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Top tips for choosing someone to build your website

Are you looking to build a new website for your small business, or develop your existing site? Read our tips for choosing the right web developer for your business.

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Perhaps you're looking to establish an online presence for your business or you want to give your existing website a new lease of life. Chances are – unless you're a web designer yourself – you're going to have to pay someone else to do it for you.

But a new website can be a substantial investment, so it pays to get it right.

Understand what you want from a website

Before you even start looking for someone to build your website, you need to have a very clear idea of what you want to gain from it and how this ties into your overall business goals, for example, more leads and enquiries, online sales, event registrations, increased awareness. With this in mind, it will be easier to choose the suitable person or company to build your website, plus you'll be able to track the return on your investment and measure the success of your website in the long run.

Look for inspiration

Get a good idea of the kind of websites you like and aspire to. What kind of design and structure do you think will work well for your website? What sites do you find most easy to use? Your web developer will try to interpret your vision into a fully functioning, well designed website, but you will need to be able to tell them what you do and don't like – and why.

Don't judge based on price

Asking how much a website costs is like asking how long a piece of string is. The cost can vary depending on what you require and who is carrying out the work. For example, an agency will almost always be more expensive than a freelance web developer. Just because one is more expensive than the other, it doesn't necessarily mean their work is of a better quality. Establish how much you have to spend and then try to find the service which offers the best value for money.

You should also make sure that you check that there are no hidden costs, for example, will you need to pay them extra for hosting your site?

Always ask to see their portfolio

You should judge a web developer or agency on the quality of their previous work. The great thing about websites is that you can easily (and discretely) visit them and test-drive them. Do their sites load quickly? Do they work in different browsers? Are they well-designed and easy to use? Are their designs similar or do they demonstrate variety and creative flair?

Ask for recommendations and references

Ask colleagues and friends if they can provide a personal recommendation of a professional web developer or agency. Also, ask prospective developers and agencies if you can speak to other clients.

Getting an honest reference about someone's work can tell you a lot more than any sales pitch. Look for similar work If you have special requirements for your website, for example an e-commerce driven, community based, or animated site, look for someone who specialises in this type of work.

Keep it local

Thanks to the wonders of the web, it is possible to get someone on the other side of the world to build your website. But working with someone in commuting distance can make the process much easier, especially if you would like to meet with them face to face.

Look for added value

Some website companies will offer complementary services, such as online marketing advice, reporting on how many people use your website and search engine optimisation. This is often offered at an extra cost, but it can be easier to manage just one supplier.

Decide how your website will be maintained

Will you need access to the website to regularly update it? If so, ask how you will be able to do this. Some sites use a content management system or are built on a blogging platform like Wordpress, which makes your site easy to update yourself. If you need this kind of functionality, make sure you include it in the brief.

Some developers or agencies may manage the content for you if you don't want to do it yourself, though you will usually have to pay extra for this.

Will you own your website?

Something that many new to commissioning websites overlook is who owns the website. Depending on how the contract between yourself and your developer or agency is written, they could retain ownership of the design or the structure (i.e. all the databases that sit behind it).

If you want to own your site outright, ensure you specify this from the start, but expect to pay a higher price for it.

Write a clear brief

Before your developer or agency proceeds with any chargeable work, provide them with a clear brief outlining your requirements and what you expect to be delivered, then ask them to quote a price based on this. The brief should specify the structure, content and general appearance of the site, clearly state what will be supplied by you, include a deadline and – most importantly – opportunities for you to approve the design and content of the site before it is completed.

Changes made at an early stage are generally easier and cheaper than those made when a lot of work has been done.

Need further help with online marketing? Members of the Forum can access a marketing advice service, including a guide to briefing a web designer. Call 0845 130 1722 to find out more.