The Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Hiring a Web Designer

July 15, 2019// Category: Digital Marketing // Author: Omari Valentine

funny boardroom cartoon with executives looking at a chart

We have all heard the horror stories of failed projects, whether they be overseas contractors disappearing for religious holidays or your uncle’s stepson’s girlfriend’s sister’s cousin who is a web designer taking 6 months to complete your homepage. Or maybe you even have your own horror stories. How can you avoid some of these pitfalls and make sure that your project runs like a well-oiled machine?

Here are a few of the major missteps that we see small business web design clients making when hiring web designers. Avoiding these mistakes can dramatically improve your odds of a successful website launch.

  1. Not carefully reviewing the design deliverables

Your projects should always have design deliverables before anything is put on a web page. This is to prevent countless revisions when the project is nearly completed. But the process doesn’t work if you don’t carefully review the deliverables that are presented.

Deliverables such as wireframes, design comps, prototypes and technical documentation should be carefully reviewed, and if you as the client don’t understand what they mean, you should be as assertive as possible, as early as possible, to become clear on them. Many designers have a limit to the number of revisions they allow, and you may find yourself stuck with a product you’re not happy with in the end.

I would recommend getting a second opinion on design comps from someone you trust in your target audience. If you have the budget, you can also create an online survey to validate the effectiveness of your mockups or prototype.

The Risk: Project delays

If you don’t pay attention early on, you can find yourself making lots of revisions or costing yourself for additional revisions beyond the initial contract.

  1. Moving the Goalposts

You jump in a cab and tell the cabbie where you want to go. The cabbie navigates the route and starts driving. Then halfway there, you tell the cab driver to stop off at the cleaners, the drug store, and your aunt’s house. Not cool, right?

The same goes for moving the goalposts during a web design project. A common complaint by designers is that their clients will change the terms or be unclear about the terms at the outset. Not clearly mapping out your need leads the designer on a “scavenger hunt” to find what you’re looking for.

The Risk: Project delays

Moving the goalposts can blow up the schedule and cause your project to enter dangerous waters where you or the designer may decide to end the project before reaching the finish line.

To avoid this, it’s important that every project have a list of deliverables (if you don’t know how to do this, hire a project management consultant to advise you), and a milestone schedule that is broken into at least a beginning, middle delivery (usually where design deliverables go) and end.

  1. Relying Too Heavily on Your Web Designer to Brand Your Business

Web clients all too frequently leave product decisions to designers, by not providing clear enough creative direction and not having a messaging strategy around their products and services.  How many services do you have? How should they be presented? These are not decisions that your designer should be making, and if you require those services, we recommend that you hire a full service digital marketing agency.

Likewise, designers are not supposed to be creating metadata for your website, aside from assigning placeholder page descriptions and alt text for images. Keywords should come from your end as well, unless you also hired your designer to provide SEO services.

The Risk: Poor performing pages

Letting your web designer write your brand messaging and metadata can result in poor performing pages. They have no incentive to write content that is engaging to your target audience. You have usually already made your last payment by the time you realize your page isn’t drawing the necessary traffic from organic search queries, and then, only a careful analysis will uncover that the culprit is likely your metadata.

  1. Not Trusting Your Web Designer to Make Web Design Decisions

artist getting confusing feedback from client

Nobody likes a back seat driver, and web design is no different. People tend to think design is easy, and the hard part is putting things on pages. But in the age of web builders, anybody can put things on web pages. Doing it in a way that gets results while showcasing your content in the best light possible is why you’re paying all that money. With that, she will need at least a respectful amount of creative license to meet your vision and knowledge of your business with her understanding of design principles and artistic sensibilities.

The Risk: Poor Design

Not listening to the web designer’s recommendations can pollute the vision of the designer with design ideas that are unsound. Wholly better than designing the website yourself, but still deleterious to the end result. If the designer and you do not see eye-to-eye on the direction of your vision (like, if your cabbie is taking you along his errand route), you may need to find another designer. Ultimately, you should be able to trust your designer and the design process to get you where you need to be.

  1. Not Validating Your Web Designer’s Work

If you’ve ever hired out for housekeeping services, most of them will turn out a clean looking room or house at first glance. But you probably also have realized that just because the tabletops and floors are clean and tidy doesn’t mean they did a thorough job.

