How to Choose a Web Design Company for Your Small Business

"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:

  • Integrity & honesty
  • Long-term partnership
  • Soft skills
  • Established
  • Focused on business results
  • Project management
  • Speaks your language (at your level)
  • Well-connected
  • Quick to reply

Let's dive into these.

Integrity & honesty

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.

Long-term partnership

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.

Soft skills

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.

Established

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.

Focused on business results

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.

Project management

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.

Speaks your language (at your level)

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.

Well-connected

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.

Quick to reply

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.

Attributes that don't matter as much

Experience with sites similar to yours

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

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

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.

Conclusion

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

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24 comments on “How to Choose a Web Design Company for Your Small Business”

  1. I really want to point out Long-term partnership. I think that is the most important on the list , having a website is not enough maintaining your website is another thing. So find a web design company that is for Long-term partnership. Good article all in all. Cheers!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Catherine. I agree that a long-term partnership is key. A business needs a web company that will be there for them through the lifetime of their website.

  2. Cool article! I will pick Integrity & honesty. Yes, this is very critical especially between the relationship of web design company and the business. Trust can gain also a trust!

  3. Amazing Article. I think you should check company's work portfolio before selecting web design company for your small business. And also you should check that which is budget and schedule for your business website.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, James. I agree that the web design company needs to fit the business' budget and schedule. But, businesses often set arbitrary budgets and schedules that are based on someone's feelings rather than on business reality, and a reputable web company will guide a business through those decisions.

      Yes, it's a good idea to check the portfolio to get a feel for the type of work they do. However, I think the attributes I listed in the post should be considered above how good the work looks, because many companies create nice-looking sites, but working with them is a headache because they're unreliable, manage projects poorly, communicate poorly, etc.

  4. I really appreciate you listing off the kind of attributes to look for in a good web design company. When it comes to making sure a companies website is up to date and looks good for its customers, you need services that have honesty, integrity, soft skills, and are always well connected. I'm grateful for these services and all that they do to help small businesses market in good and effective ways.

  5. Finding a web design company who can speak to you at your level seems like good advice. It would be smart to find someone who can explain things to you in simple words but who does not sound condescending. That way, they can talk to you about problems so that you understand them but also still have enough respect for you and your business.

    1. I agree, Gloria. Web pros often use jargon that confuses clients. It's important to speak in plain English so both parties understand each other.

    1. You're welcome! Thank you for commenting. Most of the post is about the attributes that are important to consider when choosing a web design company. But I also wanted to point out some attributes that people tend to look for, which really aren't very important. Those attributes are described in the Attributes that don’t matter as much section. Please let me know if you have any follow-up questions or comments!

  6. I agree that a good web design company is going to have an established reputation. It would be good to consider this because it would show that they are going to do a good job. My sister is looking for a web design company, so she'll have to check their reputation.

    1. Hannah, you're right that your sister should check the reputation of the web design companies she considers. This can be done online, so she'll be able to research even companies that aren't located near her. Since you found our post helpful, perhaps you could recommend that your sister consider us. We'd really appreciate it!

  7. I like how you pointed out that some companies don't have the skills necessary to make a good website. I feel like websites are important since they can leave a lasting impression on your customers. Since you want to leave a good first impression, I think it would be best to let a professional handle your website design for you.

    1. Nice to see we agree, Earnest. A fledgling business may choose to build their own website for budget's sake, but any serious business that can afford a professional will find much better results. And because a professional website is likely to bring in many more leads and result in more sales, there's usually a better return on investment for a professionally designed and developed website anyway!

  8. Very informative article. Thank you for mentioning all the points that need to be focused while hiring a website design company for a small business. With this article the idea will become clear what to exactly do and how to bring the traffic to website.

  9. Great tips. I would like to consider all the factors while hiring a website design company and also like to share it with my friends too. Keep posting such valuable tips with the readers.

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