"How should a small business choose a web design company?" This was one of the many questions asked at the Small Business Tech Panel at the Warehaüs, a coworking space in Holland, Michigan in March 2014 (yes, I'm posting this over a year later). Here's an expanded version of the answer I gave.
These are the attributes to consider when selecting a web design company for your small business:
Let's dive into these.
It's fundamental to your relationship that the web company have integrity. You need to trust that they're behaving ethically and morally, since their guidance will affect not only your website but also your business. They also need honesty, so that you can believe and trust what they tell you.
Your business website isn't a fleeting thing; it's a major player in your marketing efforts, and maybe even the operations of your business (for example, an ecommerce site). You should be seeking a long-term relationship with your web company, and they should be looking for the same thing. You don't want a company that's only looking for a quick buck.
It's not hard to find technical skills in a web company; they're often started by technical people, and the teams usually contain technical people. What's harder to find, yet critical to success, are the soft skills (people skills) such as communication, empathy, reliability, and responsibility.
If you're serious about your website (and you are, right?), you want a web company that's been around for a while, and is likely to stay in business for a while. We've talked to so many small businesses who had their sites developed by a friend, family member, part-timer, freelancer, or startup, then their contact disappears or gives up. We've rescued many projects from these situations. Save yourself the hassle and choose an established company from the start.
You have a website to accomplish business goals (selling in some way). The web company needs to understand this and create your site based on business goals, not on technology or trends. If the company seems more concerned about experimenting with technology than understanding your business, it's not a good sign.
Even small web projects require some project management, and it becomes increasingly important the more complex the project gets. The company needs to be competent at juggling multiple requirements and keeping the project on budget and on schedule. It may be hard to discover a company's project management abilities, so ask a few of their clients how well the company managed their projects.
Some web companies try to impress or intimidate with their techie language. Good companies won't, because they want you to understand what they're saying. They ask, "does that make sense?" after explaining something technical, and are willing to explain.
Websites don't exist in vacuum; they're part of your broader marketing efforts. Most companies don't have all the skills necessary to provide everything you'll need as you grow (for example, photography, copywriting, SEO, email marketing, social media marketing, etc.). A well-connected company will be able to subcontract, partner with, or refer you to skills they don't have.
You'd be surprised how many web companies take days (and sometimes weeks) to reply to prospects and clients when they email or call. Do you want to wait that long when you need help, while creating your site or maintaining it? Look for a company that replies relatively quickly; within one business day (for example, if you email them Monday at noon, they should reply before Tuesday at noon). Now, this just means they should reply quickly; it doesn't mean they need to start the work quickly. Many web companies schedule work weeks or months in advance, unless it's urgent.
If the web company has experience working on sites similar to yours, that may be beneficial. For example, if you need a real estate site with IDX to pull property listings, it may be wise to work with a company that's done that before. However, it's usually not necessary; web companies are used to researching and learning quickly, and many of the fundamentals of technical work and marketing apply across industries.
Location alone says nothing about a web company's abilities or people skills. We've talked to several businesses who were burned by a web company they chose simply because they were nearby. There are pros and cons to both local and remote web companies. If you want to meet in person, local will be better. Other than that, web work can be done practically anywhere, so feel free to work with a remote company. You may want a company that's in your country or time zone to make it easy to work together.
Price shouldn’t be a determining factor. The company needs to fit your budget, but price alone can’t determine whether a company is the right choice. The lowest-priced company may be the best or worst choice, as could the highest-priced one. As long as companies fit your budget, evaluate them on the attributes above, not on whether they're the least expensive.
I hope this helps you select your web company. OptimWise isn't perfect, but we work hard to maintain the positive attributes that our small business clients need. Let's find out if we're the right fit for your web project.
Featured image by Sasquatch I