Special Web feature
This piece is the first of three articles on how to create a Web presence for your drilling company.

National Driller July 2005 e-Newsletter

When you're self-employed, choosing a Web site designer is a crucial decision, as a good Web site can bring you more business and a bad one can drive away prospective customers. Below are some important things to consider when selecting a Web site designer for your new site or site redesign.

What Types of Web Site Designers Are Out There?

I don't think there is an "official" definition, so I'll give you my definition:

  • A Web site designer helps you to determine the page layout, graphics, text location and colors of your site, as well as the navigation and how pages will cross-link to one another. S/he also may do the actual computer programming and graphic artwork for the site, or may hire out that work to a programming specialist. A Web site designer is the project manager for your site design or redesign.
  • A Web site programmer takes the design from the designer and creates the code to make the site run. S/he also is responsible for all the technical stuff that happens behind-the-scenes to make sure the site works properly for your visitors.
  • A graphic designer creates the graphics for the site, including your logo and buttons. A graphic designer also may create the overall look and feel of the site.
  • An Internet marketing specialist helps you to determine how your website fits into your overall marketing strategy, and how to get more traffic and sales from your website.

Sometimes, if you're lucky, you can get all four of these skills from the same person. You may find a designer who also can help you with the text for your Web site but don't count on it. Be prepared to write the text yourself, or hire a professional copywriter.

What Makes a Good Designer?

I don't recommend specific designers, as much of it depends on whether you want to work locally with someone, or whether you are willing to work remotely with them over the phone. Here are some things to think and ask about when interviewing and hiring Web site designers:
  • Talk to some of their current and recent clients, to see how smooth the process was.
  • Look at sites they've designed to see if you like their styles. Is there a certain feel to all their sites, or are they flexible in their designs?
  • Ask them if they did the actual graphic and layout design of the site, or if they just did the programming.
  • Ask them if they have a structured planning process that leads you through the design phase, and if they will document all the discussions that you'll have together. If they have Web site planning guides that you'll work through together, it's helpful.
  • Ask them what they know about Internet marketing and search engine optimization. Be sure that they would be creating a site for you that meets your larger marketing and business goals.
  • Ask the designers for their fees (expect to pay between $60 - $200 an hour, depending on their skill and their location), and what is the estimate of cost for the site you want. They may not be able to give you good estimates until you discuss content and features of the site.
  • Ask them how they bill you. Will they invoice you monthly, or when certain milestones are reached? Do you have to make deposits?
  • Pay attention to how much they ask you about your business. They should want to get to know you and your business intimately. How else can they design a site that reflects you and your business, unless they spend time to get to know you?
  • Pay attention to whether they'll try to stick within your budget, or whether they keep suggesting new add-ons that increase the cost of your site. Remember, designers aren't responsible for your budget - you are.
  • Ask them whether they will maintain your site after the initial design, and how much they'll charge for that. Some designers want to create new sites but don't want to maintain them. Someone like a virtual assistant (VA) may be able to maintain your site for a lower hourly fee, as long as the VA is skilled in Web site programming. The more bells and whistles and complicated programming in your site, the less likely that an average VA will be able to maintain it for you.
  • If you're going to maintain the site yourself, ask them if they'll design your site in a software package that's easy for you to use, like FrontPage. Many professional Web site designers look down their noses at FrontPage or Macromedia Contribute, but guess what? If you want to maintain your site yourself, then you have to use a software package that's easy for you to use, regardless of the Web site programmer's preferences. (And don't let a programmer tell you that s/he can't design a good site in FrontPage. There's a difference between can't and won't. I've been designing sites since 1997, and have designed over 40 sites in FrontPage that are clean, modern, visually-appealing, and visitor-friendly.)
  • Do you like the designers? Do you believe they'll act ethically? Do you enjoy speaking with them? Do they stay focused to the task at hand, or do they ramble and waste your time? Do you feel you "click" with their respective personalities and values? Do they offer you invaluable insight and advice about your site design?
  • Tell each prospective Web site designer what your deadline is and ask if they can meet it. If you don't have a specific deadline, brainstorm with the designer to create a good working deadline that you can both meet.

By doing extensive interviewing of potential Web site designers, you're more likely to pick one that can do the work you want, is willing to really listen to you, can create a site that reflects you and your business, and keeps within your budget.