If you’ve never worked with a web designer before, you might be unclear on the process and have questions about what to expect. Are there industry standard norms? What’s the difference between working with an agency versus a freelancer (or team of freelancers)? What should you expect to be included as deliverables?

These are all excellent questions and I will be addressing some of them below.

Regarding Concepts:

If you’re paying to presented with different concepts, then it’s reasonable to request multiple concepts. It’s not always what happens because most companies will have a fairly specific vision of their branding that would be extended to the website. If the service provider is expressing hesitation on providing multiple concepts, it’s most likely that they are concerned that something about the branding direction is being held back. Their job is to make the site fit with existing branding (or a new branding direction if that’s the case), appeal to your target audience, and present information on the site in a user friendly format. If you feel that seeing multiple concepts will be best for your business but the service provider is expressing hesitation, I recommend putting them at ease by emphasizing that you are happy to pay for all of the work they provide and do not expect to use any discarded concepts. It may also help to communicate with the service provider why you feel it is best to see multiple concepts. There are many reasons that seeing multiple options before choosing a specific direction could be beneficial to you, but it is always a good idea to openly communicate with your service provider so that they are clear on your needs and expectations.

Regarding Timelines:

It depends on the nature of the website, what kind of underlying structure there will be, if there is customized programming involved, how much content does the client have prepped, how much content insertion the client will do, etc. In other words — there are many factors that can affect timeline.

If you have an ideal launch date, always make sure to communicate that to the service provider and be clear on the mandatory items that must be there for launch and prioritize secondary items to be added post launch if there is an issue with timing.

It is also completely acceptable to expand your website over time if that works best for your team and what the service provider can deliver within your timeline and budget. Even if you get everything you want included on the site for launch, keep in mind that things can change and no website is expected to be truly static anymore. You should always have a plan for updating and adding content post launch.

Regarding Hourly Rates:

These tend to be $100-$150 per hour for agencies, sometimes more (this can adjust based on inflation and service area). Freelancers charge less individually, typically $50+ per hour depending on their skills and expertise. Pricing can also vary depending on programming and/or customizations you may require. It can also be affected by whether you have a long standing relationship with the service provider or if you are a new client. All things considered, it really depends on the work you need to determine which option is best for you. Agencies cost more because you are getting access to a bigger team and more specialized skills, but they also have a higher overhead for their expenses.

Sometimes an agency might be better for your project, sometimes it may be more than you need.

If you choose to work with a freelancer versus an agency, you might not find a single person who can do it all (depending on your requirements), but they can bring in a secondary person (or persons) as needed. It’s also worth noting that sometimes timelines will be longer with a freelancer depending on if they freelance full time or part time. However, if they are the best fit for your project and your needs, don’t hesitate to choose them.

Don’t choose a supplier based on their price alone. Choose them based on the following questions:

  • How well do you think you can work together?
  • Do they listen to and understand your needs when you explain them? (Always be prepared to explain your needs and the message to be communicated, those details are essential to your service provider)
  • Do they have the technical capabilities to handle all your requirements?
  • Will they train your people on how to do content management if you require that? (This one is optional)

Also, I recommend that you always keep in mind that whatever quote you receive is an estimate only. Things can change during a project that can increase costs, so be prepared for that (and yes, that’s normal — but it is rarely extravagant). You need to make sure that you know what the supplier charges for and how, be clear on how they will charge for extras should they arise, and specify priorities for different requests. If something is a “nice to have” versus “mandatory” or if something is a standard item versus a rush. Most items realistically do not need to be completed in a rush, but you should communicate with your service provider about what to expect after launch date if something drastic breaks your website or otherwise causes it to be inaccessible. They should be available to help you sort out issues with your hosting provider if needed, but it is always best to find out what they offer and specify the involvement you want from them before that kind of case arises. Those drastic situations should be infrequent, but it is always advisable to be prepared in advance.

Regarding Complex Websites:

The complexity of the product you are selling isn’t what makes a website complex. Your service provider doesn’t need to understand all the minutiae of how the product is made or how it works. It is always helpful to have some understanding of the product(s) and/or the industry, but they are not joining your sales team. They primarily need to know who your target audience is and what information needs to be communicated to them.

What actually makes a website most complex is if it requires a large number of add ons and/or custom programming. There is also a certain level of complexity that comes with having a website with hundreds of pages or more, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is complicated to maintain. And I say this having managed sites with up to 1500+ pages.

Many sites do not require custom programming (and by that I mean programming specific to that website for a function that isn’t available through an already available plugin/module). You should talk to your service provider in more detail for them to be able to answer if that is the case for your project or any specific request related to the project. It is okay to ask: “would this be really complicated to implement or is there another way we can do something similar that would be easier to implement and maintain?”

Also, as I mentioned above, a freelancer can and should bring in extra people for the things they can’t do directly. I’m a web designer who does HTML, CSS, theming, and some module/plugin configuration. I am also quite comfortable with tweaking Javascript, a bit of PHP, and a bit of ASP as needed — but I tend to do more basic coding (aside from HTML and CSS where I have high level expertise) and I don’t author programs from the ground up. For any specialized programming that is beyond my ability, I bring in programmers/developers to do that part. And realistically, that’s not often for me because most sites I’m creating are very information heavy. That’s more so because the kinds of companies and clients that I have are looking for simpler solutions, I don’t actively avoid complex projects and I am happy to be a consultant and manage the logistics of a complex website project instead.

When determining if your website needs things to be truly custom, keep in mind that custom features aren’t always best because they can be harder to maintain long-term. Ensure that if you get anything completely custom that you are aware of what’s going to happen to keep that running smoothly long-term. For the most part, tweaking available plugins/modules is enough because there are a lot out there and many of them have great support. If you’re dealing with a service provider who wants to make all of the add-ons from scratch — I would be wary of that because it will lock you in to working with only them long-term for good or bad. It also makes it more challenging for them to keep it running smoothly as time goes on and the core updates. The other hidden problem is that if the people working on the programming requirements for your website change, it can be an extra learning curve for a new person to become familiar with the nuances of how the parts of your website work together.

In Closing:

This is all fairly introductory and there are many other parts involved in a website project, including how you develop a project brief with your service provider, if they give you a contract agreement spelling out your deliverables and the exact services they provide (I always recommend having written contracts as they protect both sides and clarify details), and how you will be communicating with them throughout the project and for ongoing support if that is needed. Talking with them about your preferences and expectations is key to developing a mutually beneficial relationship.

If you want to talk to me in more detail about this, you can reach me via email at emily@emilygonsalves.com or you can send me a message. I am of course available to do web design and management on a freelance basis and if you would like me to quote on a project you are welcome to contact me about that as well. I also do consulting for design projects, for the times when you want an experienced advocate managing the more technical aspects between you and an agency.

If you have other tips for people looking for advice on how to approach their web design projects with outside service providers, please leave a comment. And if you enjoyed this article, I encourage you to like and share to your network.