to it, you should create a Pinterest board and load it up with content. If your designer sends you three mockups and asks you to pick the one that’s the closest, get back with your feedback. Websites require constant communication. If your designers’ other clients get back faster, their sites get done before yours!
5: Wait until you have a sitemap in hand to hire a photographer.
I’ll be honest: I’ve never met another web designer who does All The Things like I do. I’ll happily draw your sitemap, take your photos, write your copy, and set you a solid foundation of SEO best practices all in one tidy package. But most designers don’t work this way.
Most designers want to know what your site needs to do for you, and then they will suggest which pages you absolutely need and what photos you’re going to want in order to make these pages dynamic. But if you hired a photographer first, your designer now has to work those photos in, even if they don’t tell the story you’re trying to tell on your site, and that can be hard. It can also be expensive if you have to bring the photographer back in to get shots you need but missed.
6: Your website is going to change eventually.
A lot of my clients worry that their site’s visual elements (colors, fonts, other stylistic choices, mostly) will “limit them” down the road. They also fret that their site might not work for the business model they’re hoping to have 3 or 5 years from now.
With how fast technology and business changes, even if your designer took into account every possibility for your business’s future, you’d still end up doing a website refresh in a couple years. Websites aren’t like they were in 1999, when companies would just throw them online and then forget about them for a decade. Now websites evolve as fast as the businesses they’re attached to. They’re also more affordable than ever. So don’t worry that your colors might not be so “you” down the line, or that you may want to add a membership area in 2 or 3 years. You’ll cross that bridge when you come to it.
7: Launch day is going to be rough. Plan for it.
Unless you just purchased your domain for the very first time, and you got it from GoDaddy or Bluehost, connecting your domain to your new website is going to pose its challenges. Especially now that businesses can buy a domain in one place (like Wix or Google), but that domain could actually be controlled by an outside registrar (like Dreamhost or GoDaddy), finding the right support team to unlock the DNS information could take several hours. Then it usually takes about 2 hours for the domain to lock in on the exact location you want for it, during which time any previous site you had at that domain may go offline. So be available to communicate with your designer on launch day, and order pizza and watch a movie and try not to stress while your designer makes the magic happen.
8: Invariably, something always gets missed.
A button won’t link where it’s supposed to. Your customer service phone number will be one digit off and people will keep accidentally calling someone else’s hotline. An automation won’t send its promised contents, or your PayPal-for-business account won’t be connected.
Breathe. If Obama’s healthcare website can crash, and Marie Forleo’s B-School forum can crash, then these things can happen to anybody. Just let your designer know, and ask what next steps are needed to make the error right.
9: In order for your site to work, you’ve got to send traffic to it… just wait a couple days after it’s live.
Because there are always a couple of things that don’t work the way they’re supposed to, wait a couple days before you start announcing that your new site is up and running. This will give you a chance to communicate with your designer and make any necessary changes before you get a deluge of messages from customers who are frustrated or “just trying to be helpful,” letting you know that your site isn’t working properly. Once the glitches are fixed, announce the new site with trumpets on all your platforms!
A couple other tips? Don’t wait to launch a membership site until the day before a course is live. And never launch anything on a Sunday (it’s probably your designer’s day off, anyway, but if it isn’t, it is your registrar’s day off, your hosting platform’s support staff’s day off, and all your customers’ day off, so it should be your day off, too).
10: Have someone with you to celebrate the day (or day after) your site goes online.
I remember reading once about how Anne Lamott sat by the phone the day her first book hit the shelves, and no one called.
It wasn’t because no one cared. It was because people have full-blown, all-consuming lives, and they don’t know all the blood, sweat, and tears that go into something like a book or a website.
So have a friend or business partner with you, someone who can appreciate that you’ve hit the finish line, and take your laptop someplace with WiFi, and treat yourselves to drinks or tiramisu or whatever you love to have when you’re celebrating, and just talk about everything about the site that makes it special, and really enjoy the moment. Launching a website is a really big deal. So make the day count, because it does!