It’s the path of least resistance to assume that web designers are professionals who will dot every I and cross every T as if they were building their own website. But you should never take it for granted that a contractor will do all of the necessary housekeeping in building your website.

The Risk: Poor performing pages

Before you make your final payment, be sure to check:

  • Your initial deliverables list, against the actual deliverables
  • Your CMS or admin page
  • Google Analytics, Search Console, and Tag Manager to make sure they have been implemented properly
  • The website’s appearance, and all functionality, on a mobile device and on all supported browsers (this should be clearly defined in the contract)
  • The page speed results, if this is in the contract (use Google’s PageSpeed Insights or GTMetrics)
  • All page titles and meta descriptions (include image of html)

Don’t be afraid to call out your designer for leaving out important deliveries. If you don’t, you may end up with a “house of cards” that does little more than look pretty.

  1. Delivering Poor Content

A website is such a critical part of your online presence, unless you’re running a purely offline business and not expecting to generate leads online, you’re better off letting professionals create the content for your company. That may mean hiring a copywriter and professional photographers, but those costs should be factored into your web design budget.

The Risk: Poor design, poor performing pages

If you provide poor quality content, it’s like giving a carpenter rotten wood with which to build a table. He could technically do it, but he can only work with what he’s been given. A web designer’s job is to show your content in the best light. But if your content is a turd, the best designer in the world won’t be able to polish it.

  1. Not Delivering Content

When the project starts, everyone is optimistic about their future contributions. But when it comes down to brass tacks, many clients simply don’t take the time out of their busy schedule to generate the necessary content, nor do they hire someone to do it for them.

The Risk: Project delays, project cancellation

The number one cause of project delays is a lack of content being provided. If you do not have time to put pen to paper (real or virtual), simply don’t start your web project. In fact, it would be best if you completed the bulk of the web content before hiring someone to put it all together.

  1. Choosing the Wrong Designer

I often need to assist clients who have found themselves on the wrong end of a failed project, and the one of the main reasons that the project goes south is that they simply chose to work with the wrong freelancer or agency. The choice is an important one, and you should not be making it for the wrong reasons.

Choosing a contractor based on price is a crapshoot. Saving a few hundred dollars doesn’t really amount to much if the result is a failed project and sunk costs, or a website that is not aligned with your brand messaging.

If you have appropriately budgeted for your project, this really shouldn’t be a factor, as you would have communicated your budget and every bid should be in the correct range. If you are getting bids thousands of dollars above your price range, you need to be more transparent about what you’re able to spend.

The Risk: Poor Design & Performance, project delays, project cancelation

Hiring a designer because he’s your brother in law, or because she’s the cheapest, without considering the variety of vastly more important factors like reputation, experience, location and skill, is putting your project at risk.

  1. Not Carefully Reviewing the Design Deliverables

Not paying your designer for work completed is a major no-no, and yet is one of the most common on our list of foibles (aside from not hiring a web designer). Designers and developers rely on being paid for their work. When they are not, it can result in the de-prioritization of your project (why would they prioritize a non-paying client over a paying one?) or outright cancellation.

Having a well-written, clear contract can mitigate the issue of non-payment.  It is not only for dealing with legal disputes. To the contrary, having one can help to avoid them. It can clear up most delivery disagreements and acts as an incentive to maintain a healthy business relationship.

The Risk: Project delays, project cancellation

Not only does not paying for completed work risk your project, it is also a risk to you legally. So if you are willing to take the step of hiring someone, set the money aside and pay when work is completed, or have a compelling reason for withholding payment with clear requirements on how to rectify the situation.

  1. Working Without a Contract

If you’ve read this far, you might have guessed that the lack of a contract is the number one issue on our list. A contract can mitigate a lot of the other issues listed here.

Don’t allow the designer to dictate the terms of your project. If your designer isn’t working under a contract, provide one for him.

Many of the horror stories that I hear from business owners could have been resolved by fairly standard terms and conditions and a well-laid out milestone schedule. Not only does a contract protect your interest as well as your designer’s, should there be problems, it serves as a blueprint for how to solve them.

The Risk: All of the above

Having a contract in place can eliminate common problems such as:

  • Developers delaying projects
  • Being charged for work that is not accepted
  • How to handle a change in scope
  • Defining what deliveries are owed at the end of the project
  • And more…

So whether you find your designer on a freelancer website or she is a friend of a friend, make sure you have a contract in place that protects you and keeps the project on the right track.

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