I’m a member of many online groups for women in business, and lately, I’ve noticed an alarming trend of business owners investing a significant chunk of coin into branding or website development only to be left high and dry.
I’ve seen posts about developers disappearing off the face of the earth after a deposit was taken, or websites being kept offline until clients left a positive Google review.
With my clients, I’ve had more than one occasion of a client choosing to work with me, but having their domain or current website being held hostage by a previous provider. I’ve had to work with them to jump through hoops and gain access or control, with one client even being invoiced $2,500 just to receive her backend logins! In other cases, I’ve had multiple clients hire another designer who delivered subpar website design and development, only to have to reinvest in my services to bring their site up to speed.
It’s devastating stuff, but unfortunately more commonplace than you may think.
So, to make this unfortunate phenomenon a little less pervasive, I’ve put together a list of criteria you should look for when choosing a service provider.
01. Their online presence
This may seem obvious, but it’s probably my first criteria.
If they’re a web developer, check their website follows best practice. Is it responsive for mobile? Does it load quickly? Is it well laid out and easy to navigate? Do the links work? Does it answer your questions? Does it contain appropriate calls to action? Is it easy to find what you need?
If they’re a brand developer, check their style is consistent and impactful across platforms. Is the logo crisp and clear? Are the colours suited to their offering? Are the fonts consistent? Is their tone of voice appropriate or what you’d expect?
All of these areas are critically important. They are the basics, and they demonstrate that a professional has a good grasp on best practice and an eye for detail.
02. Their portfolio of work
A good designer should have a style that permeates all of their work. While the representation of this is tailored to each client, it’s more a vibe that is projected with each project.
For example, I describe my style as a minimalist blend of creative and professional. I utilise a lot of line work, white space and gentle accents. Where one of my favourite brand designers Heids Eiser is more feminine, quirky and colourful in her brand representations. She utilises a larger range of patterning and illustration in her work.
A big part of your decision should be how well the designer’s work fits with your vision and vibes. If this is the case, and you trust their creative process, you’ll get the best from your project.
03. A legit contract
Although this comes a little later in the hiring process, I’m including it as number 3 because it’s so important!
Any professional should have a professionally drafted, thorough contract that outlines exactly what is included in your investment.
It should outline what will be delivered to you, the requirements for either party, clarification of how additional work may be charged and when this might occur, any additional costs that may be incurred, provisor for dispute resolution and an outline of what should occur if either party was to terminate the arrangement.
Contracts are not just for show. They are a big part of ensuring project success. They set a base level of what to expect and protect both parties.
A professionally drafted contract is a big investment, but if a provider doesn’t have this, how can you be expected to invest in them?
04. Verified reviews
I recommend digging a little deeper, don’t just take a provider on face value for the reviews they’ve shared on their website or social media. Providers can easily write and post false reviews on their site, so dig a little deeper and check out Facebook and Google too.
But a word of caution, it’s also possible to buy reviews on traditionally verified platforms like Google and Facebook. It’s helpful to do some research around the client placing the review. If they mention a business name, can you view the work in question live online? Do the reviewer’s previous reviews seem real? Is there an appropriate amount of reviews attached to their profile?
Time spent here can save you thousands of dollars potentially wasted down the line!
05. The right fit
Is this someone you like? Does their personality sit well with you?
It might seem superficial, but when you’re making a big investment in time and money like this you need to be able to have open and honest conversations, provide feedback, take advice and work together.
Check their Instagram stories or jump on a Zoom call. Trust your gut on this one!
06. Do they outsource?
This one is fairly straightforward!
Will the work be completed by the person you’re speaking with, a member of their team, or a third party.
07. What’s the process like?
An experienced professional should be able to give you a good idea of what to expect throughout your project. The timeline, specific milestones, how feedback should be provided and implemented, what to expect when working together are all considerations.
This is one area I’ve heard from my clients that has caused frustration when working with other developers, but they loved about working with me. They’ve felt let down by the process elsewhere, out of the loop or unsure of the stage their project was at.
This marker is a good indication that a professional has taken a critical look at their process, the way they deliver work and made improvements over time.
Having a solid process ensures steps aren’t missed, and that you’ll get the best result at the end of your project.
08. The specific package inclusions
It’s important to know what your money gets you. For example ‘a brand’ or ‘a website’ is not enough to go on.
Does the website build include SEO to help you get found, or professional plugins that help your site run more efficiently? Does the brand package include guidelines for logo use, and all the file types you might need now and into the future?
Make sure you have a comprehensive list of inclusions, and be sure to clarify in writing if anything is unclear.
09. Their client workload/price point
This is one area where price comes into play, and it’s worth making the extra investment into your business.
The saying goes, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
If a provider is not charging a reasonable fee, this likely means they need to take on a high number of clients to cover their costs.
If they’re taking on a higher number of clients, this likely means they’re spreading their time very thin, and your job won’t get the time it deserves.
A professional provider will be dividing up all money received between software, tools, ongoing development, appropriate taxes and finally their compensation, so they need to be charging appropriately.
If you cut costs, you’ll be hiring a provider that cuts corners, because they won’t be investing in these basics.
010. What happens after the work is complete?
Branding and websites are complex. They’re a business asset that requires ongoing implementation, they’re not a set and forget item.
Will your designer or developer be available to support with questions or expansion down the track? Or do they finish up a job and hit the road Jack? If you’re looking at purchasing a website, does the provider offer training to allow you to make small changes yourself, or will they be responsible for making these at an ongoing fee? What will the fees be? Do they have a service level agreement for turnaround times? Do they offer a retainer structure?
The answers to these questions can help you determine the ongoing cost of choosing one provider over another.
I often tell my clients it’s important to ‘have enough knowledge to be deadly’. In other words, you should be able to make basic changes yourself, or at least have an understanding of the time it takes to make these changes. This means if you need to outsource, you can ensure you’re being charged an appropriate amount.
011. Their point of difference
Finally, ask them straight out. What do they provide that other professionals don’t?
They should know enough about their area of expertise to articulate this to you clearly. If this is a question they can’t answer, it might be time to look elsewhere.
Work with me
If you’re currently looking for a designer or developer, I’d love to find out how I can support you with your next project.